All That Jazz (1979)

All That Jazz

All That Jazz – 1979

Director – Bob Fosse

Starring – Roy Scheider, Ann Reinking, and Leland Palmer

This one was a little difficult for me.  I didn’t particularly like or dislike this film, despite the fact that I really liked some of the performances.  Usually with each of the films on this list I have some sort of reaction, and whether it’s shocked disappointment or some degree of elation about how good something is doesn’t matter.  It’s the reaction that I’m interested in.  The most wonderful (sometimes frustratingly so) part of tackling a chore such as this list, is that each and every one of these films make me feel something.  Or they usually do anyway.

The semi autobiographical All That Jazz, wasn’t bad, but ultimately, that is all it ended up being for me.  It wasn’t all that long ago that I watched it, and yet I find myself having a hard time remembering it, and consequently it’s pretty hard to write about something when it’s difficult to remember the plot.  However, have no fear, I did a bit of research on it to get me back up to speed, and I am going to do my best to write something about it anyway.

Joe Gideon is a man who dwells in… no, he revels in his own excess.  It isn’t uncommon for people to glamorize or celebrate something like drug use, alcohol, or casual sex, it is actually quite common for people to claim a vice with some degree of pride.  Gideon, the altar-ego of the film’s director Bob Fosse, can claim them all.  He is a hedonist for the ages.  The good part is that these things are what keeps him creating and crafting his true calling, choreography, the bad part is, it’s also what’s killing him.  So the question becomes, is a life spent fervidly devoted to your work worth dying for, and maybe more importantly, is a life without passion worth living?

On one hand, I found it easy to connect with Gideon (played very engrossingly by Roy Scheider) through his love of what he does, on the other I found I wasn’t very fond of his results, nor his methods of achieving them.  I know it’s blasphemous to say, but I don’t think his choreography (Fosse, or Gideon for that matter) was really all that memorable, or special.  Granted I’ve only really seen this (that I’m aware of), so I suppose his work deserves another chance to connect with me, but based solely on this, I wouldn’t go out of my way to give it one.

Gideon/Fosse, as a human being, is rather sloppy and careless, in love, in his relationships, and even in the way he treats himself.  Watching him walk like a wrecking ball through his own life was  like  a trip to the DMV, long, difficult and very annoying.  The odd part was that I like Roy Scheider in the role, and truthfully the Joe Gideon character is interesting to watch.  I definitely wouldn’t say that I connected with him, or that I even care if he lives or dies by the end of the film, but it did help to balance out the story a bit and bring it closer to center.  I guess it really all comes down to the fact that I liked Roy Scheider’s performance.  I like Roy Scheider.  He was easily the most watchable part of the film.

On a side note, films of the seventies tended to have real looking people in them.  Not everyone was a flawless being of perfect light, unleashed to increase ticket sales in certain demographics.  It’s refreshing to see someone with unique features, or a body shape that isn’t cookie cutter pretty, and to its credit, All That Jazz really embraces that organic trend of natural people and doesn’t relegate them to the background or as the doofy sidekick.  In fact, just about the only thing that I can appreciate about Fosse’s work, this film included, is his attraction to form and movement and artistry based on a multitude of things regardless of what others thought.  I only wished I liked his choreography more.

Clearly the rest of the actors and performers in the film felt very strongly about the impact that Bob Fosse has had, including Fosse himself, but even with that devotion and belief in it, All That Jazz was still only tepid at best.  In the end, after reading a bit about it, and doing a little analyzing of my own, I got more out of it than I had initially thought, but truly the motivation for me writing this was because I’ve been putting this review off now for a month and I just wanted to get if off my plate.

As far as the list goes, the spot would have been better served by any number of different films.  Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, has similar voyeuristic qualities, with a lot of the infidelity and familial drama, yet it resounded with me far more on every level, from the film’s technical craftsmanship, to Bergman’s direction, to the deep, heartfelt acting.  I guess all I’m saying is that, while I never really hated it, this film never really impacted me like one of the 1001 best movies ever should have.

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Sleeper (1973)

Sleeper – 1973

Director – Woody Allen

Starring – Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, and John Beck

So being relatively new to the films of Woody Allen, I’ve learned that it’s possible to lump them into certain groups dictated by genre as well as by the phase of his career.  You have his neurotic comedy phase of the early 70’s, his Ingmar Bergmanesque phase of the 80’s, and then you have the crap-o-rama phase of the 90’s.  In between these, you’ll also find an occasional homage to a different genre.   Manhattan Murder Mystery, for example, is a nod to the screwball comedy, and then there’s the very Hitchcockian thriller/mystery that is Match Point.  And then you come to a film like Sleeper.  Part slapstick comedy in the vein of Benny Hill, part science fiction adventure, all boring and unfunny.

Allen, plays the role of Miles Monroe, a man who is frozen after a botched medical procedure only to wake 200 years later in a future that resembles a sort-of Three Stooges take on 1984.  The people of this world are kept sedated by television, sex, and drugs, as their leader runs the government with his police force.  Already an outlaw, Miles has to hideout in disguise as a robot butler in the home of a flighty, shallow, young woman, Luna, played by Diane Keaton.  Naturally things go awry, and they end up on the run together.

Normally, this sort of story would get me pretty jazzed to see the film.  I am a big fan of science fiction, comedy, and the novel 1984.  In this case however, the comedy is so blatantly dumb that I wonder if anyone even looked at the script before approving and funding it.  I have absolutely no idea how this film made it onto a best of list like this one when truly funny, well executed comedies such as The Big Lebowski have been woefully left off, but I’m sure it must either be some sort of nostalgia on the part of those editors putting the list together or maybe this film was a really big inspiration to someone (hopefully it inspired them to never make a movie like this again.)

To be fair, I don’t know that I quite “get” Woody Allen’s comedy.  I didn’t really like Annie Hall, and that was supposedly one of the funniest movies ever, and I downright hated Manhattan Murder Mystery mostly because it was fucking awful!  Sleeper, though, is filled with the sort of obnoxious kid humor that only 5 year olds think is funny.  By comparison the work of The Three Stooges seems downright academic.

In terms of acting, Woody Allen switches between his usual nervous, comedic delivery, and outlandish pantomime.  In short, there is no developement or depth to his character.  This seems to be par for the course though, as none of the other characters change or grow at all either.  One argument might be that this is a comedy, and its sole intent is to be funny not moralize or chart growth.  My response to that is…even the characters in films like Airplane! and The Naked Gun progress as people, so why shouldn’t the characters in Sleeper?

All in all, I did not like this film, and I definitely feel that it shouldn’t even have been placed in the top 2001 movies of all time.  See it if you want, but see it at your own risk and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Vargtimmen (AKA: Hour of the Wolf) (1968)

HourOfTheWolf

Vargtimmen (AKA: Hour of the Wolf) – 1968

Director – Ingmar Bergman

Starring – Max Von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, and Erland Josephson

Hour of the Wolf presents a much darker and scarier side of Ingmar Bergman than I’ve seen in any of his other films, without letting up on the acting or characterization that remains the hallmark of any Bergman movie.

This film is populated with some of Bergman’s regular stable of actors, including Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, and Max Von Sydow.  Ullmann and von Sydow play Alma and Johan Borg, a couple who have sequestered themselves on a remote island so that he may deal with his inner demons with a relative amount of privacy.  Seemingly, everything starts off on the up and up, but it quickly becomes evident that he is tortured by something, so much so that it keeps him up nights.  While Johan is distant and brooding while dealing with his fears, Alma, like a lot of female characters in Bergman’s works, saddles herself with the blame and responsibility of caring for him.  Unfortunately for them both, all she manages to do is join him on his descent into madness.

The imagery used is unsettling, and remote, causing the feeling of being further from safety.  The couple has chosen this secluded place in an attempt to find a safe place, but instead the (almost) deserted island presents more dangers than it shelters them from.  The feeling of isolation and helplessness increases as Johan’s described demons (the lady who threatens to take her hat off, and with it her face, the man who is disguised as a bird, and the lusty former conquest who is probably dead), begin to take shape in the form of the island’s other in habitants.

The line blurs even further when we learn the root of Johan’s guilt, and we start to believe there is more madness in him than sanity.  The telling of this story is a mixture of documentary, flashback, hallucination, and incomplete third person testimony, which only increases the unreliability of what actually happened.  The film starts as Liv Ullmann exits their cottage to a waiting (and unseen) documentary crew.  She tells of how Johan became more and more distant from her as he decended further into his fantasies.  From this we move on to what seems to be a flashback, peppered with further flashbacks and discussions with people who may or may not be there.  Little by little Alma is corrupted by the visions, and she starts seeing the same “ghosts” that Johan does.  At first we take for granted that her story is being relayed to this unseen documentary crew, but soon enough we’re not sure if they are the end result of her own madness.

Possibly the most unsettling part is, when at one of the final gatherings of the various characters, the old lady wearing the hat finally takes it off.  The whole movie has built to what happens next.  We watch as Johan unravels before our eyes, assailed with imagry borrowed years later for such classics as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.  The power of this imagery is the fact that it is not over-used, and for the entire first half of the movie is only hinted at, and suggested.

Filmed entirely in high contrast, black and white photography enhances the unsettling feel of the entire film.  From sunrise to mid-day, and from sunset to the titular hour of the wolf, the lighting borrows and lends in equal measure from the mood of the characters.  A walk home at dusk is much more threatening, while we feel more self assured during the bright day time scenes.  Even through watching this lesser known film (at least it was lesser known to me) it is certainly easy to see how longtime Bergman cinematographer,  Sven Nykvist, won his two Oscars (both Bergman films Fanny and Alexander and Cries and Whispers) and was nominated for numerous other awards worldwide.

Though, Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen in Swedish), isn’t one of the films first thought of when you hear Ingmar Bergman, it is still a valuable exercise in tone and atmosphere, and is truely representative of what makes a Bergman film.  The lonliness and tension are palpable, and by the end, just like someone who is going mad, we question everything!

“More like The Hour of the Get the Fuck Over!” – Ashley