Nowadays, Bob Fosse has sadly become a pop culture joke. Anytime one wants to make fun of musical theater, they throw up jazz hands and say “FOSSE!” dramatically. However, the man was a true pioneer of modern musical theater and also made some amazing films. His filmography is short, but not many can boast as much popular and critical acclaim as Fosse achieved. Three of the five films he directed (“Cabaret,” “Lenny,” and “All That Jazz”) were nominated for Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (he won for “Cabaret’) and were box-office hits.
However, Fosse’s best and strangely, most critically and commercially reviled film was 1983’s “Star 80.” “Star 80” is the sad, oftentimes unbearably intense and depressing biography of 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten, who was brutally murdered by her estranged husband and former manager, suitcase pimp Paul Snider. Critics complained that Fosse focused too much on Snider and not enough on Stratten. While this is not necessarily unwarranted criticism, Fosse’s exploration of Snider is one of the most complex and empathetic portrayals of a human monster ever committed to celluloid. Richard Gere was originally attached to play Snider, and while he would have been good, Eric Roberts was by far, the better choice to play Snider and his portrayal of Snider is one of the most ferocious performances I’ve ever seen on film. Between 1978’s criminally underrated “King of the Gypsies” and “Star 80,” Roberts really should have become a powerhouse star/actor on par with Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn.
From Martin Gottfried’s brilliant biography of Fosse “All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse”, Gottfried relayed a chilling tale of how Roberts finally understood how to play Snider. Roberts had a lot of difficulty with the role, breaking down and telling Fosse “S–t! I don’t know what the f–k I’m doing.” Fosse chillingly grabbed Roberts, stared into his eyes and said “Look at me! If I weren’t successful … if I weren’t successful … look at me … that’s Paul Snider. That’s what your playing. Now show me ME!” The attached clip, from the beginning of “Star 80” with Roberts, tells you all you need to know about Snider. However, the clip does contain nudity and bad language, so not safe for work or little ones.
I’m working up my own piece on STAR 80–what a great movie! And, as you noted, it’s sad that Fosse isn’t granted the respect his films deserve. I’d put him up with Kubrick, Altman, and Scorsese for quality, and if you’re looking at overall oeuvre for success percentage, it’s Fosse, hands down.