Some Dingus Named Kyle Is Dragging Gwen Verdon In The National Review.This Will Not Stand!
The National Review's Kyle Smith is a man of many terrible, terrible opinions. He, a not-Italian person, once claimed that women could not possibly truly appreciate the movie Goodfellas, on account of how our ladybrains cannot understand the concept of "ball busting," which he graciously defined for us as "cheerfully insulting one another, preferably in the presence of lots of drinks and cigars and card games." Then, another time, he wrote a truly bizarre open letter to the protagonist of a fictional New Yorker story about how she is a slut.
But this time? This time he has crossed a line. He is insulting the honor, talent and interestingness of the great Gwen Verdon — and I, for one, will not stand for it.
In his latest missive for the National Review, Kyle whines about how Fosse/Verdon would have been much better if it were just about Bob Fosse and how he was a flawed genius and not at all about Gwen Verdon, the goddamned Broadway legend whom he referred to as a "second-tier hoofer."
In the final episode of Fosse/Verdon, one of the two titular characters, Bob Fosse, is shooting one of the greatest films of all time. The other, Gwen Verdon, is having a quarrel with her unspeakably dull boyfriend about whether he approves of her performing in a road-show production of a Broadway musical. These two matters are given roughly equal importance, as are the lives of Fosse, a genius who left an indelible mark on both Broadway and film, and Verdon, a second-tier hoofer and actress whom nobody would be thinking about, much less making a series about, if she hadn't been married to Fosse.
I will admit here that I stopped watching Fosse/Verdon after the third episode because I was mad that they filmed their version of "Who's Got The Pain?" from the neck up, on account of the fact that Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell are not really dancers. They are both very lovely actors, but I do have a major bug up my ass about casting Hollywood stars who are neither dancers or singers in roles that require singing and dancing. There are piles of triple threats on Broadway—hell, there are piles of them in community theater—and it's just wrong to not give them that opportunity.
However! Gwen Verdon was a goddamn genius. Look at this. LOOK AT HER HANDS. She was absolute perfection, and anyone who has studied dance or been a fan of musical theater at all understands this.
Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon in Damn Yankees - Who's Got the Pain www.youtube.com
She was also incredibly interesting in her own right, well before she ever met Bob Fosse. She came from a family of showpeople and her mother was a Denishawn dancer (non-dancers, this is a very big deal!), she was a teen mom and a child bride, she taught dance to almost every Hollywood star you can think of, and she went from having rickets as a child to being one of the best and most well-respected dancers of the 20th century. I COULD GO ON, but I won't, because we have to yell at Kyle now.
Kyle, being a guy named Kyle who writes for the National Review, invented an entire elaborate conspiracy theory about how they were just going to do a nice miniseries about Bob Fosse and his flawed genius, but then #MeToo happened and they had to bring Gwen Verdon into it for no reason whatsoever.
How, the creators and their bosses wondered, should they work #MeToo into the show? Correct answer: They should have ignored it and carried on as planned. Actual answer: Just as #MeToo morphed almost instantaneously from a movement about punishing sexual misbehavior in men to an affirmative-action reparations/hiring policy for Hollywood women, the makers of Fosse/Verdon decided they had to apply a sort of retroactive affirmative-action admittance policy to the genius club, or at least to the important-figures club. Hence Gwen Verdon, a forgotten hoofer whose work barely survives anywhere unless you count the memory of elderly Broadway veterans, had to be sanctified and made the equivalent of Fosse, a larger-than-life figure who directed Sweet Charity, Pippin, and Chicago on Broadway and the films Cabaret, Lenny, and All That Jazz.
Ooh! What's next? Is Kyle going to tell us that Isadora Duncan is not an important dancer, on account of the fact that there is barely any filmed footage of her dancing? Can't wait to hear his hot takes on Martha Graham and Katherine Dunham not being in nearly enough blockbuster movies! What about Nijinsky or Anna Pavlova? If a dancer grand pliés in the forest, instead of on the big screen, does it even really count?
Also, how many times can he say "hoofer?"
Really, what Kyle is most sad about here is that this could have been yet another show about yet another genius man who was flawed and stuff. You know, because that is not a theme that has been done to death, including in Fosse's own work. He is much less interested in Gwen Verdon than he is in Bob Fosse getting to be a straight dude in musical theater and bang all the ladies who were usually surrounded only by gay men, or something.
Fosse found himself in a temptation predicament the likes of which few could imagine: He was a straight man at play in the world of musical theater. In the Seventies. And he was the most revered figure in that world. Kid-in-candy-shop falls short as a metaphor. He was a kid on the loose in a candy planet, a candy universe. He fueled himself on drink and drugs and rewarded himself with sex, knowing a reckoning would come due.
That.. is actually not that interesting. Neither are any of the "themes" Kyle would have liked to have seen explored more:
Must a man be hollow if so enslaved by his desires? Would a Fosse who came along in an earlier, or a later, era have lived his life more judiciously while still creating breathtaking artistry? Does the atrocious personal behavior of a genius detract from the value of his art? Bob Fosse embodied important questions and left much that endures. Gwen Verdon did not.
These are no longer important questions, Kyle. Bob Fosse being a genius who was also bag of dicks as a human being is a known thing, and the days of celebrating anti-heroes over women who work their asses off are over. Forever. We have explored that theme as far as it can possibly go and no one needs to touch it again. If you haven't figured any of these questions out for yourself yet, you probably never will. Either that, or you just want movies and TV shows to explore them for you in order to make you feel more validated about also being a bag of dicks. Luckily for you, you are very far from being a genius, so no one will ever have to worry about whether or not your "atrocious personal behavior" detracts from that.
And now it's your open thread! I will leave you with another video of the very awesome Gwen Verdon dancing, because she is freaking amazing.
Fame TV Series Evolution of Dance Debbie Allen Gwen Verdon.wmv www.youtube.com
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse