Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

All that jazz all night long + a funny lady !

ALL THAT JAZZ floored us back in 1979. I had not seen it since so it was a revelation all over again, from that stunning opening audition sequence timed to George Benson’s “On Broadway” one sits mesmerised as our hero heel says “Its showtime” … and off we go on that rollercoaster with Roy Scheider as the Bob Fosse type director, putting on a show, editing his film about a famous comedian (as Fosse did with LENNY) and then all those women in his life … It is practically a semi-autobiographical, Fellini-esque, account of the life of Fosse himself who writes, choreographs and directs. 
Part tragic, part comic, this “outrageous look at life in the fast lane” is all about Fosse’s excessive life in show-business, starting with him as a dancing kid back in burlesque. Scheider has the role of his life as depicts the perils of pushing himself too hard, imagining Death to be a beautiful blonde (Jessica Lange) who teases and waits … I had forgotten how marvellous that Peter Allen number “Everything Old Is New Again” is, as danced here by sensational Ann Reinking and our hero’s daughter, and that sexy “Take Off With Us” number, we had seen nothing like it then. Cliff Gorman, Ben Vereen and John Lithgow are all terrific too, as it all builds to that stunning climax with "Bye Bye Life". ALL THAT JAZZ and Paul Schrader's  AMERICAN GIGOLO defined movies for me just then. I can’t wait to see it again now. 
FUNNY LADY. I actually enjoyed FUNNY LADY back in 1975 and may have even got the soundtrack album - the one number in the Brice style "Blind Date" is still hilarious, over the credits. We still liked Streisand then, it was not until the next year with her take on A STAR IS BORN (or A STAR IS BORING) that one recoiled in horror. Seeing FUNNY LADY again now on tv, it is an absolute hoot - the preening self-regard of the star, as Herbert Ross’s film delivers every cliche in the book. The only people in it really are Babs and James Caan (at his attractive best here but of course all wrong for Billy Rose), and Roddy McDowell as ‘Bobby’ her gay friend/assistant ("Who's the pansy?" Caan's Billy Rose asks). 
Omar Sharif looks in twice too, like visiting royalty (as Pauline Kael said, if I recall right). Barbra/Fanny berates him for not asking about their daughter, but we never see her with the child either. It has some almost good moments – like "How Lucky Can You Get" (the real Brice presumably never looked as stunning as Barbra in that backless Bob Mackie gown), but that reprise of "Dont Rain On My Parade" - "Lets Hear it for me" here - had me almost falling off the sofa in hysterics, especially when she takes off in that little yellow plane. 
Producer Ray Stark makes more money out of his mother-in-law Fanny Brice, and there are a few snatched moments from the superior FUNNY GIRL. Barbra to her credit didn't want to do the sequel, but Stark had her under contract and insisted. The ending is a scream, set presumably in the 1940s, as Fanny and Billy meet again – both are made up to look old, but it doesn’t quite work – though not as bad as Caan and Midler made up to look ancient in FOR THE BOYS! This of course was wildly out of fashion back in 1975 and is even more so now. Odd that they thought shows about 2 forgotten '30s figures - Brice and Gertrude Lawrence - would be successful in the '60s, well they were on the right track with Fanny! (Julie's STAR! review at Andrews label).
I have though relented about Barbra and have got her new cd/concert dvd put aside for the holidays. At least I saw the original FUNNY GIRL on stage in London in 1966 and from the front row, when I was a mere 20!
ALL NIGHT LONG. Patrick McGoohan stars in this hip, cool reworking of OTHELLO, set among the London jazz clubs of the early Sixties. A steamy tale of jealousy, passion and brooding menace, McGoohan gives a strong performance as the manipulative, treacherous Johnny Cousin, a talented drummer who wields music as a weapon in his quest to draw a jazz diva out of retirement. Directed by Basil Dearden, and with strong support from Keith Michell, Betsy Blair and Richard Attenborough, ALL NIGHT LONG showcases premiere jazz musicians of the '50s and '60s including Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth, Tubby Hayes and the legendary Charles Mingus. In London's East End the high, blank walls of warehouses tower on either side, giving the street an anir of menace Bu from one warehouse comes the cool sounds of jazz, the clink of glasses and the buzz of intelligent conversation. Its a party for the first wedding anniversary of jazzman Aurelius Rex and his wife Delia who gave up a highly sucessful singing career - but our demon drummer has plans of his own ... 
  A fascinating movie then on many levels, not only with the jazzmen of the time, and a great cast - McGoohan and Mitchell and Betsy Blair are always never less than compulsive, Marti Stevens is a glamourous addition, and that busy man Basil Dearden directs - in those late '50s/early '60s years he also turned out SAPPHIRE, THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, VICTIM, LIFE FOR RUTH - as well as those early '50s classics we like here: POOL OF LONDON, THE BLUE LAMP. A PLACE TO GO, and then more international movies like WOMAN OF STRAW and KHARTOUM (where Olivier is terrific as the Madhi). Dearden died in a car crash in 1971, aged 60.  
ALL NIGHT LONG is a fascinating discovery now, and unlike similar jazz movies of the time, such as PARIS BLUES, black and white relationships are treated matter of factly here, just as the '60s began. 

1 comment:

  1. Funny Lady isn't nearly as good as Funny Girl mostly because it's missing several key ingredients from the first film. The most important would seem to be director Wyler, who kept the first film moving even at an extended length while this one plods here and there. The supporting characters aren't nearly as enjoyable or fleshed out as in the first, where is Kay Medford's wonderful mother? Most of the music is excellent, the problem with most is the staging. Only snippets of many of them like "More Than You Know" and "Am I Blue" and several of the ones we do get full versions of are muddled, the worst is "It's Gonna Be a Great Day". Barbra gives a great rendition of the song but it's drowned mostly in long shots and the sound of the shuffling feet of the surrounding dancers. That haunting version of "If I Love Again" though is one of the most beautiful things she's ever done. Caan is alright as Billy Rose but he and Babs share little chemistry and he mostly shouts his part hardly making the most romantic leading man. As for Streisand, I love her and of course loaded with talent but seems brittle and haughty, two things Fanny Brice never was. The production design is excellent and some of the costumes are eye popping, that feathered dress in itself is amazing, but they are dressing up an average affair.