Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1979. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Twentieth Century Fox. Screenplay by Bob Fosse, Robert Alan Aurthur. Cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno. Produced by Robert Alan Aurthur. Music by Ralph Burns. Production Design by Philip Rosenberg. Costume Design by Albert Wolsky. Film Editing by Alan Heim. The Criterion Collection. Academy Awards 1979. Cannes Film Festival 1980. Golden Globe Awards 1979. New York Film Critics Awards 1979.
Bob Fosse takes the cinematic spectacle of big-budget musicals and uses them to look inward, creating his own 8 1/2 in which Roy Scheider, as a fictionalized and far sexier version of Fosse himself, tries to balance work, life and womanizing to the ever increasing detriment of his health. Working on a stage musical with his sharp ex-wife (Leland Palmer as Gwen Verdon in what is basically the experience of making Chicago) while romancing Ann Reinking (who was actually Fosse’s lady love for a time), he is also editing a film about a controversial stand-up comedian (based on Fosse’s Lenny) and bedding down with countless other women, constantly disappointing his sweet daughter and, throughout the film, having tete-a-tetes with an angelic figure (Jessica Lange) who holds him accountable for all of it. Scheider is a powerhouse of energy and exuberance throughout, surprisingly adept at being a music man, and it’s easy to see why so many of the people who are mistreated by him are also thoroughly charmed by him. The character’s celebration of his own rapscallion behaviour is actually far more effective than Fosse’s Mea-culpaing on all his sins; I would be very surprised if anyone he screwed over in real life would be willing to forget it all just because he made a film in which he expresses his regrets in dazzling musical numbers and punishes himself with a cynically funny ending. Great costumes and sets pad out the big numbers, with the only major disappointment being that most of the music selection is lackluster and is the one thing in the film that has not aged well. The first half, before we go into the hospital with Scheider and into the realm of fantasy and emotions, examines the back-breaking work of creating a Broadway show, which had never been shown to such great effect before, and is still incredibly powerful to see.