Fosse. Quality (and consistency) over quantity is the case for Fosse. He only directed 5 films (between 1969-1983) and all are in the archives, 3 in the top 100 of their respective decade (the 3 1970’s films) and 2 landed in the top 500 of all-time. The 3 big ones all feature performers (Liza in Cabaret, Hoffman as comedian Lenny Bruce, and Roy Scheider playing essentially Fosse himself in the autobiographical All That Jazz) and Fosse’s trademark performance structure. There’s more consistency here than say Dark Knight/Memento from Nolan, Exorcist/French Connection from Friedkin, or even One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest/Amadeus from Milos Forman so Fosse lands here.
Best film: Cabaret. I think you can make the case the montage to end All That Jazz is Fosse’s single greatest moment/sequence as a director but that film isn’t virtually perfect throughout like Cabaret. Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey’s performance interludes break up the Michael York and Liza led narrative make for a bold formal choice that makes this work stand out even in a crowded time (1970’s) and place (the United States) for auteurs and masterpieces.
total archiveable films: 5
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 2 (Cabaret, All that Jazz)
top 100 films of the decade: 3 (Cabaret, All that Jazz, Lenny)
most overrated: I don’t have one for Fosse. There’s not much to choose form with only 5 films as a director. Sweet Charity and Star 80 don’t exactly have lofty critical reputations. I’m really close to both of the rankings of Fosse’s two films in the TSPDT consensus top 1000 (All That Jazz, Cabaret) and his only remaining film is…. Below.
most underrated: Lenny is underrated. It would land in my 500-1000 and it’s nowhere to be found in the TSPDT top 1000. The comedic performances act as a performance interlude to mirror the work done in Cabaret.
gem I want to spotlight: All That Jazz is an ambitious reimagining of Fellini’s 8 ½ with an all-timer of a montage sequence, a tour-de-force lead performance from Roy Schieder and music and choreography from quite possibly the musical genre’s greatest—Fosse.
stylistic innovations/traits: Fosse is remembered for jazz– not only for his 5 films but his work on Broadway and as a choreographer (in work other than just his films). Even in Lenny (a black and white biopic about a comedian) there’s an inarguable musical element (mostly in the erotic dance interludes with Valerie Perrine). Jazz, modern choreography are traits for Fosse but they are not inherently filmic. I think there two specifically filmic elements to Fosse as the cinema auteur. One is easy, it’s the editing. As he progressed throughout his career (the climax death montage in All That Jazz the highlight) he became one of cinema’s great editors of his era. Secondly, and I mentioned this in the blurb on Cabaret, there are the performance interludes (in all of Fosse’s three best films). In Cabaret, Lenny and All That Jazz there’s A). the straight narrative and B). the performances and they’re both separate and formally tied together. It’s an aspiring and unique structural/formal element so again we have Fosse as a director who made three great films that are consistent in structure (performance interludes), style (editing/montage), genre (musical/jazz) and even with the genius but self-destructing lead characters.
- All That Jazz
- Star 80
- Sweet Charity
By year and grades
|1969- Sweet Charity||R|
|1979- All That Jazz||MS|
|1983- Star 80||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
I recently watched Cabaret for the first time. I don’t know why I shied away from it for so long, but I first watched it this week and my expectations were completely subverted. I don’t think it is as impressive with regards to its music, but, to me, three aspects render it a Must See level film (I don’t know about the masterpiece ranking here, but it also feels right – Cabaret is brilliant): performance/expressionism, Sally Bowles as a character and its terrifying implications.
The music didn’t vastly impress me, but the musical sequences definitely did. With its relentless play on lighting, extravagant costumes and musical numbers, extreme close ups and jump cuts, Cabaret is wonderfully excessive and expressionistic when it entertains and it outlines the microcosm of the German 20’s to 30’s cabaret scenery with admirable precision: it draws a fine line between its liveliness, glamour, freedom and magnetism and also its wastefulness and lack of substance. The careful study on this way of life is done entirely via the film’s musical numbers – the unexpected proximity in their approach reveals both cabaret’s style and its ugliness. The celebration of freedom, sexuality, song, music, life to its fullest, all incarnated in the musical numbers.
Speaking of celebrating life – Sally Bowles is perhaps one of the greatest single female characters in film history. She sings, dances, laughs, drinks, lives every moment to its fullest, chews up every minute, appreciates every second. Behind her persona and life choices lies a fragile ego and overwhelming insecurities. The constant need for love and validation makes her selfish and reckless at times. But still, few people are as kind hearted as her – she is warm and caring, she gives her all to everything she does and loves those dearer to her without limits or second thoughts. She endears everyone calling them “darling” even when she knows them for less than a minute, “absolutely adores” every exciting little thing. She makes mistakes and then makes up for them. She flies in and out of people’s lives, gracing them simply with her presence, enriching their world, offering them everything she has and doing what she does best – leaving an indelible impression. We feel her name may not really be Sally. We also feel that sometimes all she does is lie to us. Does it really matter though? It doesn’t, simply because, even if her real name isn’t Sally or her father is not an ambassador or she never met Emil Jannings (good for her, honestly), she IS Sally Bowles in everything that name represents. She parts with her lover at the train station and after she takes in all the pain and wonder of their relationship, she lets it sink in and says her goodbyes, she quickly turns away, moving on, going on to live the next painful and yet wondrous moment that life has kept aside for her. She will never forget Brian, she will even tell stories about him. She will always love him because that’s what she does, she loves everyone. Brian will live on through her and she through Brian, because of what they had together. She doesn’t hesitate to let him go and yet a part of him will always stay with her. Sally is larger than life in all of its glorious sense. After all, “life is a cabaret”.
Lastly, the aspect of Cabaret that left me really shocked is its implications of doom. The Nazi threat is present throughout the film and there are moments of real intense horror (eg. when that blonde boy stands up to sing Tomorrow Belongs to Me and the whole rural restaurant follows suit – again, the close ups and jump cuts intensify the impact of these moments). But the true power of Cabaret lies in its understanding of the oxymoron – upbeat cabaret music plays as we see swastikas in the background, the master of ceremonies’ ominous smile to which Fosse cuts right after a hideous display of Nazism. Joel Grey’s character is nearly like ghost in the film – somehow omnipresent and all knowing, completely aware of what is coming, the key to the decaying world of the Weimar era and the birth of Nazism. It is through the power of suggestion that true horror is achieved in film and Cabaret excels on that front. Some sequences are unexpectedly unsettling.
@Georg- great work here on Sally’s character and the “implications of doom”
I still find it crazy that this guy got named-dropped in A Woman is a Woman more than a decade before he made Cabaret. This guy’s musicals must have been quite the rage for that to happen. I mean was Godard actually psychic or something? Did he sense Fosse would go on to become a great filmmaker?
That actually reminds me of the Paul Newman mention in La Dolce Vita, which predates the vast majority of his greatest roles and performances.
Upon further research, I have learned that Newman was actually considered (in fact, heavily favored) for the leading role in the film, but Fellini preferred Mastroianni. This was, no doubt, the reason why he is mentioned in the scene at the party.
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