Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES show-old-images Theater

Farewell to Fosse

Fosse was dead and after the urgent calls and the logistics of death, there seemed nothing really to do about it except go for a walk along Broadway in the midnight rain.

This was the square mile of the earth Bob Fosse cared for more than any other. Up there on the second floor at 56th Street was the rehearsal hall where I’d met him years ago. Around the corner was the Carnegie Deli, where he’d have lunch with Paddy Chayefsky and Herb Gardner, trading lines, drinking coffee, smoking all those goddamned cigarettes. On the 11th floor of 850 Seventh Avenue, he and Chayefsky and Gardner had their separate offices, and from Paddy’s they would often gaze in wonder across the back courtyard of the Hotel Woodward, at the man in underwear who was always shaving, no matter what the hour. A few blocks away was the building where Fosse lived the last decade of his life.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719627″ /]

And down the rain-drowned avenue was the sleazy hamlet I always thought of as Fosseville: all glitter and neon and dangerous shadows. This wasn’t Runyon’s fairy-tale Broadway; it was harder, meaner, as reliable in its ruthlessness as a switchblade. Yet even in his most cynical years, Fosse insisted on seeing its citizens as human, observing their felonies and betrayals not as a journalist or a sociologist but as the fine artist he was. “I see a hooker on a corner,” he said to me once, “and I can only think: there’s some kinda story there. I mean, she was once six years old … ” On this late night, I could see Fosse in black shirt and trousers, standing in some grimy doorway, looking out at his lurid parish; he had been young here and almost died here and sometimes fled from the place and always came back. In Fosseville the gaudiest dreams existed side by side with the most vicious betrayals; everything was real but nothing was true. And, of course, he believed in some dark way that all could be redeemed by love.

Nobody loved harder. He loved his wives: Mary Ann Niles, who danced with him in the last years of the nightclub era (and who died a year after Fosse), Joan McCracken, who died on him when they were both young, and Gwen Verdon, who was with him when he lay down for the final time on the grass of a small park in Washington. But Fosse wasn’t one of those men who can be married; the emotional core of his masterpiece, All That Jazz, is not so much the romantic attraction of death, but the impossibility of fidelity. There were simply too many beautiful women in this world, with their grace and style and intelligence and mystery; the demand of monogamy was like ordering a man to love only one Vermeer.

And so he loved many women; most were dancers and actresses, because in the world where he worked they were the women he met. He treated all of them with the same grace. I saw him most often when he was between women; he was then usually engulfed by a bleakly romantic sense of loss (although the only remorse he ever expressed was about Gwen). When be met a new woman, when he was swept away, he would vanish from his usual precincts; no male friends were as important as a woman or the possibility of love.

[related_posts post_id_1=”15201″ /]

It was no accident that he always celebrated women in his work, although he was hardly an illustrator of feminist dogma. In the ’50s and ’60s, half the men I knew were in love with Gwen Verdon, who on stage combined humor, vulnerability, toughness, and sensuality in shows designed, choreographed, directed by Fosse. She always moved the tough guys most of all. “Every time I see her,” the sports-writer Jimmy Cannon said of Gwen, “I want to run away with her.” When Damn Yankees was in its long run, Paul Sann, the greatest newspaperman I ever knew, said of Gwen one night: “You better go see her now, kid, ’cause you ain’t gonna see anything like her again on Broadway for the rest of your fucking life.” About Gwen Verdon, as about so many things, Sann was absolutely right.

But if it’s forever impossible to separate Fosse from Gwen, he was also a fine director of other women. Liza Minnelli, Valerie Perrine, and Anne Reinking did their best work with Fosse. He was one of the few directors to see King Kong and recognize that Jessica Lange could be a superb actress; later they would become lovers, and he would cast her as the Angel of Death in All That Jazz. It was entirely appropriate, of course, that Fosse would imagine death as a woman, thus merging his two most passionate obsessions.

But he loved other things too: almost all forms of music; nightclub comics; cheap vaudeville jokes (Q. “Do you file your nails?” A. “No, I throw them away …”); the New York Mets; good food (he spent hours cooking in the huge kitchen of the house in Quogue, bringing his perfectionism to the details of the simplest meal); Fred Astaire (there were no pictures of himself in the Quogue house and two of Astaire); air hockey; children; New York Post headlines; boxing and football; his daughter Nicole; good wine, margaritas, and brandy; his cat, Macho, a stray discovered beaten-up and bloodied in the Quogue grasslands and nursed to plump domesticity; and, of course, those goddamned cigarettes.

[related_posts post_id_1=”602897″ /]

After family and lovers, he admired writers more than anyone else. Among his friends were Gardner and Chayefsky, E. L. Doctorow, Peter Maas, and Budd Schulberg. Although he liked to affect the I’m-only-a-song-and-dance-man pose, Fosse was a careful, intelligent reader. His writer friends knew how high Fosse’s own standards were (whether he failed or succeeded, he never set out to manufacture crap) and they often responded to his subtle urgings that they do better. Some writers who worked with him were angry at the end, as he demanded from them what he could more easily demand from a dancer; those who didn’t work with him had easier friendships.

Yes, Fosse was competitive, and cared (perhaps too much) about the way he stood in relation to other directors. In 1974, after he had his first ferocious heart attack, Gardner and Chayefsky were summoned to Fosse’s hospital room to serve as witnesses to his will. There were two lawyers waiting. Fosse was in critical condition in his bed, silent and trapped in a ganglia of tubes and wires. The lawyers asked the two writers to sign the will; Gardner did so immediately. But Chayefsky insisted on reading the text. He discovered that Fosse hadn’t left him anything, so he turned to the silent Fosse and said: “Fuck you, live!” Fosse started to laugh; all measuring devices began to go wild; the lawyers blanched; a platoon of nurses arrived to save Fosse’s life. Finally, all was calmed down again. Chayefsky resumed reading the will while Fosse lay silent. Then Paddy came to a provision that reserved $20,000 for a party for Fosse’s friends. Hey, that’s great, Chayefsky said, it’s just what Josh Logan did. For the first time, Fosse spoke.

“How much did Logan leave for the party?” he said, in a thin weak voice.

“Twenty thousand,” said Chayefsky.

“Make mine twenty-five,” said Fosse, falling back, as Chayefsky and Gardner dissolved into laughter. That visit probably saved his life.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725695″ /]

Quite simply, Fosse wanted to be the best at what he did. In that impossibly romantic quest, he drove dancers hard (although never harder than he drove himself) and kept demanding more from his stars. He worked hard at understanding actors, studying with Sanford Meisner, reading the basic texts from Stanislavski to Harold Clurman. And he developed his own ways to get his actors to do their best work.

“He could act incredibly humble when he wanted something from you,” said Roy Scheider, who believes his own best work was in All That Jazz. “When he met someone he wanted for the first time, he knew everything about you. He’d done research, he’d seen your movies or plays. He’d say, ‘You know, you were very good in that part, hey, wait, you got a nomination, didn’t you? You won.’ And there’d be a pause, after he did all this praising. And then he’d say how that was nothing compared to what lies ahead in your work with me. And he made you believe it. And then he did it … After three, four meetings you’d be thoroughly convinced that you were not capable of giving him what he wanted. And then he would begin to build your confidence, making you feel that your reflowering would take place in his show.” Scheider laughed. “You see, for him, it was always being done for posterity. Every time out of the chute, it was for history.”

Because he worked so hard, and because he knew how much pain was involved in the making of a show or a movie, Fosse generally despised critics. He thought they saw too much and, as a result, their sensibilities were blunted, making them unable to respond to amazing theatrical moments in the way an audience might. They were all too glib, dismissing (or praising) two years of another’s work in a review dashed off in an hour. He thought critics were primarily responsible for the failure of Star 80 (based on Teresa Carpenter’s brilliant article for the Voice); when Big Deal opened to lukewarm reviews last year and then closed after 100-odd performances, he was disheartened.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725117″ /]

“Maybe all they want are Eddie Murphy movies or sets that sing,” he said. “Maybe all they want is shit. Maybe it’s over for people like me.”

But he was still working at the end; trying to choose between a movie about Walter Winchell, a movie version of Chicago, probably with Madonna, or something completely new. During the summer, we talked a few times about his experiences during the Second World War, when he was a 17-year-old sailor working in an entertainment unit in the South Pacific; he was with the first Americans to enter Japan at the end of the war and was still horrified at the scale of the destruction in Tokyo and the stupidly brutal way so many American soldiers treated the Japanese, particularly the women. “It still makes me sick,” he said. “That was the first time I was really ashamed to be an American.” The contrast between the idealism of fighting the war and the morally corrosive realities of victory was a splendid setup for a Fosse movie, but Fosse was uneasy about it. “That world is gone, that music, the way people were … Most of the country wouldn’t know what I was talking about.”

Now we’ll never know. The night after we all got the news, there was a small gathering at Gardner’s apartment, a kind of secular wake. Some wept; others told the old stories, with examples of Fosse’s dark humor; all were in shock, because Fosse had been looking better than at any time in years. Later, wandering through Broadway in the rain, I thought that for Fosse, who so perfectly expressed a certain vision of New York, the worst thing about dying in Washington might have been that he closed out of town. ♦

1987 Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about director and choreographer Bob Fosse

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives FILM ARCHIVES Theater TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III: What Makes Charlie Douche?

As he’s questioned by a therapist in the opening scene of the film bearing his name, we see Charles Swan III’s subconscious literally spurt out of his head. It’s visualized as an animated collage largely made up of ladies’ long, disembodied legs—like those in the ’40s pinups that decorate the Don Juan graphic designer’s playpen home, or on the come-hither album sleeves that he designs. It also indicates writer-director Roman Coppola’s approach with A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, which might generously be described as cut-and-paste—or more accurately as “throw stuff to the wall and see what sticks.”

Charlie Sheen starring in an ambitious indie might be the Access Hollywood selling point, but the Coppola brand brings its own cachet. In its story of a well-fed Hollywood man suffering post-breakup midlife malaise, Charles Swan—Coppola’s second film as writer and director—is a companion piece to sister Sophia’s 2010 Somewhere, starring Stephen Dorff, who cameos here. It has been over a decade since 2001’s CQ, Coppola’s first feature, a backstage divertissement set in ’68 Paris which made sparks colliding space-age bachelor pad and cinema verité aesthetics. More recently, he co-wrote, with Wes Anderson, the screenplay of Moonrise Kingdom, a film dedicated to the cultural fetish objects of a few years earlier in the ’60s.

Charles Swan III is also a film made up of period bric-a-brac—though the year is never precisely identified, the LP jackets, clothes, décor, and altogether exhaustive art department work indicate the late ’70s. And as Charles’s coarsened mind is a “Sex Sells” collage, Coppola’s film-fantasy is a decoupage of his own cinematic influences. As Charles imagines his own funeral attended by crestfallen former lovers, Coppola cites the opening of Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women. The erotic self-examination is all Fellini’s 8 1/2 by way of Bob Fosse’s 1979 All That Jazz, while Charles’ best friend, a stand-up comic named Kirby Star, is photographed to recall Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce in Fosse’s biopic Lenny. (Playing Star, Jason Schwartzman has assumed Elliott Gould’s Jewfro and beard, if none of his easy charm.) Bill Murray plays Swan’s woebegone business manager and appears in another of Charles’s daydreams wearing John Wayne’s red tunic and suspenders from The Searchers—raised on Westerns and pulps, Charles is susceptible to imagining himself the hero of saves-the-day rescues.

Though only the female side of Charles’ family appear in the film, the “III” on his name carries the weight of legacy. Coppola and Sheen are both 47, both born to movie families, and go back together as far as Apocalypse Now. While elements of Swan’s character come from designer Charles Swan III, who worked on Coppola père‘s City Magazine, the film knowingly piggybacks on publicity surrounding Sheen’s libertinage. He’s wearing a coke-hangover look here, including ubiquitous La Dolce Vita aviator shades that only come off for one scene, where he displays a heartbreak that is surprisingly affecting.

I say “surprisingly” because performance can do only so much to alleviate Charles Swan III‘s inconsequentiality. This has much to do with the way Coppola, feigning full disclosure, gingerly handles the depiction of hetero male fantasy life. Addressing the mingled worshipful-sordid tone of men’s perceptions of women, Louis C.K. has said “We think you’re angels . . . and we want to drown you in our cum.” While this certainly has its cinematic possibilities, more often we wind up with frou-frou absurdities like Kevin Spacey dreaming of Mena Suvari naked in a bathtub of rose petals in American Beauty. If there is a third way, Charles Swan III hasn’t found it. Coppola manages one playful and sexy aside in which Charles imagines that his X-Ray Specs, the kind you order with a coupon from a comic book, actually make denim disappear, but other than that he offers only fantasy scenes, neither amusing nor titillating, drawn from those same comic books, in which dreaded, desired ladies are dressed up as squaws on the warpath, or as agents of the “SSBB” (Secret Society of Ball-Busters).

The film’s “real-life” women don’t come across much more lucidly than the action figures in Charles’ fantasies. As the ex- who’s caused Charles’ heartburn, Katheryn Winnick scarcely registers, her characterization limited to the trivializing tidbit that she used to hold funerals for her old toothbrushes as a little girl. Perhaps Charles Swan III‘s superficiality is meant to reflect that of a world where we mourn commercial goods, or the perspective of a subject whose mind airbrushes everything into a “layout”—but with neither the moral bite of satire nor a voluptuary surrender that really basks in shallowness, it’s a vague, unsatisfying work.

If audiences have sympathized with Fellini, Fosse, and Truffaut’s chronically horny on-screen avatars, it’s because, whatever trouble they caused women, these cads and their creators seemed at least fascinated or awed by the opposite sex, responsive to all the feminine varietals. In Charles Swan III, the girls with the honeyed curls have little to do but match the scene-to-scene motifs, like rented furniture. And where Moonrise Kingdom invested nostalgia objects with the weight of its character’s longing, they’re only props here.

Coppola has made an assemblage, an erotic autobiography in images not unlike the geysers from Charles’ head which begin his film, but he’s failed to set up provocative tensions or suggest new meanings. That this eruption ends with a photo shoot playing on the phrase “Everything but the kitchen sink” is evidently meant as a self-aware joke but, like the movie it caps, it’s a clunker.

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives Living NYC ARCHIVES Theater VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Daniel Radcliffe Turns Hoofer in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

I’m not madly in love with the new production of the Frank Loesser–Abe Burrows musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Hirschfeld Theatre), but that’s OK, because even in musicals, mad love and satire don’t really mix. And much of How to Succeed’s satire, like much of its pure fun, remains surprisingly fresh.

Rob Ashford’s new staging pushes, aggressively and sometimes coarsely, to give this sweetly sardonic 1961 show a 21st-century makeover, blitzing once-intimate numbers with troops of dancers, splashing the multi-level stage with people and projections, heavily underscoring the comic bits with sight-gag costumes (those hats for the “Paris Original” number must surely have been designed by Danny Kaye’s Anatole of Paris) and exaggerated gestures (Ashford really kills the final window-washer gag).

These frenetic innovations work only minimal harm, however, for three reasons. First, Ashford’s firm grasp of the show’s overall sense speeds the story along, as we watch its butter-wouldn’t-melt hero connive his shameless way from job applicant to chairman of the board in the insta-flashes of Burrows’s tersely funny book. Second, Ashford’s choreography, even in excess, has a bouncy zest that keeps the show constantly airborne. Some may feel he tries too hard to differentiate his dances from Bob Fosse’s fondly remembered originals: “Coffee Break” now centers on one guy hoarding the machine’s last cupful; “Cinderella Darling” (deleted in the 1995 Matthew Broderick revival and gratifyingly restored here) has become a menacing clatter of tap shoes.

But Ashford hits a droll peak of frenzy with the manic football ballet he has shoehorned into “Grand Old Ivy,” formerly an intimate number for the show’s two leads, mention of whom brings up point three: Before Broadway musicals began equating unpleasantness with meaningful drama, their major characters had to be appealing. How to Succeed boasts three likeable leading actors, none an exact fit for the role, but all endearing. Rose Hemingway, as the secretary who sets her cap for the hero, is sweet even when she bangs out her top notes; John Larroquette, as the gullible CEO, may blither his dialogue but twinkles adorably on his takes and punch lines. As for Daniel Radcliffe, the show’s reason for existing, he may not be a born musical-show star—he “plays front” with distinctly British reserve—but he’s a real stage presence, with real acting skills, an engaging personality, and an agile willingness to go through outrageous acrobatic stunts. He’s hired.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives Theater VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Celebration

Full of moody synths and breathy wails, Celebration’s dreamy cabaret indie rock is best experienced live, when the trio seems to get lost in hypnotic jams and frontwoman Katrina Ford (a frequent TV on the Radio collaborator) writhes into the audience like the ghost of a Bob Fosse routine. Staying in that spirit, they began recording music on their terms last year, putting MP3s online for free with hopes of packaging them onto an LP by the end of 2010. Time will tell if that happens but, until then, life is a cabaret. With Andrew Cedermark, Woodsman, and Up Died Sound.

Sat., Oct. 9, 8:30 p.m., 2010

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives Theater VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

My Sister Eileen

Dir. Richard Quine (1955).
This was the fourth dramatized version of Ruth McKenney’s stories about two smalltown girls who come to New York to seek fame. It’s cute and easy to take. Young Bob Fosse is ingratiating as an amorous soda jerk and moves like a dream—this was the first film he choreographed on his own. Janet Leigh shines as Eileen, but the movie belongs to Betty Garrett, as her sister Ruth. It turned out to be this bubbly performer’s penultimate picture—her screen career was cut short by the politics of the McCarthy period.

Tue., Dec. 29, 4:10 & 9 p.m., 2009

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives Theater VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Sweet Charity

Dir. Bob Fosse (1969).
Fosse’s debut as film director was this adaptation of the Broadway musical based on Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria. Its heroine, a “dance-hall hostess” with a heart of gold, is played by Shirley MacLaine in a somewhat over-studied portrayal. The “Big Spender” number is sure-fire. The production is handsome and plush. It adds up to a movie good enough for you to want it to be a lot better.

Tue., Dec. 29, 1:30 & 6:15 p.m., 2009

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives FILM ARCHIVES Theater TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Fellini Fantasy Meets a Harsh Reality in Rob Marshall’s Nine

There’s no city-clogging traffic jam in Nine, the musicalized version of Federico Fellini’s movie-about-moviemaking urtext 8 1/2, but the result feels like the celluloid equivalent of a 12-car pileup. An assault on the senses from every conceivable direction—smash zooms, the ear-splitting eruption of something like music, the spectacle of a creature called Kate Hudson—Nine thrashes about in search of “cinema” the way a child thrown into the deep end of a pool flails for a flotation device. Earlier this decade, watching choreographer turned director Rob Marshall make an incoherent, Oscar-annointed shambles out of Bob Fosse’s Chicago, I wondered if Marshall had ever seen a screen musical before he got the assignment. Watching Nine, I began to wonder if Marshall has ever seen a movie other than his own.

A desperate bid by Marshall and embattled producer Harvey Weinstein to recapture the “magic” of their previous awards-season thoroughbred, Nine was adapted by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella from a Tony-winning Broadway musical that itself transformed Fellini’s acerbic self-portrait of a creatively blocked, serial womanizing director into a treacly fable about getting in touch with one’s inner child. Originally produced in 1982 with Raul Julia as the Fellini surrogate, Guido Contini, and revived two decades later with Antonio Banderas in the part, the show itself was never anyone’s idea of a classic. But director David Leveaux’s revival was able to improve upon the stage original—by shortening or excising a couple of the more egregious songs and favoring a more intimate, abstract use of space.

For the film adaptation, in which Daniel Day-Lewis dons Guido’s signature black hat, the writers have further slashed and burned, all but eviscerating the play’s turgid second half (in which Contini mounted a musical film about the life of Casanova) and relegating the myriad women in Guido’s life—wife (Marion Cotillard), mistress (Penélope Cruz), mother (Sophia Loren), muse (Nicole Kidman), confidante (Judi Dench)—to one forgettable song apiece. Chalk that up as a small victory against Marshall’s otherwise unstoppable kitsch offensive.

Extravagantly filmed on soundstages in London and locations in Rome—costumes studded with actual Swarovski crystals—Nine may be shiny, but all the Oscar winners in the world can’t disguise the absentee landlord at the helm. Perhaps hoping to channel something of Fellini’s own improvisational energy, Marshall proceeds without a map, shooting in an arbitrary mixture of color and black-and-white, while his cast slips in and out of a smattering of different accents. Then come the fantasy musical numbers, most of which take place on a soundstage where the sets for Contini’s new film are under construction, and which Marshall uniformly shoots with one camera dollying back and forth on a semicircular track and another zooming in and out on the glittering, spangled couture. Those scenes are then haphazardly intercut with the movie’s “real” action (to ease the audience’s presumed anxiety at seeing characters spontaneously burst into song and dance), resulting in the sort of unwieldy melange that is sometimes said to have been “saved in the editing room,” but not in this case. At the center of the three rings, the eminently resourceful Day-Lewis hasn’t appeared this rudderless in a role since the justly forgotten Argentine dental comedy Eversmile, New Jersey two decades ago.

There have been and will continue to be great movies made about the struggle of megalomaniacal directors to reconcile their life and work—Fosse made one with his own musical Fellini homage, All That Jazz, and Charlie Kaufman another just last year with Synecdoche, New York. Failing those high-water marks, Nine might at least have been a guiltily pleasurable burlesque, were Marshall not so intent on turning all his grande dames into vamped-up grotesques. While Fergie emerges relatively unscathed, in part because her role—the feral prostitute Saraghina, from whom the chaste young Guido learns the facts of life—is meant to be a vamped-up grotesque, poor Hudson (as an enterprising Vogue reporter, dumbed down from the play’s Cahiers du cinéma film critic) may never recover from gyrating her way through the atrocious “Cinema Italiano,” a number that Marshall stages as something like Night of the Living Versace Runway Show. Wisely keeping her distance, Cotillard mostly lurks along the sidelines projecting a wounded visage, before finally stepping into the spotlight for the movie’s single moment of emotional sincerity. It’s the only point at which Nine seems more than a total zero.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives Theater VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

DANCE MACHINES

All of Broadway meets in one whirling, crooning epicenter in All Singin’ All Dancin’, the final installment of the third annual Summer Broadway Festival. Hosted by Town Hall mainstay Scott Siegel, the spectacle sets new choreography against the most iconic tunes of the Great White Way. Look for slides and glides inspired by the Astaires, Bob Fosse, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and more; they’ll be performed by the new class of Broadway board-stompers. Follow the follies.

Mon., July 27, 8 p.m., 2009

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives FILM ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Theater

Studies in Crap and the USSR’s Ministry of Health Love Themselves Some Gently NSFW Socialized Medicine!

Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.


Public Health and Social Security in the USSR

Author: Either an upbeat cadre of Soviet propagandists or, for you FOX viewers, Obama with a time machine.

Publisher: USSR Ministry of Health
Date: circa 1963
Discovered at: Estate sale

The Cover Promises: Soviet men are so vigorous in all capacities that women must peer upwards, on constant alert, ready to catch the newborn comrades that rain from the skies.

Representative Quotes:

“A uniform system of free medical attention operates throughout the Soviet Union.” (page 14)

“There are increased pensions, depending on the service record, which are granted to teachers, doctors, civil airways air crews, ballet dancers, many categories of circus performers, and people of a number of other professions.” (page 21-22)

Engineered in some Ministry of Smiling Babies & Glorious Sunshine to demonstrate that life in the Soviet Union is, was, and always will be a series of escalating triumphs, this cheerful pamphlet trumpets the USSR’s progress in delivering free health care to its people. The verdict of the apparatchiks working whatever idea assembly-line that pumped this out: everything’s super, and getting super-er.

They back this up with stat after stat in polished English. By 1962, the authors claim, “real incomes” for Soviet workers had risen 18 per cent in three years, while a growing national income at the same time allowed the government to boast about providing pensions for 25 million workers, paid holidays 69 million, and education for 61 million.

This, we learned, stirred happiness in the population, who, to honor this government, made dutiful love to each other:

“The high birth-rate in the U.S.S.R. is testimony of the rising material and cultural welfare of Soviet people, an indication that young mothers and fathers look to the future with confidence.”

Another key factor in that high birth-rate? Hotness!

 

The propagandists admit that even a boon like this storm of Soviet Success Babies can present some minor difficulties:

“The expectant mother prepares layettes for her baby. The father cudgels his brain over the problem of his son or daughter.”

Tragically, the father only can dash that brain in after bribing an official a week’s salary for cudgel access.

Once born, children are arranged into multiplication tables.

Then, just like here, they’re stuffed with false promises.

(Note: “All Roads” excludes any that head west.)

Still, every Soviet baby enjoys one great opportunity: the chance to audition for Bob Fosse!

 

Pop Quiz! Which is he actual caption?
The one on the right is more West Side Story than Cabaret.

  • Baking eliminates trans-fats but still locks in that great baby flavor.
  • Meanwhile, top aides to L. Ron Hubbard come ever closer to hatching Tom Cruise 2.0.
  • In Norilisk, a town within the Arctic Circle, children are growing up healthy and strong. Quartz lamps make up for the deficiency in sunlight.

No matter what, it’s disgusting! Only the most corrupt and desperate failing power would resort to the exploitation of baby nudity!

 

At least the communists have decency enough not to try to make the babies sexy.

Shocking Detail:
Often indebted to the techniques of western advertising, the photos and slogans here seem more persuasive than pamphlet’s many statistics. (What are we to make of the boast “Cars are sold to invalids on easy terms, and those who want motor carriages get them free of charge”?)

More powerfully, the authors promise on page one that “Man is the most precious of all the wealth of the land of the Soviets” and then parade images of that man’s greatness.

The USSR is the home of:
Nude retirement!

Robot gynecologists!

 

Permafrost horseplay!

 

Highlight:
Note the caption’s implication: “Pitiful American men, with your heated water, tasteful underthings, and Ford motor cars like glorious baby asses! Never will you understand the simple pleasure of gang-icing a portly comrade!”

Soviet youth trust so deeply in their health care system that they laugh and cheer even as they destroy their bodies . . . kind of like Americans today, except with sleds and broken bones rather than corn syrup and diabetes!

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives FILM ARCHIVES Theater TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Holiday Lights

It’s been my experience that the classic movie figure to whom small children respond most immediately is not Buster, Groucho, or Betty Boop but Charlie Chaplin. Perhaps his genius truly is universal, or maybe we’re just hardwired to laugh at a herky-jerky little guy with big shoes and a smudgy mustache, particularly in 15-minute destruction fetes. Adults (or, at least, critics) more often prefer the feature-length City Lights (1931), which happens to be Film Forum’s Christmas Week attraction. I’ve got no beef with anyone who considers this Chaplin’s masterpiece—it’s certainly the movie most suffused with economic and romantic pathos. James Agee called the exchange of looks that end the movie (the formerly blind girl discovering her patron’s real identity), “enough to shrivel the heart to see . . . the greatest piece of acting and the highest moment in movies.” And, as any six-year-old can see, it’s also very, very funny. December 25 through January 1, Film Forum.

Other seasonal offerings:

The Museum of the Moving Image has its second weekend of Disney’s Silly Symphonies and other fabulous color cartoons from the 1930s. The tunes are occasionally cloying but both the background and character animation can be astonishing. Through December 30, MOMI.

The Walter Reade is devoting the last five days of 2007 and the first of 2008 to (mainly studio) prints of Bob Fosse films in All That Fosse. The rarest and most tuneful (and kid-friendly) of the lot is the Fosse-choreographed 1957 adaptation of what Godard called a “left-wing operetta,” The Pajama Game. December 28 through January 1, Walter Reade Theater.