Gena Rowlands She’s Not
In 1980, Gena Rowlands burned a hole through the screen in Gloria , the tough, punchy and exhilarating story of a retired gun moll and ex-showgirl saddled with a 7-year-old kid whose family has been wiped out by the mob. It was the sixth film she made with her husband, writer-director John Cassavetes, and it turned out to be their most accessible and conventionally structured collaboration, bridging the gap between personalized, independent filmmaking and commercial marketing, while providing the ravishing star with one of her richest, savviest roles. Gloria is still memorable, and as any quick trip to the video store will convince you, it holds up solidly.
Now, with the cockeyed conviction that ill-advised lunkheads often have when they think they’ve got a better mousetrap but don’t know how to make it work without the cheese, a dreaded remake of Gloria has arrived, starring Sharon Stone and directed by Sidney Lumet, two smart cookies who should have known better. This respectable but unnecessary Gloria is not quite the disastrous chopped liver the remake of Psycho turned out to be, but it ain’t exactly foie gras, either.
A lot of silly tinkering with the original idea by scriptwriter Steve Antin adds dead weight to a simple plot. The Gloria Ms. Rowlands and Cassavetes envisioned was a been-around gal who had given up her past as well as her old mob connections to live out her days in peace. She still had her Ungaro clothes, her tabby cat, some money in the bank and a tacky but serviceable apartment in the Bronx. Her needs were simple, and she was no longer dancing on the lip of anyone’s volcano. Until one morning when she was innocently drawn into big trouble, anyway, when she threw a raincoat over her pink pajamas and shuffled down the hall to borrow some coffee from a mousy-looking neighbor. It turned out the neighbor had been secretly moonlighting as a mob accountant and giving interviews to the F.B.I. on the side. When Gloria arrived, still half-asleep, the whole family was on the verge of a gang-style killing, and Gloria ended up with the kid and an account ledger. In the danger, panic, courage and gunfire that followed, the kid found his manhood and Gloria found her heart.
Sharon Stone’s Gloria is such a hard-boiled tramp, she chews carpet tacks instead of Snackwells. After three years in a Florida slammer, she emerges to the thunderous whistles of the lesbian prison population in a dress that shows more than the censors usually allow, hops a jet to New York for a showdown with the dirty rat (Jeremy Northam) who framed her and takes on the mob by stripping them all naked at gunpoint. In a daring escape, she rescues the kid (Jean-Luke Figueroa) who is clutching a disk that contains practically the entire history of police-involved mob corruption in New York City. The thugs have got to get that disk, and they’ve got to get Gloria, too.
The circumstances are so contrived they are no longer rational, and neither is the relationship that follows. The rest of the movie is about desperate people on the lam, but Mr. Lumet has also turned it into a love story about the most mismatched odd couple since Edward G. Robinson and Margaret O’Brien. When she hobbles through the streets and alleys of Manhattan on six-inch ice-pick heels, Ms. Stone’s sudden, inexplicable maternal cravings are hard to buy. “I don’t get scared, I get pissed off,” she hisses after smashing up a car on the West Side Highway in a multiple collision that claims two lives.
When Gena Rowlands gritted her teeth, pulled up her stockings, adjusted her girdle and tackled the system, sweat broke out on the peachy half-moons under her eyes as she took stock of her options, for understandable reasons. To turn the kid over to the mob would have been coldblooded murder, and she couldn’t turn to the cops because she had a police record herself. Ms. Stone, on the other hand, only has to drop him and his reveal-all disk off at the District Attorney’s office down on Centre Street and head for the airport for a clean getaway. But the script drags in more extraneous characters-a round-shouldered, whisky-voiced madam (Cathy Moriarty) and a crafty old mobster in failing health (George C. Scott) with a soft spot in his bed of memories for Gloria, who once slept there. By the time everything turns out rosy, nobody seems as threatening as they would be in real life, and the film has come down with a terminal case of glycerin tears.
There were no screenings of the new Gloria for critics, which is usually the signal that a bona fide flop is on the way. Gloria does not justify such a lack of faith. Mr. Lumet always inspires actors to maximum performance levels. Sharon Stone is not in the same ball park as Gena Rowlands, but she flames and sizzles vibrantly. If you haven’t seen the original, you’ll probably still find the basic story engrossing. But this Gloria fails to explore the intimate emotional terrain of a woman’s soul with the kind of humanity, spirit and suspense that Cassavetes achieved. It all seems like a lame idea to me. Why send in the second team after the first team has already won the championship?
Seen Fosse? The Man, I Mean
Exasperating, cynical, self-deprecating and always depressed, Bob Fosse died in 1987 without ever fully acknowledging the historic influence he had on dancing. What a pity he couldn’t look into the mirror as far back as his fledgling days in M-G-M musicals such as Give a Girl a Break and The Affairs of Dobie Gillis and see what the rest of us saw: a pixie with winged shoes and mercurial bazazz who never seemed to touch the floor.
Graduating to Broadway, he gave up performing for choreographing and directing, revolutionizing movement into a sexual politics that changed the conventional ways the world expected stage musicals to look, sound and dance. From the early triumphs staged for his wife, Gwen Verdon, including New Girl in Town , Redhead , Damn Yankees and Sweet Charity , to Chicago and the movie version of Cabaret that won Liza Minnelli an Oscar under his meticulous (some say Teutonic) direction, Fosse epitomized discipline, energy, control and a dedication to doing the most with the least. He was famous in interviews for saying he knew only six actual steps and reused them all again and again. Whatever he did, the work has been joyously recycled in a dazzling, throbbing, luxurious new celebration of his career called Fosse that has audiences screaming with joy. I wonder what the reaction would be from Fosse himself, a man who once told me he never saw one of his shows or dance routines without believing somebody else could do it better.
Watching this scrapbook of his legacy, I do not agree. His choreography is unique, it’s extravagant, it’s diabolical (the dancers must be half-dead after each performance). The extended thighs, the snapping fingers, the ambiguous sexuality (almost always leading in its trajectory to eventual sadomasochism), the trademark bowler hats and white gloves, every dancer playing some variation on Satan or one of his sinful earthly converts-nearly 30 dancers, performing at peak capacity with the precision movement of a Rolex-it’s all here, supervised and re-created by two of the women in his life who knew him best, Gwen Verdon and Ann Reinking. Two and one-half hours (with two intermissions) of calisthenics might not be everybody’s cup of Ben-Gay, but I found myself aching for more.
In a show that pulverizes you with one show-stopper after another, I was especially galvanized by the Kiss Me Kate pas de deux Fosse created for himself and Carol Haney in the “From This Moment On” number at M-G-M; the precision, timing and body language of the libidinous legs-for-days Elizabeth Parkinson (the dancing Nicole Kidman!) to the famous trumpet solo in Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” (from the 1978 production of Dancin’ ); the synchronized sweetness of “Steam Heat”; the spectacular singing of “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” by sexy Valarie Pettiford. I could go on from here to next season, but I don’t dream I will experience anything more exhilarating than this brilliant, blazing bonfire of entertainment.
Critics who grouse that Fosse neglects to offer insight into the man himself (and everyone else who finds him as fascinating as I do) are urged to drop in at the Museum of Television & Radio on West 52nd Street, where a rare 45-minute “live” 1962 telecast about Fosse and Ms. Verdon, which appeared on the great CBS weekend show American Musical Theater , is being projected every day through the end of February. This particular show traces the origins of the couple’s careers and features both of them in rare performances from all of their shows. They also answer candid questions from an audience of New York City high school students. Terminally shy, Fosse keeps looking at his shoes.
You see the influence Charlie Chaplin had on his work, how he created dances as character revelations in the telling of a story, and watch him re-create the “pony dance” he staged for Ms. Verdon in New Girl in Town . This is the only time they ever performed “Steam Heat” together on stage or screen, and the only televised production number he ever did from Pal Joey , which I was fortunate enough to see at City Center in his last public performance as a star.
You learn so much in 45 minutes that it’s a perfect accompanying footnote to the renewed Bob Fosse craze that is currently sweeping Broadway. Screening times change, so telephone the museum at 621-6600 for information. Twelve years after his death, Fosse lives on. I couldn’t be more thrilled about the whole thing. He was more than an original. He was, I believe, some kind of genius.
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