Cast: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking
Oscar Wins: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Philip Rosenberg, Tony Walton, Edward Stewart, Gary J. Brink), Best Costume Design (Albert Wolsky), Best Editing (Alan Heim), Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score (Ralph Burns)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Roy Scheider), Best Director (Bob Fosse), Best Original Screenplay (Robert Alan Arthur, Bob Fosse), Best Cinematography (Giuseppe Rotunno)
SUMMARY: Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) is a successful theater director and choreographer, and is currently trying to both work on his latest Broadway production and edit a movie he directed in Hollywood. While Gideon has tremendous professional success, his personal life is a mess. He depends on a cocktail of different drugs to keep him functioning, but even this is starting to fail him. He begins to see an angel of death named Angelique (Jessica Lange), and after collapsing during a table read he is taken to the hospital and admitted for angina. However, workaholic Gideon refuses to stay in the hospital, and tries to leave. He collapses again, and this time is forced to stay in the hospital for a month, both for his heart and to recover from work-induced exhaustion. All three of the main women in his life are concerned for him: ex-wife Audrey Paris (Leland Palmer), daughter Michelle and girlfriend Katie Jagger (Ann Reinking), and his show is postponed, but even this proves unable to stop Gideon. He hosts extravagant parties in his hospital room, complete with champagne, cigarettes and women. This means that despite the “rest”, Gideon’s heart condition does not improve, and when his film is released to negative reviews, he has a massive coronary, and is immediately taken to surgery.
Meanwhile, the new show’s backers are facing their own dilemma: try to find a new director for the show, or call the whole thing off. As they discuss this, Gideon goes through open-heart surgery, and relives a number of the events of his life, usually as flashy musical numbers. This makes Gideon realize that he is going to die, and he has another heart attack. Still in his own mind, he goes through the stages of grief as related to this realization. As the time passes (and Gideon gets closer and closer to dying), the events he relives get more and more elaborate; the final one is a huge variety show that features acts from everybody Gideon has ever known. After they all perform, Gideon takes the stage.
MY TAKE: This is a semi-autobiographical take on Bob Fosse’s life, which is especially interesting given the fact that he directed and choreographed it — and it starred Ann Reinking, who really was (one of) Fosse’s girlfriends at the time. Most of the characters are pretty true to real life: the movie was based on the period of time when Fosse was trying to finish his movie Lenny while also staging Chicago, in 1975, and the love for drink, drugs and women is accurate. The role of Audrey Paris is based (very closely) on Fosse’s wife Gwen Verdon, who was also a dancer, and as mentioned, Ann Reinking was basically playing herself. There’s also a girl in the chorus who was essentially a real person in Fosse’s life. Fosse himself had had a heart attack in the early 1970s, and tempered his behavior a little bit, but ultimately died of another heart attack in 1987, at the age of 60. Despite the despicable-ness of the man, when you watch this movie you can’t deny that he was a genius when it came to dancing. That’s what you really remember about the movie, which is saying something considering the plotline. The dance numbers are fantastic (though some are really sexual), and if you’ve seen more than one Fosse movie, you’ll probably recognize certain elements of those dances. He also directed Cabaret, which is really easy to see in hindsight, based on the styles of dance; Ann Reinking would go on to play the role of Grace in Annie, and she is very much a Fosse-style dancer. Despite the glitz and flash of the movie, particularly as Gideon gets closer and closer to death, the genius of the man manages to come through.
RATING: Very unusual biopic, but very interesting, and with great dancing.