Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 20
November 5, 1982
Jacques Tati dies

On this day in 1982, Jacques Tati passed away in Paris, as a result of a pulmonary embolism, at the age of 75. Tati had begun acting on screen exactly 50 years previously, in Oscar, champion de tennis (1932), but his directing career only lasted 25 years and sadly offered up only six features, plus a handful of shorts. After Tati’s initial success with his postman comedy Jour de fête (1949) and then two Hulot hits, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953) and Mon Oncle (1958), he had gone on a long hiatus before returning with Playtime, a Hulot movie set in Paris for which a massive futuristic set (known as “Tativille”) was built. Though hailed by François Truffaut as "a film that comes from another planet, where they make films differently," it was an enormous commercial failure and bankrupted Tati. He came back with another Hulot movie which parodied the advances of modern life, Trafic (1971), in which his comic hero was a car inventor, but the truth was that he was sick of his bumbling alter ego. He was absent from his final feature, Parade, a 1974 circus film made for Swedish, and at the time of his passing he was planning a project, Confusion, which would be a serious film that began with the death of Monsieur Hulot. In an interesting development, Tati’s work is set to return to the screen shortly as French director Sylvain Chomet (best known for The Triplets of Belleville) is close to completing The Illusionist, based on a 1956 script by Tati.


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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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