And All That Buzz

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon were special talents.  He is still the only artist to win the Oscar, Tony and Emmy awards all in one year (1973) and she was the first musical theatre actress to win four Tony Awards.

More to the point, it’s not every estranged married couple who kept working with each other years after their estrangement that has an eight part miniseries aired about their lives decades after their deaths.

When you watch Fosse/Verdon on FX, and everyone should, it’s difficult not to marvel at the sheer breadth of their work that will forever live on long after all of our deaths.  Sweet Charity, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, Chicago and All That Jazz, to drop a handful of legendary landmarks, are only a few highlights.

Both director/choreographer Fosse, and Broadway star, muse and behind-the-scenes facilitator Verdon did all kinds of work in a wide variety of genres.  But what unites them, more than anything, is their dedication to a disciplined, single-minded type of artistry that seems to have disappeared from the cultural zeitgeist these days.

Let’s not get it wrong; there are contemporary artists with the type of discipline that both Verdon and Fosse shared with us all through their lives.  But in both their cases they left far more than that, as the miniseries shows us.

OK yes, him (and he’s producing Fosse/Verdon… go figure)

In a sense, Fosse/Verdon, and their lives, gives us a timeless roadmap to the world pre #MeToo.  It was an existence where men consistently had the upper hand, the best opportunities AND usually got sole credit for ALL of the work even when that wasn’t necessarily the case.

When females actually managed to shine in their own spotlight far brighter than their male counterparts, it was in the midst of the age-old expectation that they would eventually dim their bulbs and take time off from doing their own thing in order to help the guy’s light to shine just as bright (and often brighter) on a project of their own without basking in the glory.

Who is holding up whom? (hint: It’s Gwen)

It was either that or turn the other cheek when the man brooded and strayed into the arms of many other women because, well, how could HE not when SHE wasn’t around.   For those women choosing to go solo, well they might make it alone for a bit but much sooner than later they’d mostly age out and be left alone – a fate few would be able to happily survive when left to their own devices in the real world.

We’ve come a long way from those times, though likely not as far as we think we have, one suspects.  As one watches Ms. Verdon endure her husband’s serial infidelities as she bails him out in too many ways to count on Cabaret, it occurs to us, hmmm, and why didn’t I ever know that, how come she never got any credit?   As she continues to serve as his creative sounding board on so many other future projects and successes (Note: And notably doesn’t on several of the failures) we become clear of the extent of their partnership, and just how much we DON’T know about who did what and just how much on any uber successful project of any artist or in any artistic collaboration.

Truly a singular sensation  #yesiknowthatfsromChorusLine

None of this is to take anything away from the miraculous creative vision and accomplishments a talent of the caliber of a Bob Fosse leaves us.  It’s one thing for a chorus boy/dancer to turn expert choreographer and then director of Broadway musicals.  It’s another to then become a sophisticated movie director who not only reinvented the onscreen musical with the movie Cabaret  (Note: Beating out Francis Coppola’s work on The Godfather to win the best director Oscar that year) but then two years later go on make the critically acclaimed, black and white non-musical, biopic of Lenny Bruce, Lenny, and use a non-linear narrative from which to tell it.

Not to mention the release of the autobiographical biopic All That Jazz five years later, a thoroughly original multi-Oscar nominated film success he co-wrote and directed that pretty much presaged the reasons behind his own death (Note: 12 years later) for all the world to see in glorious living color on movie screens all across the world.

JAZZ. HANDS.

Gwen Verdon was at Fosse’s side in various ways all through those artistic leaps and bounds and together they define a certain type of show business special that today too often feels sorely lacking.

Though the special is still there.  In fact, you see it every day, all around.  But the show business special – hmmm, that’s another story.

I, for one, am soooo tired of hearing young talent is not what it used to be, not special, not on the level of a Fosse or a Verdon anymore.

Well, of course ability like theirs was, indeed, rare, as were their complex sensibilities and intellect for telling a sophisticated yet human story.  But there are many people who are special in all kinds of different ways now, some of them even similar to a Fosse or a Verdon, whose work has little chance of gaining recognition.  Even when it does, it almost never gets that same kind of mainstream acceptance.

This EXACTLY

For one, there is not the mass attendance for a single form of media that we once had.  There was a time when Broadway theatre was IT and it tackled primarily new and exciting subjects, or at least fresh and entertaining/thought-provoking ones that often broke into the cultural zeitgeist.

Movies also told primarily real life human stories sans gaping plot holes, and for decades later it was not unusual for the biggest successes to say something about our lives as we knew them (Note: Or didn’t know them) that year.  Sure, there were disaster films, spectacles, horror, sci-fi and mindless comedies, but they were not the overwhelming majority of the work.  Yes, they had special effects but to have a really SPECIAL affect on the world you had to do a lot more than simply launch a starship into an infinite universe or create a colorful costumed villain whose one goal in life was an unmotivated ambition to blow up the universe.

I mean.. is it really even the end?

Right, right, we can hear the hiss and boos about this type of grousing from this computer screen already.  Well, no one is saying these shows and films shouldn’t exist.  Or that it’s a shame that television has expanded to the point where there is so much programming that no one show ever seems to be particularly special to most of us.

But the facts are that in an age when media is so diffuse and so plentiful there is almost no young person that can create the level and sheer amount of narrative work or performance with the same amount of staying power, depth of story and cultural intensity of a Fosse or a Verdon.  There isn’t the mass popular audience for that kind of sophisticated worldview, that type of show biz special.  It’s just not how the industry is set up these days.

We have international stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and, dare I say it, Jordan Peele??   But can they do the kind of deep or stylized work of Fosse or Verdon and break through? Schindler’s List was 25 years agoRaging Bull came out FOUR DECADES ago.

I’m…. I’m… OLD

Star Wars is not Cabaret, or even The Godfather – it can’t be and wasn’t meant to be.  Because the truth is there is no longer a mass-market avenue for the latter two projects.  But even fluffier Broadway shows that catapulted Ms. Verdon to stardom like Sweet Charity and Damn Yankees would doubtless be made into theatrical films in the 2000/10s.  Chicago, her final starring vehicle finally was, but decades after the original closed on Broadway and barely broke even.  It was only when a stripped down, TV/movie star driven revival was launched and kept afloat with a rotating name cast that Hollywood came calling and a film was produced that was safe enough to appeal to mass acceptance.

To look at that film in light of Fosse/Verdon one realizes that despite its Oscar win it’s the anti-Cabaret.  Rather than move forward the medium or the film’s story it merely waters it down with an eye towards the present as it pastiches various Fosse-like moves from the past.  And it was released a full 17 years agoGet Out, for all its cultural significance, (Note: And add on Us) is nowhere near the class of storytelling of any of Fosse’s best work, or that of a Scorsese or a Spielberg.  #PlotHoleCity

For these reasons and many more, one can’t help but mourn a bit for the past during the Fosse/Verdon miniseries.  It gives us so much show biz special in an age when it’s not the thought behind the show, but the delivery system by which it comes to us, that feels the most special to us.

Liza Minnelli – “Maybe This Time” (from Cabaret)

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Hug Life

I caught up with a true indie film the other night called Diane that is available through VOD or at several theatres nationwide.  It is anchored by a fine leading performance by Mary Kay Place and is a movie about regrets and the ways we torture ourselves into believing we must forever pay for some major past transgression for which we can’t be forgiven.

There is no get out of jail free card in real life – well, except if you’re one of the uber rich like, say, convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein – but there should be term limits for self immolation.  After one apologizes, changes one’s actions and attempts to make amends, or does at least two of the three, what more is there to do than learn from the experience and begin living one’s life in a way where you don’t make the same kind of mistake again?

Ehhhh… is this right?

That’s at least what Diane argues and after watching the film see if you don’t agree that life is short, apologies can be cleansing and that forgiveness is the ultimate form of survival and self-preservation.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was in the news this week for some past mistakes nowhere near the caliber of the ones made by Diane.  One can only imagine how many we make by the time we get to our mid-seventies.  I, for one, have my plate full at this point.

Cue Sinatra’s My Way #Ididitmyyyyyyway

The current mistake VP Biden is being spit-roasted for is, in his case, more of a way of being.  A kind of touchy, feely straight white male patriarchal thing involving hugs, intimacy, compassion and yes, perhaps over-affectionate boundary-breaking.

He is justly a bit on the ropes in the 2019 #MeToo era for invading the personal space of six women so far, NONE of whom believe his actions were of a sexual nature or rise to the level of anything at all we’ve read about in other #MeToo cases in the news.

In fact one of his accusers, Nevada politician Lucy Flores, recently admitted on a cable news program when pressed that she was a Bernie Sanders supporter and one of the prime reasons she was coming forward right now was that she felt the public should know about her experience with VP Biden and make their judgments accordingly.  Presumably, this was because she knew the public would soon be making their decisions about who to vote for in the 2020 election, a contest Biden is said to soon be entering.

I’m gonna need Steve Kornacki to break this down for me

It is not for any of us to judge how women or anyone feel about personal space.  For some, a three-second hug can be too long, a nose rub is akin to a touch in the nether regions and a kiss from anyone with whom one does not initiate it with first is beyond creepy.

Looking inward I realize I am by no means one to criticize.  To this day I find professional massages much too vulnerable and intimate an undertaking and have never fully relaxed with any of a handful of masseuses I’ve been coerced to trying over the years  (Note:  Please don’t write in with suggestions.  I’m good with getting them only from lovers (well, now husband) or friends whom I deeply trust).

This is not to say my norm is even normal.  It’s simply the way it is – for me.

What about this looks comfortable? #srsly #someonehelp

Most of us have a clear understanding of sexual violation and if not, the laws and mores are evolving and beginning to give us a much more stricter contemporary sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.

But there is no way to know what someone else’s normal is intimacy-wise, particularly if you are an especially affectionate person and grew up in that type of family or social environment.  When I first came out as gay I can recall being a bit taken aback by all of the men who wanted to kiss me hello in a greeting of warm friendship.  Now, of course, I do the same, despite me being strictly averse to massages, even from a pro.

I realize I’m starting to sound like Seinfeld here

One can argue this is vintage American behavior of certain eras and environments.  You don’t get much of this in Europe where for the most part hugs and kisses abound and male-male, female-female, male-to-female and female-male casual intimacy is more often than not seen as no big deal.

Clearly, Vice President Biden was raised in a world where hugs were plentiful and, as his real-life unforeseen tragedies unfolded, he ably played the role of consoler-in-chief.   This was so much the case that it became his personal brand of retail politics.

Joe Biden, over the years, became America’s favorite uncle, Dad and now granddad.  He was the family friend of your parents you looked forward to seeing, the guy who seemed to always want to truly hear about what you were doing.  He was someone who could suss out exactly when you needed a pat on the back or an embrace by simply looking at your face without you saying a word.

Remember the term “consoler in chief”?

Or perhaps that’s my fantasy.   Surely it’s the reason I have for decades referred to him as Uncle Joe.

Then perhaps like some of you I’m caught in a bit of a quandary.  Uncle Joe is clearly running for president, could get the nomination and will then have to square off against truly evil Uncle Donald.  The latter is the guy who occasionally takes you on lavish family trips but ALWAYS throws it back in your parents’ faces.  He’s affectionate and amiable, but watch out if you cross him.  In fact, don’t try it, ever.  He will ruin you and maybe your parents.  He will certainly do everything he can to poison the well for you among other family members and will likely succeed with many of them since you’re likely expendable and to not go along with his wishes in this family matter would mean to miss out on all those fancy trips.

But I digress.

Oh thank god this analogy is over #yuck #uncledonald

Joe Biden publicly stated this past week that in the future he promises to be more mindfulThe boundaries of protecting personal space has been reset, he said in a video posted on You Tube.  I get it.  I get it.  I hear what they’re saying and I understand it… That’s my responsibility and I will meet it.

One supposes that is the right political decision but going forward we all need to ask ourselves if it is the correct personal one.  Would you rather have not enough or too much?  Because none of us will ever get it exactly right with every person we meet.   This is especially the case for the person who meets millions.

Personally, I find it sad to err on the side of withholding when these days so many Americans are in need of one big, massive, Biden-like group hug.  And this is coming from the guy who doesn’t like massages.

Journey – “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”