Bob Fosse Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Lenny Fosse has moved] toward a directing style that would itself approximate the anarchic effect that Bruce used to have with his performances. Apparently Fosse has modeled his work on the arch-anarchist of our film era, Godard…. Lenny wants to be, in form and feeling, an anarchic "act" about a man who did anarchic "acts," and, in that form and feeling, it succeeds much more than in what is actually said and done….

The film's troubles are in the script by Julian Barry, who wrote the poor play of the same name. But the troubles here are not exactly the same. The play was toothless and was festooned with arty touches…. The film script has none of that artiness and it does have some teeth: the trouble is that they are taken out, like dentures, and shown to us. For instance, during one performance, Bruce spots a black man in the audience and calls him "nigger"; then he spots others whom he identifies as "kike," "spick," "wop," etc. The real Bruce would have kept on using those terms without mitigation, possibly to make us see how close we all are to using them, even if we don't admit it, and anyway just to make us angry and to make us laugh at our embarrassment over our anger. But Barry's Bruce explains. He explains that he's repeating those terms in order to take the sting out of them, so that no little kid will ever be hurt by them again. (p. 18)

[There] are biographical gaps and distortions…. The wildness of Bruce's sex life is only sketched…. His discovery of his "dirtiness" as performer, and his strength therein, is almost incidental. His decline into drugs is shown but not motivated or dramatized, as is his decline into legalistic boringness…. There are gaps in the script that are supposed to be filled in either by our knowledge of Bruce or of movies: either by facts or by the conventional strophes of disintegration in film heroes. (pp. 18, 33)

I hope that the film will serve one real purpose: I hope it will close the subject of Lenny Bruce. (p. 33)

Stanley Kauffmann, "Films: 'Lenny'" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1974 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 171, No. 24, December 14, 1974, pp. 18, 33-4.