The FX series “Fosse/Verdon,” now streaming on Hulu, is a fascinating look into the lives of two amazing artists: the dancer, choreographer, director, and filmmaker Bob Fosse and his wife and collaborator, the dancer and actress Gwen Verdon. It’s an emotional and voyeuristic thrill-ride, not just because of the excellent acting and direction, but because these artists have already created art about their own lives, and we now get to see them making art about making art: how meta.
Here’s how I would describe “Fosse/Verdon”:
Iconic choreographer/director Bob Fosse is a brilliant artist — and a complex character: a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, pill-popping womanizer who appears driven to bed every female dancer he works with. We see him directing the film “Cabaret” in Germany and the American stage musical “Pippin.” His muse and collaborator is his wife Gwen Verdon, the Tony-award-winning dancer who parachutes in to save “Cabaret” — and to become completely disillusioned with Fosse’s infidelity. Their daughter Nicole is collateral damage, as is Fosse’s health — he endures both a stay in a mental hospital and a heart attack from amphetamines and overwork. We follow Fosse and Verdon’s codependent relationship through Fosse’s direction of the musical “Chicago,” starring Verdon; his film “Lenny,” about the self-destructive life of the comic Lenny Bruce; and his clearly autobiographical film “All That Jazz.”
In fact, Fosse’s “All That Jazz” covers a lot of the same ground, from Fosse’s point of view. Here’s my description of “All That Jazz,” one of the best movies ever made:
Joe Gideon, a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, pill-popping filmmaker, has challenges balancing his creative drive with his relationships with his ex-wife, daughter, and new girlfriend. He suffers a heart attack and then, while in the hospital, we see his own life and eventual death dramatized through song-and-dance numbers.
Actors acting actors acting
One of the little joys of “Fosse/Verdon” is watching the actors not just portraying real people, but in many cases, portraying other actors that are portraying other real-life people. As the author of a book about writing books, I can appreciate the meta qualities of this production. Here it is explained in pictures and captions:
Fosse writes his own death scene
In “All That Jazz,” Gideon suffers a heart attack and eventually dies a dramatic death with lots of imagined music and dancing. In “Fosse/Verdon,” Fosse suffers a heart attack, survives, then makes a movie about himself suffering a heart attack, and then years later dies of another heart attack. You have to think that Fosse knew where he was going.
I enjoyed seeing all these actors portraying actors portraying actors and trying to keep straight what was real and who was imitating whom. If you like funhouse mirrors, musicals, great dancing, and throwbacks to the seventies, give it a look.