#677 All That Jazz (1979)

All That Jazz is a stream-of-consciousness commercial-art-film semi-biopic of the life and career of its Broadway-famous writer and director, Bob Fosse. The film is strange, bouncing around from event to event and topic to topic, yet it is impeccably edited to make sense centrally structured around the life, work, relationships, successes, failures, and desires of its director. Bizzare in its striking self-prediction of Fosse’s own death ten years later, this brilliant film is “savagely witty on backstage life and thrilling in how well it conveys the obsessive, all-consuming excitement of those passionately committed and driven in their work.” We couldn’t agree more. We especially enjoyed all of the little Broadway cameo nods throughout the cast.

We watched a special edition of this film, but in doing a little research, learned that there was a Criterion released, and will likely rewatch with the commentary and supplements.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_That_Jazz_(film)

Garrett

What a surprise this film was. Sincerely, a truly magical, exciting, enthralling surprise that I was almost unsure I even wanted to watch. What I was expecting was that uncomfortable, creepy soft-touch film of the seventies that is awkward in its execution and style, bizarre in its narrative structure, overtly sexual for no apparent reason (there is one part), and a strange back-to-basics performance style that is a renaissance of a time that never existed where people are doing things that people never did in a way that is supposed to be edgy and is really just kinda disgusting, sweaty, and earth-toned like a bad porn but on purpose. But what I got was a beautiful commentary on life, work, and the theater, and it was presented in a truly remarkable postmodern edgy way from beginning to end. It was, simply put, a great film that did a lot of cool new things in a cool new way.

Full of great music and engaging performances, this take on Fosse’s life really reflects the life of an artist that mirrors my own and that I am familiar with. Fosse was able to capture the constant struggle for the energy of creation, and how difficult it is to manage balance that with your own expectations and the expectations of your audience. It also showcases the struggle of creating material, deadlines, a variety of outside influences and expectations, and finally, the toll it takes on your happiness, relationships, and health. Being a performer and artist myself, there was a lot that I saw in this film that really reflected my exhaustion and efforts in much the same way that the protagonist struggled to see in his own drug-addled morning reflection.

Most notable scenes were that oft-imitated morning routine set to Vivaldi, which I have seen in countless other films. The postmodern, compartmentalized scenes with death and former lovers and relatives were really cool – a little on the soft-touch seventies vibe, but easy to ignore with how cool it was executed. I thought the train ride of the film was really neat – a few times as I watched, I felt like I was ready to go to bed, but the way the film is edited you really just want to stay on the train and watch to its conclusion. it sincerely got better, more engaging, and entertaining as it went along, and the final hour didn’t even seem like an hour. The postmodern fifth wall open-heart surgery and dance sequences were absolutely mindblowing but only as much as the beautiful and intimate dance sequence of his daughter and (second wife?) in the living room of his house.

A spectacular and beautiful meditation on life and artistic work, I really thought this film blew my expectations out of the water. It easily solidified Fosse’s contribution to the world in his art, but it was also sadly a testament to his work and his death that he outlined on the screen for us all to watch in glorious celluloid. An incredible film.

 

Jennifer

“It’s showtime, folks!”

I was feeling a bit of trepidation about all the sketchy seventies dance numbers and costume sure to be an essential part of the film from 1979. Let me reassure you, this movie delivers on Seventies Swagger. Some of the dance sequences seemed really dated to me, but others were literally magical. The film picks up speed at the very beginning and practically sprints to the ending with no pause or break in between for you to catch your breath, and then screeches to an abrupt, grim ending.

And that ending… that ending number is so fantastically amazing.  I feel like the movie was really ahead of its time for the way they occasionally used flashbacks, music, and dance together, but then individually at other times, to propel the story forward.

The cast of this movie was sensational.  As a musical, this movie really stood out with significant dialogue between the characters to move the story along unlike a traditional musical where the music and dance tell the story.

#158 Dumbo (1941)

One of Disney’s shortest animated films that clocks in at 64 minutes, Dumbo had one specific role: to quickly recoup the financial losses suffered by their commercial flop, Fantasia. Based on a little-known book by Helen A Mayer, it tells the story of an elephant who is socially outcast and ends up finding that he is a great deal more special than anyone ever expected. Perhaps Shneider’s book best describes it as “simultaneously loving biblical virtue and skilled gunplay…the movie revels in camaraderie, chaste romance, and dueling fisticuffs…a Hawksian world…perfectly transposed into a biopic long on small-town values and short on the violent conflict that made the real life Alvin York famous.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumbo

Garrett

I really enjoyed this as a child, and it was surprising to revisit it in my adulthood as I have gained perspective and an education. I love the fact that this film is not as sing-songy as a great deal of the Disney oeuvre, but it being so short, the major points are meant to be a carefully constructed sentimental piece, and that made the pacing weird at times for me.

What is perhaps what I like about the film is also something I hate about it. The anthropomorphist realism in the film – a story about the cruelty of the real world and how people treat each other like garbage until you can prove yourself – is a great tale… But the fact that the resolution of the piece lies in the innate talent that Dumbo was born with and that everyone is special and can be rich and famous in their own way if only one were to tap into that core thing that everyone should love and worship and throw money at was something totally disgusting. As a teacher, what lies in the virtues of this film is also what I absolutely hate about our American-idol, talentless reality TV and professional sports youth. There is a belief that if one were to only find the one thing within them that is spectacular and amazing that everything will be okay and they will be successful and their life will mean something in a validating, extrinsic way – and it will come easy because it is your gift you were born with. That said, this set a lot of people and many generations up to struggle with their self-worth because of the fact that this isn’t entirely how things work most of the time.

To me, there were three notable scenes… The postmodern, psychedelic booze sequence was absolutely captivating (and weird to discuss with my seven-year-old). The scene with the mother in elephant jail was terrifying and heartbreaking. The scene with the crows was strange, and I wasn’t sure if I was watching a lampoon on black dialect or straight up cartoon blackface – this is the one thing about children’s films of the era and earlier that one might consider doesn’t stand up to our contemporary cultural standards.

I enjoyed watching Dumbo again, but I am honestly unsure if the themes totally hold up today. Can one who is bullied and treated awful by the world overcome it? Sure! Can they overcome it by finally becoming the thing that people love and value above all else, especially when the love and respect are tied to something conditional like fame and success? Well, not only is the answer ‘no,’ but all I have to do is look to Facebook to recognize how many people I know that still believe it.

Jennifer

Unlike Garrett, I never liked this movie as a kid and was not looking forward to watching it again.  I still don’t feel fondness toward this film watching again as an adult.   It was  interesting to watch it with the seven-year-old.  He pondered the opening “stork” sequence, then accepted it ( “animals in the zoo get their babies from the storks, or some kind of bird…”).

One surprising part of this film that I did find interesting was  listening to the actors’ voices.  The other character’s voices resonated with a lilt and pitch, an accent and the more formal pronunciations of words that we rarely hear anymore.    Listening to those characters’ voices made me more nostalgic for the sound of my grandparents and great aunties than the visual images of the movie.

#704 E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

One of the most memorable films of our youth, E.T. is easily a vehicle that carried the career of Spielberg and the 1980s. It is a well orchestrated, completely sentimental piece that was one of those definitive 1980s theatrical experiences. Buttressed by a cast that convincingly props up our little foam rubber protagonist, E.T. “works as a delightful adventure that appeals to the child in all of us, also delivering enough sentimental moments to have the hardest viewer reduced to a blubbering mess before the end credits” (Schneider’s book). Rife with 80s cinematic cliches, the film can easily hold its ground as being one of the first to make them happen, and that is where the magic certainly never gets old.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.T._the_Extra-Terrestrial

Jennifer

I loved watching this movie again!  I saw it for the first time in elementary school ( it was the 80’s who knows why we got to watch it?).  One thing that really appealed to me about this film as a kid and as an adult is how unrealistic the story is – but so highly entertaining.  The use of the real puppet/model added  so much  more to the character and the film than CGI ever could.  In reading about the movie it was fascinating to learn how they create the puppet, sometimes manned by a 12-year old actor with his hands portrayed by a different female actress.

While the storyline itself seems far-fetched and sometimes very disjointed, the actors, especially the kids in the movie, delivered strong performances that were still enjoyable to watch as adults.  The adults and the parents in this movie are often absent, an afterthought, or of minor importance until the very end.  I felt that this really captured how kids perceive the world around them – that anything is possible,  that rules can change, or bend.

I also loved everything about the sets, from the quintessential 1980’s house with rugs in every room and the wood paneling on the wall, to spotting and identifying past products and their logos.

This film, its story and its many memorable images continue to hold up today.  The seven-year-old was enthralled watching this film – as was I.

 

Garrett

E.T. I remember it. I remember the stuffed animal I had, the little plastic E.T. guy with the little thumb thing on the back that made his neck elongate and his head go up, and who could forget the portrait of him with Michael Jackson, right?

My perspective of not having seen it since a child has apparently clouded my nostalgia as an adult. I honestly looked back at this viewing and my past with the film. Aside from enjoying the time spent with my child being able to experience the film over again vicariously through him, I watched it with a little more of a critical eye and noticed that I have no idea what was actually happening. Like, it really doesn’t make sense in a lot of ways, and it really seems to me like a story that was being made up as it went along, carried by a puppet and the strange and fuzzy-bordered mythology that goes along with it.

There is one aspect that I actually gleaned from the special features I watched following the film, and that is that Spielberg said he modeled the story and the mythology as a means to process his parents’ divorce. In hindsight, the crumbling foundation of one’s world crashing down around you and being unsure of anything but wanting to have something secret, stable, and reliable… Something to care for and something to have control over and to love you…this is something that really hits home for me, and it is almost with that explanation that the meaning and the metamorphosis of what the film is as an allegory makes so much more sense to me.

Do I think it is a great movie? I am not sure – prior to revisiting it as an adult I would have said yes because of my memory of it. But the piece itself is a testament to the power of imagination in adults and what it can accomplish for children on the screen. This is a movie of discovery and childhood wonder, but as a writer myself in 2016, I found too many loose ends and ‘why that’ sort of things happening. If the backbone is in those divorce statements that Spielberg made, however, how beautiful to process these emotions in this manner so early on. If anything, as an adult, that is the part that I attach to the most with this movie.

Finally, there is really something to be said about using real models and real puppets and old school special effects in movies. We watched the rerelease of the original film today without the digital enhancements (and “walkie talkies were a mistake”) and it still holds up. More theatrical, three-dimensional, textural, and beautiful than a lot of the CGI that is a centerpiece to films of today, and that is a good thing.