Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 20
November 14, 1969
Coppola's Dream Machine

Inspired by the filmmaking systems he had seen in Europe, this week in 1969 Francis Ford Coppola set up his own utopian film company, American Zoetrope. The company got its name from a zoetrope (a pre-cinematic projection device) which Coppola had been given by filmmaker Mogens Scott-Hansen, and was co-founded with George Lucas, who Coppola had met while he was filming Finian’s Rainbow on the Warner Brothers lot, where Lucas was an intern. The pair originally planned to base themselves in a mansion in the Bay Area’s Marin County, but temporarily housed the firm and their numerous pieces of equipment in a warehouse in San Francisco. The first American Zoetrope production was Lucas’ debut, THX 1138 (1971), and while the company still exists today, it is now located in San Francisco’s famous Sentinel Building and is owned by Coppola’s two filmmaking children, Sofia and Roman.


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Harold and Maude Dec. 20, 1971
Harold and Maude Opens

Hal Ashby's iconic black comedy Harold and Maude opened in theaters on December 20, 1971.

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December 20, 1979
Bob Fosse's All That Jazz

For denizens of the New York theater scene, Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical All that Jazz provided them the guessing game of the season. What scandals was Fosse going to spill in his expose musical? The film, which tells the story of a Broadway choreographer/director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), whose excesses in life and work bring him to the edge of a collapse, was clearly modeled on Fosse’s own life. Some actors (like Ann Reinking) play characters very similar to themselves; other figures (like ex-wife Gwen Verdon, producer Hal Prince, and others) are played by others; and other actors (like Jessica Lange) who were close to Fosse play oddly mythic figures. Fosse, who’d started choreographing for film in 1954, was soon pulled to New York to choreograph and eventually direct such musicals as Pippin, Chicago, and Sweet Charity. In 1969, he started making films as well, winning an Oscar in 1972 for Cabaret. A demanding taskmaster and infamous womanizer, the chain-smoking Fosse suffered a heart attack in 1975. It was during this period that Shirley Maclaine (according to her) suggested he create something about his brush with death. The resulting film is a breathtaking musical sleight of hand as Fosse’s alter ego Joe Gideon reveals his innermost fears and desires only to cover them in the next moment with all that jazz––surreal show stopping dance numbers and Felliniesque romps into his libido and unconscious. In 1987, life imitated art as Fosse died from a heart attack, just moments before his revival of Sweet Charity was to open at the National Theater.

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