Euphoria #17: It’s showtime, folks.

Fiona’s got a nasty ‘flu’, so I’m attempting to restore her spirits with another of those movie scenes that infuses you with optimism, like steam inhalation for the soul. 

Pure frug-ing euphoria from Bob Fosse’s SWEET CHARITY, his remake of Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA, book by Neil Simon. A modest floor-show in the Fellini, visible for just a few seconds, is here inflated into a gigantic number with Suzanne Charney (and Ben Vereen!) This is the second euphoric clip in two days where a woman makes remarkable shapes with her body. S.C. is utterly incredible. Women want to be her. Men want to be on her. 

Neil Simon and Bob Fosse were great friends and contemporaries: Fosse was only two days older than Simon. He used to say, “During those two days when I was on this earth and you weren’t… I had more girls than you will have in the entire rest of your life.”

Another writer friend was Paddy Chayefsky (NETWORK, ALTERED STATES). When Fosse was about to go in for open-heart surgery he asked Paddy to sign his will as a witness. Chayefksy asked to read it.

‘Well, that’s not really nec-‘

‘I don’t sign anything I don’t read,’ snapped Chayefsky.

He scanned the document, then: ‘Well, this all seems — I say “SEEMS”, mind you — to be in order. But I don’t see my name anywhere.’

‘Well, that’s true. I mean, you know I love you like a brother and everything, Paddy, but you’re not actually a beneficiary.’

Chayefsky throws the will back at his sick friend. ‘Screw you then — LIVE!’

Hospital hallucination, take 1

Fosse’s surgery is gorily recreated in ALL THAT JAZZ, his penultimate film. He gives himself the best lines in that one. To first wife: ‘If I don’t make it, I’m sorry for all the things I did to you.’ To new girlfriend: ‘And if I DO make it, I’m sorry for all the things I’m GONNA do to YOU.’

*

Style note: Fosse cuts rather a lot for a choreographer/director. His editing is very stylish and rhythmic, but sometimes it takes over from the dancers, makes it impossible for us to follow the WHOLE SCENE. True, it’s a cinematic effect instead of a theatrical one, but when the dancing is this good, sometimes simplicity might be better? My main reason for fretting over this is the horrible state of filmed dance in the mainstream media today.

In CHICAGO we get a modern director imitating Fosse’s approach, but with many more cuts, the MTV tradition. The dance becomes totally incoherent, and what people remember is the editing: “Wasn’t the editing great?” Well, no. It wasn’t.

Showtime

I still love Fosse though. Like a lot of theatre directors, he embraced the unique qualities of film with insane enthusiasm. His films are all about montage, juxtaposition, cross-cutting different kinds of fictional reality, performance and life clashing head-on.

If I ran a series of clips of Cinema That Makes You Want to Gnaw Your Own Brain Off, Fosse’s skin-crawling work with Eric Roberts in STAR 80 would have to be Clip One. Amazing stuff.

Footnote: just watched this again and don’t find it at all over-edited. Maybe there’s too much cutting in other sequences, but not here.

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7 Responses to “Euphoria #17: It’s showtime, folks.”

  1. Wonderful! One of my very favourite films.
    Another great number in there features Sammy Davis Jnr as a cartoon of a Hippie.
    Time to replace my VHS copy I think.

  2. The DVD isn’t perfect: as you can just about see from the clip, it plays in 16X9 for dialogue, before going into correct widescreen for musical numbers. Insane.

    More annoyingly still, this track isn’t on the CD.

    The Sammy track was used here recently for a Guinness ad that suggested that fish first crawled from the sea in order to evolve into man and drink Guinness. “Worth waiting for.”

  3. “What’s the matter, folks? Don’t you like musical comedy?”

  4. suzanne charney has a rattlesnake for a spine. i keep thinking she’s about to break into some sort of josephine baker style body-tantrum, but she never does. her best shape is the weird froglike shimmy at 3:27 because it’s another one of those moments where something slightly odd or unflattering works much better than something standardly sexy

  5. I just changed the clip for one that’s in English, so you’re timing has changed, sorry. It’s probably about 5:20 now.

    Fosse is famous for choreographing odd moves that aren’t obviously attractive, but which work. Famously, he has dancers turn their feet IN instead of out and go knock-kneed.

  6. Darryl McCarthy Says:

    A wonderufl clip, but watching the precision and amazing shapes made by the dancers, I can only think about the agony of the take after take after take that must have been endured to deliver the finished product. And of course those who performed in the stage show had no such luxury.

  7. A student here who is a dancer herself just made a short film in which she intercuts a beautiful dance with closeups of joints bending with horrific CRUNCHING and CRACKING sounds, conveying the reality behind the effect (many vegetables were absued by the sound dept.)

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