I picked up a copy of Sweet Charity from the library. It was Bob Fosse’s first film, and his most straight forward. The choreography is probably the best I’ve ever seen. And the songs are great, with lyrics by Dorothy “The Way You Look Tonight” Fields. And the whole “A Doll’s House” plot. But most of all, what I like is that Charity sings the end of “If My Friends Could See Me Now” while hiding in Vittorio’s closet. Up to that point, it had been triumphant and then it is—quite suddenly—sad and wise.
All of Fosse’s movies are about destruction—usually of hope or something like it. Since I was on a Fosse roll, I watched All That Jazz via Instant Watch on Netflix. Sweet Charity is about the destruction of Charity’s hope and illusions. All That Jazz is similar. It is given that Joe Gideon is self-destructive; the movie is about his acceptance of the consequences of his life up to that point. It is about the destruction of his hope for a do-over. Right before he dies, he tells the orderlies, “This is just a rough cut you know; I don’t have the titles in yet; and the underscoring’s not in. It’s not really finished; I need more time.” It is the most important and poignant line in the movie, but the first-half is said in a long-shot, facing away from the camera; the second-half is said off camera. At that moment, he has but a sliver of hope.
Bob Fosse only directed five movies—additionally Cabaret, Lenny, and Star 80. Yet, it is remarkable that they are all at least very good. It is also remarkable that even though he was really a theater director-choreographer, his films are easily as cinematic as any film director in the world. It annoys me when he is compared to Federico Fellini—it seems whenever an American film ombudsman has to deal with a film that isn’t a traditional narrative, they start talking about Fellini. In particular, All That Jazz has often been compared to 8½. I think this is due to the autobiographical nature of each of these films more than anything. Also, whereas All That Jazz is Fosse’s best work—probably one of the ten best films I’ve seen, 8½ is not—although I think it is a rather good film. (Just a note: I don’t see how All That Jazz was influenced by 8½ even indirectly.)
Although Fosse lasted nine years after Joe Gideon, it does seem that Fosse’s hope died with him. He certainly worked less after All That Jazz—maybe for health reasons, I don’t know. But Star 80, the only film he made during those nine years, is certainly his darkest. So his film arc took him from the bittersweet in Sweet Charity and Cabaret to the self-destructive and redemptionless world in Lenny and All That Jazz to the utter hopelessness in Star 80. Who knows where he would have gone from there, but I seriously doubt it would have been a remake of Oklahoma!
Two weekends ago, I attended Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. There were many young people at the event. In fact, I sat right in back of a young couple who were very much in love. It is always nice to see youthful optimism. It prompted me to pull out my notebook, but not to write about them. I wrote only a single line—and it was about the arc of my life: “The death of hope.”
In 1958, eleven years before he made Sweet Charity, Fosse choreographed the film Damn Yankees. It is remarkable just how generic the choreography is. Frankly, it looks a lot like Onna White’s choreography for The Music Man. I don’t say this to slam Fosse or White. It is just remarkable that the very next time Fosse is choreographing on film (in Sweet Charity), he had fully developed his craft.