Archive for the Film Category

Day 43: Fosse’s fancy footwork is BTS

Posted in Dance, Film, People with tags , , , on August 7, 2008 by Vince

In the cabaret of Fosse masterpieces, death and eroticism are old chums that can’t keep their hands — and rhythmic heels — off each other. 

Conjure up an iconic moment from any film in Bob Fosse’s oeuvre — from the slinky gyrations and vocal bravura of Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli) in the bowels of the Kit Kat Klub in “Cabaret” to the feverish exertions of Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) in the back-to-back showstoppers escalating into the climax of “All That Jazz” — and you’ll be hard-pressed to miss that maniacal display of virtuosity and neediness and damn fine footwork. It’s a mix that has not only induced many a cinephile’s le petite mort but also reveals a lesser-known guise of Fosse: a pimp with a heart of darkness. 

Desire is a pimp’s stock-in-trade and, in Fosse’s case, his drug of choice as well. In “Cabaret” (1972), a musical reworking of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories which set out to juxtapose the socio-political tenor of 1931 Weimar society with the smoky, kitschy milieu of a Berlin nightspot on the eve of German Nazism, Sally Bowles is a young American performer hoping to break out of the Kit Kat Klub and make the silver screen her stage as a UFA movie star. Sally is doggedly driven by need and neediness, often blurring indistinctly into each other. It’s the hunger to both dazzle and seduce her faceless, nameless audience that sustains Sally and ultimately makes her a casualty of the Weimar-variety sex, drugs and rock n’ roll she’s become chummy with. 

What’s remarkable about Sally (as played by Minelli, so staggeringly pitch- and pathos-perfect for the role that she’s never fully recovered from it post-”Cabaret”) is the dichotomy of charming naivete and seasoned worldliness in her inevitable descent. Who else is she, really, but Holly Golightly’s enfant terrible half who’s not above choreographing her own moral collapse to realize her potential (or legitimize her self-perception) as an artist. She beatifically surveys the carnage that is herself, buttressing her tenuous grasp on sanity by ricocheting between the affections of two men as the debris continues to pile up from under her. It’s a vision both macabre and captivating: Sally and her Kit Kat cohorts chanting “Wilkommen! Bienvenus! Welcome!” and morphing into goose-stepping Nazi soldiers. When Sylvia Plath, who fashioned her own dramatic exit within years of the film’s release, penned “Every woman adores a Fascist/The boot in the face, the brute/Brute heart of a brute like you,” she couldn’t have crafted a more prescient postcard-quality bon mot. 

Sex, genius and self-destruction are again in play and transparently more so in Fosse’s thinly veiled autobiographical masterpiece celebrating his own larger-than-life persona, “All That Jazz” (1979). Film critic Peter Hemp calls Joe Gideon “not a character but a stage name”. Indeed. It is no accident that Fosse bathes his alter ego in reflected doubled images in case viewers miss the parallels. Gideon glories in his excesses — from his carnival of inamoratas to the madman’s passion for his art to more mundane types of poison — and expects the audience to drink in every abuse and be mesmerized by it. And for the most part, we do and we are. It is a testament to Fosse’s talent, which he pulls no punches in flaunting in this sensual overload of musical and choreographic delights. Quite simply, it’s all in a day’s work: Gideon works, fucks, gets high, and chainsmokes himself to death, literally. The angel of death pays Gideon a visit who, to no one’s surprise, can’t quite resist his charms. 

Fosse’s footwork might have gotten the ink — and deservedly so — in accounts of his cinematic legacy but it is his oceanographer’s investigation — and celebration — of the nether regions of the human id that need to be discovered. After all, it’s that cabaret the old chum has always invited us to.

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Day 41: Sylvie Testud in “La France” is BTS

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , on August 7, 2008 by Vince

In the cinematic pantheon of gender-bending turns, everyone must bow before Leslie Cheung, whose otherworldly talent and lethal neediness make him the gay Callas of 1940s Peking opera in “Farewell My Concubine”. Then there’s his uber-glam, big-haired distant cousin in the American indie scene, John Cameron Mitchell in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. The women crossing the gender divide, on the other hand, eschew the pomp and diva pageantry for understated inner carnage. But, ah, these female chameleons’ strum und drang is just as al dente. Try not to be hypnotized by Hilary Swank’s heartbreaking, go-for-broke Brandon Teena in “Boys Don’t Cry”.  Forget “Transamerica” and its self-conscious androgynous gimmickry. Swank serves up the grit and grime of trailer-park America as she lays bare its spiritual anomie.

And then there’s Sylvie Testud, the double César Award-winning French actress, writer and filmmaker.  Although her most high-profile role to date (this side of the Atlantic, at least) was as Mômone, the gamine waif singing for scraps with Marion Cotillard’s Edith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose”, that is about to change with her turn in “La France”, a WWI war musical that’s part Romantic odyssey, part melancholic essay on loss and aimlessness, and part showcase of Beach-Boys era sunshine pop. As the Great War rages on, Camille (Testud) receives a mysterious letter from her husband at the front: Forget about me, he writes, you will never see me again. Determined to find him nevertheless, she ventures into the damp wilderness disguised as a boy and falls in with a small regiment of deserters led by a gruff but kind-hearted lieutenant (Pascal Gregory, whom I last saw in Rohmer’s “Pauline at the Beach”).  Helmed by Serge Bozon, “La France” (which I saw at the Anthology Film Archives) is a beautiful curiosity. Bozon orchestrates a sweet alchemy of discordant genres without missing a beat (literally). And Testud’s Camille is its savage conscience, the faint flicker illuminating the soldiers’ way as they plow on, mirthlessly and musically, into the forgetful night. 

Day 22: Getting Todd Haynes to pose with Laszlo is BTS

Posted in Film, People with tags , , , , , , on July 1, 2008 by Vince

Sometime in the last two weeks, my friend S.M. was telling me about a friend who came to visit from out of town years ago and gave him a smallish glass bunny as a present. He thought the whole thing amusing – they were getting ready to leave for dinner then – until she blurted out the caveat: he had to bring it with him to all the places they were going to that evening, including the restaurant and bars. Now Gotham Bar & Grill is not exactly the place you’d want to be seen with an animal figurine but nonetheless S.M., ever the accommodating host, obliged and, as the night wore on and they headed for drinks, Glass Bunny ended up finding groupies among the bar crowd who had their picture taken with it, including this obscure Spanish filmmaker who happened to be in New York for the NY Film Festival which screened his little film called “All About My Mother”.  

Not one to be outdone by some random bunny who got lucky with Pedro Almodovar, Laszlo has decided to launch a Great Directors series here in “Better Than Sex” where he gets to have a photo op with some of the most talented filmmakers around. And so, at the 20th Anniversary of the maverick indie film distributor Zeitgeist Films at the MOMA last Friday, who else does Laszlo run into but the extraordinary Todd Haynes, the genius behind last year’s Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” and “Poison”, which was one of Zeitgeist’s early hits in 1991. And just like that, Laszlo has arrived.