Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sweet Charity

Sweet Charity helps one appreciate better the original Nights of Cabiria.
By that, I don't mean that Sweet Charity is inferior- of course it is, we're dealing with Fellini here. What I mean is that the sentimentality of Bob Fosse's film marks the clear contrast between the original film and the remake and makes one realise how cool and controlled Fellini is, how he keeps everything subdued and subtle and refuses to settle for some cheap sentimentalisation of a character that is easily exploited that way. Take the scenes before the push, and Charity's cries of happiness. Take the "fickle finger of fate" scene- Charity pours out her heart to the famous actor. Take the scene where she blurts out before her co-workers that she has been in the closet the whole time. Take the scene where she comes to an office and asks for "a nice job" and says no to all the skills the man enquires of her. Take the sequence where she cries tears of joy "someone loves me". It's all sentimentalised and exaggerated, there is too much talk, everything is spelt out when something should be withheld and just suggested. The chief difference between Nights of Cabiria and Sweet Charity is that Fellini knows when to stop, what to show and what not, and when the pathos is enough, there's no sense of exploitation, Fellini produces a beautiful and haunting work; whereas Fosse keeps pushing and pushing until the emotions ring false and we turn numb. The same can be said of the difference between Giulietta Masina and Shirley MacLaine. The Shirley MacLaine that is touching enough, realistic and unsentimentalised, in Billy Wilder's The Apartment, is not to be found here. Whilst Giulietta's Cabiria is tough, and has to toughen herself up because of her working environment and experience, Shirley's Charity is sweet, too sweet. Whilst Cabiria struggles to hold back her tears, Charity cries and cries, so often that at some point I no longer care for her sorrows. Cabiria has the strength, and the pride, that Charity lacks- her life is a mess, she is often in despair, she yearns for a way out but can find nothing and keeps trusting the wrong people, but Cabiria doesn't want to be pitied. Because she rejects pity and stresses on her independence and wants to stand on her feet, we find ourselves with her, feeling for her and believing in her. In spite of everything, she will stand up and will be OK. Charity may sometimes pretend to be tough and turn to lying as a defence mechanism, but in general she begs, and cries, and seeks pity, so at some point it's no longer moving.
Having said all that, I find it unfair not to praise the sequence "Rich Man's Frug". It is, without doubt, the best dance number in the film. Look at Suzanne Charney, the lead. Wonder at the choreography. I can watch this over and over again. 

Or the "If They Could See Me Now" number, especially the part with the hat, from about 1:45:

Sweet Charity, in short, is to Nights of Cabiria what Nine is to . As a musical, it is enjoyable, with some excellent and entertaining dance numbers. As a remake, it is a reminder of how much superior the original was, how wonderful, how perfect, and a reminder that Fellini's films cannot be viewed once. 

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