Bob Fosse: Revelatory Genius

Bob Fosse struts outside the Broadhurst Theatre, in April of 1978, at the time his Dancin' opened.

Tenn in Conversation
New Orleans

You keep asking me what makes a good director, and this is a question I still have, and perhaps always will. Some directors are good for about one act of a play, once in a lifetime or a career. Some directors are good for about three years--they get lucky; they have a tough agent who gets them good scripts; they know how to cast parts well and they leave actors alone. A director can coast on that good luck for a few years, but the truth arises and nibbles at the heels and the ass, and the tarnished and stubby truth is revealed.

[Elia] Kazan was a great director. We've discussed this. Kazan revered and improved the text, and he forced the writer--certainly this writer--to expand on what was attempted. He willed, cajoled, and seduced people--in every capacity--to be better than they were or ever were before. There should be a term of greater honor and weight than director for what Kazan was. Teacher, guide, mentor.

Bob Fosse is a great director, and I have always regretted that he did not take on plays. I want him to: We have discussed this many, many times. Good God, what he could do with a drama! With some of mine, with some of [William] Inge. With anyone. With Albert Innaurato. Fosse and I spoke at length one night about Albert's work, and Bob wondered about applying his baroque and dark mind to that brilliant and caustic writer. Well, you dream.

Bobby is great because it is never enough--and it never will be enough--to simply present life as it is. That is not theatre; that is not film; that is not art. That is reproduction or documentary. It is not art. The director amplifies what is experienced and builds a foundation beneath the material upon which he places his materials--actors, designers, musicians, whatever--and once they are in place, they are all bathed in a varnish of his experience, his prejudices, his loves, his enmities, and from all of this building and slathering comes a wholly unique representation of life as crafted and displayed in this particular play or musical. When a great director is at the wheel, the play or musical or film is a remarkable experience, a transformative experience, because life is now seen by you in an entirely new way--through the eyes of that director.

Bobby can do this. I don't care to hear about the flaws in his works, his films particularly, because his are the revelatory flaws of a genius, autobiographical and tough and unique.

Bob Fosse and Dustin Hoffman take a break from filming Lenny. Photograph by Steve Schapiro.


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