Developed by Steven Levenson and Thomas Kail – based on Fosse by Sam Wasson
Executive Producers: Steven Levenson, Thomas Kail, Joel Fields, Lin-Manuel Miranda, George Stelzner, Sam Rockwell, Michelle Williams
Producers: Erica Kay, Kate Sullivan, Brad Carpenter
Directors: Thomas Kail, Adam Bernstein, Jessica Yu, Minkie Spiroetc.
Writers: Steven Levenson, Thomas Kail, Deborah Cahn, Tracey Scott Wilson, Charlotte Stouldt, Ike Holter, Joel Fields
Main Cast: Sam Rockwell, Michelle Williams, Norbert Leo Butz, Margaret Qualley, Nate Corddry, Paul Reiser, Jake Lacy, Susan Misner, Peter Scolari, Kelli Barrett, Evan Handler and many more.
Original Network: FX – UK Network: BBC
No. of Episodes: 8
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I’m not a massive fan of musical shows or films as a genre. However, when the subject material or narrative connects with me, or the craft of song and dance transcends the form I will enjoy them. Thus, musicals I have seen and enjoyed on stage in the last few years include the brilliant Gypsy, Funny Girl, and Company. On the other hand, I could not stand Hamilton, despite the incredible talent involved in the production. Ironically, Hamilton director, Thomas Kail, is a major driving force behind this adaptation of Sam Wasson’s book about Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon.
On the cinema screen the likes of: The Wizard of Oz (1939), Singing in the Rain (1952),Grease (1978), Moulin Rouge (2001), Chicago (2002), are just a few great examples of the genre I liked. But, the best and most exceptional musical I have seen in terms of form, style and subject matter is the Bob Fosse directed, Cabaret (1972). It’s not just a great musical, but it’s also a incredible piece of cinema. It oozes dark class in the musical set-pieces, ambiguous and fractured characterisation, sleazy sexuality and the thematic political subtext of pre-World War II Germany.
The making ofCabaret (1972) is one of the many creative events featured in Fosse/Verdon (2019). As the title suggests, it is an extensive biographical television drama about legendary director and choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and the genius dancer, Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Both their artistic and personal lives were entwined from the time they met on the Broadway musical Damn Yankees in 1955, to the moment of his death in 1987.
If you’re interested in musicals and the work of Fosse and Verdon then you will absolutely love this warts and all biopic. We get extensive rehearsal, on stage, on screen and edit room scenes showing Fosse and Verdon’s creative process. Songs and dance numbers from Cabaret, Sweet Charity, All That Jazz, Pippin, Chicago and many more, feature heavily in the play and fantastic soundtrack. Further, both Fosse and Verdon, were dancers from a very young age and we therefore get scenes from their formative years paying their dues in dives and flop-houses.
We also get the heavy drama of Fosse and Verdon’s marriage battles. The former being a pill-popping workaholic and womaniser was the biggest issue in their relationship. His constant affairs and narcissistic tantrums took their toll eventually. Indeed, Fosse, while an amazing creative force, is quite despicable in his lecherous use of the casting couch and exploitation of his position and power. Perhaps, even more could have been done to critique his negative acts, especially in light of the #MeToo gender issues relevant today. However, there is no aggressive damnation of his actions, but rather agnostic reflection and acceptance that this was prevalent masculine behaviour for the era.
Sam Rockwell as Fosse is outstanding. He conveys the sadness of a junkie, haunted by a dysfunctional and abusive childhood. Yet, where his work is concerned his energy and obsession is non-stop and formidable. This, in no small part, is down to his constant amphetamine abuse; something which would lead to mental and physical health issues. Similarly, Michelle Williams is incredible as Gwen Verdon. She inhabits this classy performer with an energy and drive, but also a fighting spirit when clashing with Fosse creatively and matrimonially. She is more his match than his muse though. Indeed, Verdon, is his equal and deserves to share many of his plaudits and awards. They ultimately would push each other to greater heights and achievements.
The supporting cast, including the magnetic Margaret Qualley as dancer, Anne Reiking, and Norbert Leo Butz portraying writer, Paddy Chayefsky are excellent. Also, the talent and look of the era is convincingly evoked on and off the stage. The cavalcade of dance numbers are superbly mounted and the editing perfectly reflects the fractured nature of the characters’ show business lives. Lastly, the jigsaw structure, which zigs and zags from the characters’ past to Fosse’s final days, charting triumph and adversity, complements the complexity of the characters.
Thus, overall, this works as an honest analysis of a flawed genius and his equally talented dance and life partner. It is highly recommended for those drawn to the darker side of creative artistry and personal relationships. But the question remains: should the work of Fosse be re-evaluated, especially in light of his extremely sexual and sexist behaviour? Is there a statute of limitation for genius and all that jazz? The Primetime Emmy awards panel do not seem concerned given Fosse/Verdon (2019) has received seven major nominations at time of writing. All of which it stands a great chance of winning!
Produced by: Marco Morabito, Brad Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, Silvia Venturini, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, William Sherak, Gabriele Moratti
Screenplay by: David Kajganich – Based on Suspiria (1977) by Dario Argento and Dari Nicolodi
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Chloe Grace Moretz, Malgosia Bela, Lutz Ebersdorf, Jessica Harper etc.
Music by: Thom Yorke
Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
There are so many films released that it is virtually impossible to see them all. Plus, even if you didn’t have to work to earn a damned wage or physically need sleep you still wouldn’t be able to watch everything at the cinema. More specifically though, we may choose NOT to go to see a film on the big screen for certain reasons. Collectively, I consider these movies to be “one’s that got away!”
Thus, in a new section called, unsurprisingly, FILMS THAT GOT AWAY, I will be reviewing films which I missed first time round at the cinema and have subsequently caught up with on Sky, Amazon, Netflix, Blu-Ray or even good old-fashioned terrestrial television. I will consider the film critically as entertainment and why I missed it first time round. As usual the film will be marked out of eleven.
When the UK release of Suspiria (2018) was announced there were many reasons I was immediately put off from wanting to see it. Firstly, despite having watched it three times, I genuinely could not stand the original Dario Argento film. I know people consider it a horror classic; however, I think story wise, it’s a bad film. It’s neither scary from an emotional point-of-view or actually makes any sense logically. I know it’s meant to be based on surreal and nightmarish imagery, montage and performance, but the story or characters did not connect with me. The colour design, gore and soundtrack are outstanding but, overall, I felt I was trapped watching the manic outpourings of an Italian psychopath.
The second reason I did not want to watch it is I haven’t always got on with Luca Guadagnino’s cinematic works. Don’t get me wrong, he is a brilliant filmmaker. However, I find him an indulgent artist whose tone, pace and direction seems haphazard. Of the films I have seen, I Am Love (2009) was a brilliant character study, anchored by a stunning Tilda Swinton performance. But A Bigger Splash (2011) and Call Me By Your Name (2017), were expertly constructed but indulgent and over-rated travelogues littered with narcissistic bores. Nonetheless, I really liked Suspiria (2018). It is almost, but for Guadagnino’s typical excesses, a horror masterpiece.
Set in 1977 (when the original was released), at the height of the Cold War in divided Germany, Suspiria, is a heady mix of rites of passage, cold war and horror genres. There are many narrative strands with which the screenplay, by David Kajganich, attempts to balance. Further, we also have personal, political, religious, artistic, gender and communal themes prevalent through the story. While it’s an ensemble cast the focus is Dakota Johnson’s Susie. She is a young aspiring dancer, from an Amish background, who joins the world-famous Markos dance company. In the process she is determined to impress Tilda Swinton’s commanding mentor. The parallel narrative involves psychiatrist Dr Josef Klemperer and his investigation into a missing patient (Chloe Grace Moretz); who also happens to be a dancer from the troupe.
As the story unfolds Susie proves herself an incredibly powerful dancer. At the same time, it is revealed that the elders and teachers of the dance group are hiding a sinister secret with darkness and ritual to the bloody fore. Memorable dance sequences full of beauty, energy and gore dominate, with Dakota Johnson giving an impressively physical acting portrayal. I also liked the nuanced control within her character as she grows stronger with each dance. Meanwhile, further dark events occur as Dr Klemperer’s investigations draw him closer to the troupe’s shadowy doors.
As I said, Suspiria is almost a horror masterpiece. The filmmaking, cinematography, art direction, choreography and score by Thom Yorke all collide to create an incredibly tense and terrifying experience. Moreover, while I was fully committed to the characters in the dance troupe and Susie’s movement up the ranks, the choice to juxtapose the socio-political events seemed to belong in another film. The religious context and notions of family and matriarchal dominance were incredibly powerful too and served the horror well. However, Guadagnino, in my humble view should have shaved some scenes from the running time. While I much prefer this film to the Argento original, a further edit for pace would have made this even better. Nonetheless, it had me riveted throughout through the sheer quality of filmmaking. I was incredibly impressed by the melding of dance and death. Indeed, the final orgiastic ritual with buckets of blood, decapitations and gnarled monsters was supernaturally unforgettable.
PRIMAL SCREAM: A RETRO-PERSPECTIVE Inc. PALLADIUM GIG REVIEW
“I was blind. Now I can see. You made a believer – out of me!” Primal Scream
My very first discovery of Bobby Gillespie was when I, as a teenage idiot working in a dead-end office job, saw a video by the fuzz-bombing, guitar anarchists Jesus and Mary Chain on the telly for their spectacular single Never Understand. I recall thinking who the hell is that twig-skinny-black-mop-haired-bastard-with-sunglasses smashing hell out of a snare drum? He’s cooler than fuck! Plus, THAT band is phenomenal too! As punk rock was just out of my age range here was loud, noisy and tuneful rock and roll I could really get into. In fact, the 1980s gave birth to so many great independent-minded-guitar-based bands that I was in my element! While the “indie” scene eventually got assimilated into the mainstream a main flagbearer of these halcyon times continues with much creative passion and – based on the gig I went to last Friday – Bobby Gillespie is still as relevant and cool as ever. He’s rock and roll’s Dorian Gray who shows no sign of aging OR dying! Gillespie is one of the great frontmen and true a rock and roll immortal!
Primal Scream are one of my favourite bands of all time! I have literally grown up watching them from virtual birth and any release of theirs is welcomed with heart-stopping brain joy. After Gillespie left the Jesus and Mary Chain to front them they released a series of jangle-pop records and Peel Sessions in the 1980s, notably the wonderful It Happens and Velocity Girl. Subsequently they released their debut album Sonic Flower Groove to a lukewarm critical reception and were swiftly dropped by their major record label. I LOVED their first album. It was a heady mix of jangle guitars, power-pop riffs, flowery lyrics and dreamy vocals from Gillespie. Listening to it today I still recall the beauty of those chiming twelve-strings reverberating around my Roehampton bedroom as Bobby Gillespie’s Scottish falsetto sang melodies such as: Sonic Sister Love, Imperial, May the Sun Shine Bright for You and other classics.
Alas the album flopped but Bobby’s comrade and compatriot Alan McGee signed them to his own label Creation and the band set about, not for the first time, changing their sound and look, for their second album. McGee deserves praise for championing passionate-alternative-young-musicians-with-attitude with a desire to see the underdogs challenging the ruling classes. His ardour and eye for talent meant McGee would be rewarded with chart success with Primal Scream and a little known Manchester band called Oasis; who are now the Guinness World record holders for the most successful band of the 1990s.
Second album Primal Scream was a ballsy-Stooges-inspired rock-out full of dirty guitar riffs and basslines to match. Arguably, Gillespie was still looking for a musical identity and worked further through the rock and roll menu with their sophomore release. While it suffered mixed reviews I love it! It has some right royally rocking tracks including one of my favourite songs of theirs: the mercurial I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have. This song and Primal Scream’s fusion with the acid and rave culture of the early 1990s would shoot the band into the mainstream. Loaded was a bastardized version of I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have and with Andrew Weatherall’s ingenious production and quotes from Peter Fonda and sparse vocals from Gillespie, the band had a massive hit record. Furthermore the wonderfully titled Screamadelica would be a global hit and win them the Mercury award for that year.
Further hit singles from Screamdelica would follow, notably the sublime Movin’ on Up, Come Together and Higher the Sun. The album was a triumphant fusion of dance, electronica and rock and critical acclaim followed the commercial success. Personally, I’m not a fan of Loaded as it lacks the heart of the original song it’s taken from, but the track and subsequent album had summer and zeitgeist stamped all over it. Primal Scream were suddenly riding the crest of a wave and much was expected of their next album Give Out but Don’t Give Up!
When the single Rocks soared to number seven in the charts in 1994 the band once again had a hit. However, this slice of bluesy, Stones-influenced rock wasn’t welcomed by all music critics; some even stating the Scream had sold out their dance roots. This though is a fucking ridiculous idea because first and foremost they are a rock and roll band and secondly they’ve never followed trends. In fact, one of the major reasons I love this band so much is they do what the hell they want. I loved their third album and despite its mildly derivative underbelly, songs like Jailbird and the beautifully written I’m Gonna Cry Myself Blind are bona fide classics which still sound fresh today. Overall, Give Out but Don’t Give Up is a funky party album which doesn’t take itself too seriously and will lift even the most sullen of moods. Yet, the party mood was soon to shift as Primal Scream were about to move into much darker territory.
Vanishing Point was Primal Scream finally finding, amidst the postmodern machinations of their rock and roll brain, a signature sound. The record is drenched in amphetamine and smacked-up tunes and with the introduction of Mani from Mancunian legends Stone Roses, the speed-freak awesomeness of the album was one to behold. Gillespie stated it was an alternative soundtrack to the 1970s counter-cultural-narco-road movie of the same name and dub-punk tracks such as: Burning Wheel, Kowalski, Medication plus the trance melody of Star proved him right. It’s a cracking album which sounds both original and dunked in the blood of Lemmy; there’s even a song called Motorhead on the damn thing! Vanishing Point’s brutal, poetic, cinematic, dirty, thudding basslines, drum loops, guitars and lyrics make it one of their most complete and fresh sounding releases.
If Vanishing Point was a classic then their next album XTRMNTR is, in my view, their masterpiece. It takes the speed-ball from its predecessor and jams it into the brain with a burning syringe; and you’re left in no doubt this is a group at the top of their game. I think the band’s drug use and abuse is well documented and of course narcotic addiction will rip a hole in the soul of one’s humanity; however, the mixture of hedonism, anger, guts, passion and despair you get from being on drugs can give us great art such as this. Because instant classics such as Kill All Hippies, Accelerator, Shoot Speed/Kill Light and the majestic industrial disco epic Swastika Eyes proved that Primal Scream had written and produced one of the finest albums of all time. It’s angry, political, personal, dark and desperate, but also amidst the vampires and shadows there’s some incredible rock tunes in there and it remains for me their finest sixty minutes and twenty-four seconds.
After XTRMNTR the band toured the world. I caught them at a particularly blurry gig at the Hammersmith Palais, which was one of those nights I’ll never forget; mainly because I can’t remember too much about it. I recall dancing and falling over joyous and drunk on: life, music and chemicals. It was a stunning culmination for me of a band and die-hard fan coming together in perfect ecstasy. But how do you follow not one but TWO classic smashed-up tour-de-force albums?
I think in all honesty Primal Scream’s creative purple-patched hearts dipped in the next few years. Evil Heat from 2002 and Riot City Blues (2006) were punctuated by the royal remixed release of “Best of” album called Dirty Hits. Having said that any Primal Scream album is better than no albums at all and songs including: Autobahn 66 from Evil Heat and Country Girl, Hell’s A Comin’ Down and the touching Sometimes I Feel So Lonely demonstrated the band’s continued ability to write a cracking tune. But overall these two albums were inconsistent and unfocussed compared to the manic genius of their predecessors. Having said that Country Girl was another chart hit and it was great seeing the Scream in the charts, appealing to the globby masses again.
Released in 2008 Beautiful Future was a marked improvement in terms of songwriting consistency. The powerful pop electronica of the first seven tracks suggested a classic-in-the-making; however, the quality dips slightly toward the end. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful poppy soufflé drenched in pathos with grandstanding tracks including: Uptown, Zombie Man, Can’t Go Back and Beautiful Summer. In fact Beautiful Future is indeed a bright temporal glimpse forward as the band’s current album Chaosmosis is an even sharper sonic pop album and brimming with startling positivity in songs like: Tripping on your Love and the exquisite When the Light Comes In.
Sandwiched in between these two albums is the experimental, jazzy offerings of More Light, which found Bobby Gillespie clean and sober for the first time forever. He opined when the album was released:
“We are trying to create transcendent, euphoric, ecstatic experiences. That’s always going to be part of our aesthetic. We like making druggy-sounding psychedelic music. It’s just that since we stopped taking drugs we got better at it.”Bobby Gillespie (2013)
Unlike the delectably titled Chaosmosis – which isn’t chaotic sounding at all – More Light is the blended process of Primal Scream shedding their rock and roll skin once again. The scales that scatter in the wind find the music all over the shop; psychedelic 2013 and bluesy-pop of Its Alright, I’m OK meld with punk bursts of Culturecide and Hit Void, and the moody ballad Walking with the Beast. What the album lacks in discipline it makes up with some cracking songs and a mass collection of musical personnel producing an artistically satisfying smorgasbord spikily overseen by uber-producer David Holmes.
To celebrate the release of the sparky power-pop classic Chaosmosis, the Scream booked themselves into the London Palladium for one night only. I was surprised by their choice of venue as the Palladium is historically a home for Royalty, middle-of-the-road entertainment and the bourgeoisie. Plus, it was April Fool’s Day so I wondered if perhaps it was some grand prank and the gig would be prove a sham. It was anything but as Bobby Gillespie and his crew of old stalwarts such as keyboardist Martin Duffy and Andrew Innes on guitar were ably backed up by young bassist Simone Butler and Hannah Marsden on support vocals. When you have almost thirty years of material to choose from then karmic chameleons such as the Scream are a banker to deliver the rock and roll goods. Every song was beautifully rendered as crisp light and video show melded pristinely with the soaring choir in the shadows; all the while sonic brother Gillespie begging the crowd to come together toward the light.
Movin’ On Up was an incredible opener and the hits just poured out from the stage and my personal favourites were Tripping’ On Your Love, Shoot Speed/Kill Light, Rocks, Swastika Eyes, Kill All Hippies and the rarely heard original Come Together replete with acid-dance remix of course. The whole night was a cascade of nostalgia and cracking showmanship and I felt at one with the world and a group of musicians who are part of my psyche and who I consider, culturally speaking, part of the family. I was blind. I can see. Primal Scream made a believer out of me. We’re MOVING ON UP!!
Dedicated to the memory of Robert Young (1965 – 2014)
I was going to include my Nozstock experience in my latest collective cultural review, however, I had such a great weekend that it earned kudos enough for a sole entry into the Captain’s blog. So, myself, Melissa (the girlfriend) and Rhys (my son and heir) drove up to the Midlands on the Thursday and camped out under the stars amidst wonderful countryside, a sea of tents and a bonanza of musical, artistic and comedic entertainment. Alas, it pissed down with rain on the Friday but Saturday’s glorious sunshine dried out the mud precipitated by nature’s will the day before. We left the Festival on Sunday but saw so much in our two full days there it’s worth sharing some images and positive words.
Nostock is, what I would class, one of the smaller festivals I checked out when booking – maximum 5000 punters – but it was big in ideas and heart. The comparative smaller size works in its’ favour as it felt local, family oriented and friendly. And definitely NOT part of the big corporate machine where bands perform as part of contracts to shift units. There were local bands for local people as well as bigger name acts such as De La Soul and old-school Motown act Martha and the Vandellas. This was essentially small but a perfectly formed set-up.
Nozstock takes place on a working farm in Bromyard, Worcestershire but this year they went for a science-fiction theme with which to decorate the various stages and tents and being a sci-fi fan it was quite amusing to see pictures of futuristic robots against a backdrop of verdant pastures. I mean, it’s not everyday you see a wicker Dalek. But somehow it worked as the design was done lovingly and with much humour. It all added a certain post-ironic charm to the whole affair as these photos show.
This had everything you’d want from a festival including: theatre, rock music, dance, rave, cabaret, cinema, food, arts and crafts and you know what apart from a few names on bill (excluding comedians) I knew hardly ANY the artists or performers – and that was fine! I was more than happy to be surprised in a good or bad way and find fresh artists and musicians to entertain me.
There was a great mix of international, local and new singer-songwriters and bands and a couple really stood out: Leeds-based Jenova Collective lit up the Friday gloom with their jolly Electro Swing and Raptor rocked the bandstand with an old-school-retro-rock-and-roll! Beardyman was on WAY too late on the Saturday night but the four tracks I saw of him were fantastic. Big plus were hip-hop legends De La Soul who stepped into fill the headliner’s Wu Tang Clan’s shoes after their Euro-Tour was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Great to hear the tunes from Three-Feet and Rising played live and loud!
We tasted some of the cabaret and cinema stuff including a musical mime adaptation of Holst’s The Planets at the very punny Bantam of the Opera tent. Furthermore, the comedy I watched on the Saturday was top quality with the gags of Mark Simmons, madness of Phil Kay and everyday yet sharp observations of Seann Walsh being highlights. There was just a cornucopia of other delights like rap and reggae at the Raveyard; pilled-up rave-hippies at the Tree of Frogs and some really harsh beats in the Bullpen which were like a musical Magnum 45 and took my head clean off.
It was just a great selection of joy and artistry on show. I just felt free from responsibility and even if I didn’t like something there just round the corner was an alternative stage to savour. So many artists and performers to choose from that the organisers deserve great credit for a fantastically curated festival.
I had an exciting weekend overall. Despite the rain the energy and fun of the proceedings never dulled and big praise to all concerned. I must add that the food choices were pretty decent too and we had a lovely cooked English breakfast from the Oatcake stall. Plus there was enough bars serving tasty beer and cider to keep everyone happy! Incredibly the Portaloos were very clean throughout with none of the horror stories I’ve been experienced at Glasto!
I’ve always loved the Festival experience. You just get a real sense of freedom camping while at the same time experiencing a cultural oasis of entertainment. Nozstock is nowhere near as big as say, Glastonbury, BUT who knows one day it may be. I hope it doesn’t though as it is perfect as it is: a real local, eccentric and energetic bag of fun! Highly recommended!