Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 20
November 2, 2004
Theo van Gogh murdered

On an early Tuesday morning in the fall of 2004, filmmaker/political activist Theo Van Gogh was riding his bike to work when shots rang out. Mohammed Bouyeri, who'd been waiting for him, shot Van Gogh 8 times, killing him on the street. Bouyeri then deeply and savagely cut  open his throat, and stabbed him in the chest, leaving the knife there with a long, rambling note attached. The violent death was not only the tragic end to an original filmmaker, but became the centerpiece in a debate about immigration policies in the otherwise open and tolerant Netherlands. His namesake, his great grandfather Theo Van Gogh, was the brother of the artist Vincent, a fact that gave Theo a heavy artistic legacy. After making a few independent films––his 1996 Blind Date was recently remade––Van Gogh turned to writing polemics, often supporting any number of unpopular causes, and drawing to him lawsuits and threats. In 2004, he and Islamic artist Ayaan Hirsi Ali made Submission, a ten-minute film that used passages from the Qur’an to highlight Islam’s oppression of women.  After the film appeared on Dutch TV, both filmmakers were publicly attack and threatened. While Van Gogh was murdered, the note was primarily aimed against Ayaan Hirsi Ali. After Van Gogh’s death, Hirsi Ali went into hiding, issuing a  commentary on her friend and collaborator: "I am sad because Holland has lost its innocence…Theo's naiveté wasn't that it [murder] couldn't happen here, but that it couldn't happen to him. He said: 'I am the village idiot, they won't hurt me.'"


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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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