Bob Fosse

The name usually associated with musical, both on stage and silver screen; an unprecedented multiple winner of Tony Awards for choreography – eight in total – Bob Fosse is one of the pivotal figures of modern dance; as a four-time Oscar nominee for best director (he made only five feature films), Fosse is remembered as one of the best moviemakers of 70’s; visionary, uncompromising artist whose films found their place in motion picture history.

Bob Fosse – Biography and filmography insight
American choreographer, dancer, actor, screenwriter and director Robert Bob Fosse was born in Chicago, 1927. He demonstrated extraordinary interest in dancing quite early in his youth. As a teenager, Fosse teamed up with another young dancer, Charles Grass – they called themselves The Riff Brothers; this dancing duo toured extensively throughout Chicago city area during the World War Two. Couple of years later ambitioned Fosse moved to the capital of entertainment, New York.

Influenced by one of the best American dancers of the era, Fred Astaire, Fosse began to develope particular dance style, heavily tied with jazz music. This form of dancing became recognizable through its provoking sexuality as well as its highly stylized motions that wasn’t seen on stage before. During 50’s Bob Fosse was choreographing a number of theater plays, musicals on New York stages. Eventually he started to direct in theater but Fosse stays as the most succesful stage choreographer – he was awarded with unprecedented eight Tony Awards for best choreography.

In the late 60’s Bob Fosse started to make movies. The first project, Sweet Charity (1969) is screen adaptation of succesful Broadway musical which Fosse directed and choreographed. The story of a New York dance-hall hostess and her love life is remembered through delightful performance by Shirley MacLaine as well as unconventional directing and dynamic dance numbers. Sweet Charity was shot entirely on location in New York City.

Three years later, Bob Fosse filmed another famous Broadway musical – J.Cander and F.Ebb’s Cabaret (1972). This time there was a period piece staged in 1930’s Weimar Berlin, city of decadence, corruption, eruptive political violence and opscure night life. Everything spins around picturesque ‘Kit Kat Klub’; cabaret dancing numbers serve as impressive comments on the society’s evolution from hedonism to brutal fascism. The cabaret performances and the atmosphere serve as a particular curved mirror, reflecting tumultuous events while adding grotesque and perversion to it.

Bob Fosse Cabaret 1972
Cabaret (1972)

The story of young English writer Bryan and his emotional liaison with childish cabaret performer, American Sally Bowles brought Fosse enormous acclamation and success – he won an Oscar for best director, beating Francis.F.Coppola (nominated for his work in The Godfather); Fascinating Liza Minnelli in her leading role and Joel Grey (as magnificent cabaret Master of Ceremonies) won Academy Awards for their roles as well – Cabaret won eight Oscars in total. This film was shot on location in Germany, mostly in West Berlin.

Soon after Cabaret, Fosse made one of the most distinguished film biographies, Lenny (1974), with Dustin Hoffman in title role of notorious American stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce. This biopic Bob Fosse made in then-unusual pseudo documentary fashion – the story is told from the perspective of his wife, Honey (wonderfully played by Valerie Perrine), his manager and his close relative.

Hoffman gives us splendid, memorable performance as a nightclub comedian and much more – provocative social commentator, a man with strong sense of individuality and lust for freedom, troubled with narcotics and opresive hipocrisy around him. Lenny presented Fosse’s courageous style in filmmaking that delivers unique visual experience; through fragmented narative that goes back and forth in time as well as black and white cinematography, this film delivers strong impression of bleak and pretty much depressed reality and this wasn’t the way of making films in 70’s. Bob Fosse was Oscar nominee for best directing and the film itself was nominated for best picture of the year.

After five years break, Fosse filmed his ultimate creation, semi-autobiographical All That Jazz (1979). It’s ‘fast and furious’ portrait of musical director/choreographer fuelled by drugs, adrenaline and cigarettes, a half-mad womanizer on his way to self-destruction. All That Jazz is memorable, frenzy journey into the heart of showbusiness life, featuring fascinating Roy Scheider as the main character; beside him there were John Lithgow, Jessica Lange and Sandahl Bergman, all superb in their roles.

Fosse’s famous dance style is another crucial ‘character’ in this film as well; dancing performances choreographed by Fosse himself are simply brilliant. This was sort of Fosse’s version of the story by Federico Fellini told in his classic Eight and a half. All That Jazz won Palme D’Or at Cannes Film Festival in 1979; Bob Fosse was once more nominated for Academy Award for best directing; the film was awarded with four Oscars.

All that Jazz
Roy Scheider in All That Jazz (1979)

His fifth and final film was Star 80 (1983). The true story of tragic Playboy’s Playmate Dorothy Stratten who got killed by her husband is told in a way close to one of Fosse’s earlier biopic, Lenny – that same pseudo documentary style of storytelling dominates in Star 80. The film is in fact based on Pulitzer Prize-winning article about tragic young starlet; in its core this is a story about the dark side of American Dream.

Eric Roberts was magnificent in creating one of the most despicable characters in american cinema – Roberts is the best thing in Star 80, by far. In particular Southern California-environment Bob Fosse pulls dismantling of the American Dream, demistificating it by depicting tragic colapse of young beauty’s life and carrer. For his fifth film Fosse was again nominated for an Oscar – this was his fourth consecutive Academy Award nomination.

Bob Fosse changed the way audiences viewed and experienced dance both in motion picture arts and on stage. Visionary and highly intense, he was an artist whose work was ultimately entertaining, provocative and quite unlike anything ever seen before. His dances are physically demanding, sexual and full of humor as well as bleak cynicism. Bob Fosse undisputedly revolutionized the presentation of dance on silver screen and paved the way for a whole generation of film makers, using dance and music in film art as no one had done before.