Joe Gideon in All That Jazz (1979), "A cigarette perennially hanging out of the mouth"twitter/daltonrick4

Content Note: This article contains brief mention of drug addiction and suicide.

Vivaldi’s Concerto in G plays. Water blasts out of the shower head. Gulping down some pills. Facing the mirror. A cigarette perennially hanging out of the mouth. “It’s showtime, folks.”

Every time this refrain of sequences replays in Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979), you can feel Joe Gideon having the worst hangover, the worst migraine, the worst crisis of his life. His skin is pallid, his eyes are pools of glass, and he coughs like he’s about to spit death out.

Auteurs often moult, cast, spill, and pour themselves into their films and characters. Joe was created in Fosse’s image as a director and choreographer at the top of their game. Angelique, the figure of death, frequents his mind as he deals with a mess of a personal life and works on his next show. He sweats, smokes, and swallows pills until the millionth reincarnation of his choreography is the perfect one. He feels guilt yet glory at his infidelities. Then, he collapses from a heart attack (as Fosse did in 1975 during rehearsals for Chicago on Broadway), and so the show cannot go on.

“The auteur’s act of faith is not to learn silence, but to wholeheartedly, unabashedly and incessantly confess”

In Pain and Glory (2019), Salvadore Mallo is a celebrated Spanish auteur (like Pedro Almodóvar, the writer and director) whose physical ailments force exile from work and spirals into heroin addiction. The film cuts to scenes from his childhood – gliding voices of women singing while doing the washing by the river; him teaching Eduardo the alphabet; his elderly mother, before she died, visiting him in Madrid. She’s telling him a story about chatting with her neighbour Jacinta’s ghost. Salvador looks inquiringly – “Don’t make that narrator’s face, eh?” she stops and warns, “No, no, no. I don’t want you to put any of this in your movies.”

Similarly at an impasse, having halted the progress of his ninth film, director Guido Anselmi heads to a luxurious resort for some repose in Federico Fellini’s (1963). Amidst pestering from producers, journalists, actors, friends, mistresses and his wife, Guido is plagued by creative block. Fellini cuts to his surreal imaginations no differently than to the real: Guido gets pulled down from the sky by a rope tied to his ankle, visits a bathhouse full of past lovers, seeks a religious epiphany from the Pope, and converses with his late parents.

Pain and Glory (2019)twitter/sinegangdotph

Guido and his swarm of pesterers visit the film set. At the press conference, he crawls under the table after being pierced by enquiries and taunts about the film, searching and suffocating in a situation of his own making. His hand raises with a gun, he shoots it at his head, and slumps; seconds later we see him standing in front of the huge set. “Take it all down, guys! The film is off.”

“We’re smothered by words, images and sounds that have no right to exist,” says a film critic in approval as Guido gets into the car with him, “coming from and bound for, nothingness […] we should ask nothing except this act of faith: to learn silence.” Guido ruminates; we can feel Fellini himself contemplating in this moment, if it’s best to create nothing at all. But a circus director bounds towards the car. “We’re ready to begin,” he grins. Trumpets blare and everyone marches steadily to the ring. The circus, the show goes on and the cast of characters gather: his wife, mistress, producers, actors, journalists…

8½ (1963), "Guido gets pulled down from the sky by a rope tied to his ankle"twitter/oznur_pnr

In Pain and Glory, a young Salva turns to sleep on the train station bench while his mother lies on the tiled floors. The camera zooms out. There’s a pair of legs at the edge of the frame. She’s holding up a mic over them, and Salvador watches on from the other side of the room. He takes the headphone from his ear: “Cut.”

Betrayal. His mother asked for none of herself to be put in the movies, but here Penelope Cruz is, playing her in his next film. Everything and everyone is put into the movies. One’s addictions, infidelities, ailments, crises of faith. One’s own death: in All That Jazz, Joe’s hospital bed is on a soundstage. The clapperboard snaps. His ex-wife taps forward, in sequins and a top hat, backed by his daughter and girlfriend, singing: “After you’ve gone and left me crying / There’s no denying, you’ll be blue, you’ll be sad…” The camera moves in as the dolly swoops down, and in it is the director – Joe Gideon, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth: “Next set up”.

Bob Fosse directs himself, directing himself. The auteur steps beyond the self in order to see and articulate the self. An exuberant rock number sends off All That Jazz, and Joe is the rockstar. “Bye bye life”, he repeats while leaping across the stage. We can feel Bob Fosse’s presence with this refrain – he’s ready to face Angelique. Even death is a character.


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Mountain View

Forough Farrokhzad's Poetic Cinema

The show goes on. Indirection is directed into scenes and characters. The inability to create spawns the next creation. Daydreams, memories, and hallucinations materialise. Confessions of sins are strung into sequences of prayer. In their infinite narcissism, egotism, guilt, doubt, and sin, autofictive film is the auteur’s only salvation – even when that itself is a betrayal.

The film critic in was wrong. The auteur’s act of faith is not to learn silence, but to wholeheartedly, unabashedly and incessantly confess.