BU Film School

Monday, October 10, 2005

FT 540 Reading: Chicago

Screenplay info
Written by: Bill Condon, based on the musical by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb (based on the play by Maurine Watkins)
Film info: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0299658

Synopsis
At the Onyx Bar, the stage manager looks for the Kelly sisters. Velma arrives in a taxi. A theatrical bill is posted announcing them. Velma rips it in half, leaving just her name. Velma, snapping at the stage manager, hurriedly unpacks her suitcase, which has stockings, a garter, and a gun in a bloody hankerchief.

The bandleader introduces the sisters, but only Velma is there. She performs "All That Jazz". Shots of her and other dancers are intercut with shots of Roxie watching (for one fantasy moment, it's her singing in Velma's place). Fred tells Roxie that it's all arranged. They go to Roxie's home and are spotted by the neighbor. Montage of body parts from dance, Roxie/Fred. As the song comes to a close, police come for Velma.

One month later. Fred no longer acts romantic, but just moves away and starts getting dressed. Roxie asks him if it isn't time for her to meet his friend at the bar. She talks about new idea for her act (aloof), club of their own). He bursts her bubble: "Wake up, kiddo. You ain't never gonna have an act." It turns out he has no connections. She tries to stop him from leaving, he hits her. She shoots him.

Police are at the apartment. The case seems all wrapped up -- Amos, Roxie's husband, has confessed to shooting a burglar. Harrison, an assistant D.A. questions Amos further, making him retell his story from the start. "A man's got a right to protect his home and his loved ones, right?"

Fantasy. Roxie sings about "that funny honey of mine" (her song of love and devotion). Script notes that her only way to deal is "to see her life as a vaudeville act." Alternates between fantasy stage and apartment. Harrison is given the deceased's wallet and reads the ID -- Fred Casely. Amos, betrayed and hurt, blurts out the truth -- Roxie had said Fred was a burglar, Amos should confess because he'd be sure to get off. Neighbor is brought in and IDs Fred.

Roxie is led out in handcuffs. Photographer snaps picture, and reporters badger her with questions. Harrison tells them it's a hanging case.

Series of shots as Rosie is processed in Cook County Jail. Matron "Mama" Morton is coming to meet the new prisoners. Scenes of real Matron talking intercut with "When You're Good to Mama" number. Fantasy Matron sings about quid pro quos; reality Matron says that if there's something that upsets them, don't tell her because she doesn't care. Roxie is escorted to Murderess Row. Mama: "I never heard of a man's being killed when he didn't get just what was coming to him." Velma comes up to Matron. Roxie recognizes her, but after a couple of remarks Velma ignores her and addresses Mama instead, showing her an editorial in Redbook denouncing her. She pays Mama for the magazine. Matron leads Roxie onto Murderess row, slips cigarettes to one inmate, slaps her thigh. The cell door is slammed on Roxie. She hesitantly asks for extra blankets, but the guard smashes a club against the bars, and he and the Matron move off.

Roxie, unable to sleep, listens to sounds from the other cells (leaky faucet, fingers drumming, etc.) The sounds gradually form a rhythm (pop, six, squish, uh-uh, Cicero, Lipschitz). Liz, Anne, Jane, Hunyak, Velma and Mona do the Cell Block Tango. Dance intercut with bits of prison reality (walking in line, sitting in cafeteria, playing cards), characters talking. Hunyak says she's innocent, Velma says she blacked out.

Laundry is being done. The Hunyak irons Velma's lingerie, which she cleans for $1 a week. Roxie drops off towels for Mama's bathroom, and overhears Mama and Velma talking about trial date, putting Velma back on the vaudeville circuit (which will cost Velma $50 for the phone call). Roxie holds out lingerie for Velma (saying that she'd done it), and asks advice about case. Velma: "Keep your paws off my underwear. 'Kay?" Mama: "No matter how big she gets, she's still as common as ever." Mama would like to help Roxie. "In this town, murder's a form of entertainment." She says for Roxie to get Billy Flynn, and will make a phone call for $100. Roxie's fantasy: inmates singing "We Want Billy."

Billy's number, "All I Care About" (is love) intercut with him at tailor's, in limo, at press conference with Velma, Mary Sunshine, etc., telling Roxie that all she means to him is $5000.

Amos goes to see Billy -- has scraped together $2000, promises to pay rest in installments with interest. Billy upbraids him, but says his devotion is touching, will keep case. Will get Roxie's name in all the papers, then hold auction of her belongings.

Billy to Roxie: must work up sympathy from press, they can't resist a reformed sinner. Billy revises her background. "So you got caught up in the mad whirl of the city -- jazz, cabaret, liquor."

Roxie makes herself over -- plucks eyebrows, rehearses story, pays Mama for hair dye, cuts hair. Velma talks to Billy (handkerchief, flashing thigh ploy), but he gets distracted when Roxie walks in sporting a new blonde bob.

Velma to Roxie: "Billy Flynn's number one client is Billy Flynn."

Roxie's press conference. He answers questions for her, until she gets impatient and jumps in, screwing up the story. "Shut up, dummy." Rest of conference intercut with "We Both Reached for the Gun," which has Roxie and reporters as marionettes. Reporters buy story, and it makes all the headlines.

Newsreel announcer -- women getting bobs, girl with Roxie doll, auction at Amos' and Roxie's.

Roxie and Mama -- she would like to go onstage. Mama has already called agent, her fee will be 10% of takings. "Killing Fred Casely was your act." Roxie does monologue to fantasy audience about Amos and Casely. "... If this Flynn guy gets me off, and with all this publicity, now I got me a world full of 'Yes.'" Sings "Roxie" (name on everybody's lips).

Velma to Mama -- can't take it anymore. Mama has blonde bob. Velma's tour cancelled, name out of papers too long.

Velma tries to get in Roxie's good graces, saying they're a natural to do an act together. Performs "I Can't Do It Alone." Roxie won't have any of it: "You're all washed up. It's me they want now." Newspaper says Velma's trial postponed indefinitely.

Billy Flynn at dinner - tells others about Kitty Baxter, pineapple heiress. Billy talks over flashback of her killing husband and two women.

Billy accompanies Kitty as she's led to jail. She gives reporters and Billy hell. Roxie is overlooked by reporters and Billy. "How's it feel, kid?" Roxie faints twice -- hopes fall didn't hurt baby.

Doctor will swear she's pregnant. Billy tells him to button his fly.

Reporters at hospital. Amos, having heard the good news, comes and tries to get Roxie to notice him, but she doesn't answer him. "Mr. Cellophane Man." "'Cause you can look right through me, walk right by me and never know I'm there." Intercut with Billy and Amos. Billy explains that Amos couldn't possibly be the father, Amos says he'll divorce him. "She probably won't even notice."

Roxie hates the frilly dress that Billy wants her to wear. She'd kept him waiting 10 min. She refuses his advice, says she's sick of being told what to do. They argue, she fires him, he quits. As Billy leaves, he tells her, "You're a phony celebrity. A flash-in-the-pan. In a couple of weeks, no one's gonna give a shit about you. That's Chicago."

The Hunyak has lost her last appeal. Shots of her hanging are intercut with shots of her famous Hungarian disappearing act.

Roxie is back with Billy. "I do all the talking this time." He likens the court to "A three-ring circus. These trials -- the whole world -- all show business." Shots of "Razzle Dazzle" intercut with Billy holding up fingers for neighbor, reenacting crime (both reach for the gun), questioning Amos. In this latter bit, he confuses Amos about whether he wanted to make love to Roxie, says Roxie will swear Amos is the father. Amos softens and apologizes, they embrace.

Roxie takes the stand. Billy draws his story out of her -- she tried to break things off with Fred after telling him she was pregnant, and shot Fred to save her "husband's innocent unborn child."

Mama and Velma listen to Mary Sunshine doing trial play-by-play for the radio. Roxie asks for a handkerchief, then a drink of water, faints and reveals Velma's garter. Mama: "These days, you get a little success, and it's good riddance to the people who put you there." Mama called Velma over to show her Roxie's diary.

Harrison calls Velma as a rebuttal witness, and submits the diary as evidence. He has Velma read an entry out loud: "I'm just sorry I only got to kill him once." Roxie protests that she never wrote that, but Billy shushes her.

Billy cross-examines. Fantasy - Billy tap-dances, at first simple steps, then progressively more complicated. Under questioning, Velma readily admits she made a deal with Harrison (charges dropped in exchange for testimony). Billy has her read another entry: "then he reneged on his pledge ... charge was erroneous." Billy points out vocabulary, possibility of perjury on Velma's part if she knew the diary was a fake. Velma blurts out that she only knows what she was told, reveals (in response to Billy's question) that the diary was sent to Mama. Billy points out the lawyerly language, and suggests (while protesting that he isn't) that Harrison fabricated the evidence.

Shots of people listening to Mary Sunshine reporting. Jury files in. Piles of newspapers -- "Aquitted!" "Convicted!" Roxie is acquitted. Woman shoots two people on courthouse steps, crowd abandons newsboy and rushes to the scene of the crime. Reporters and photographers race out of the courtroom, without even taking Roxie's picture. Billy: "You can't beat fresh blood on the walls." He says he'll collect from Velma too -- had added entries to Roxie's diary.

Amos -- time to come home, take care of baby. Roxie reveals there is no baby. She's sad: "They didn't even want my picture."

Roxie sadly sings "Nowadays" -- first as fantasy, then as audition at the Onyx Club. She's cut off before she can finish. Velma, who'd been watching, approaches her. They snipe at each other. Velma -- thought we could help each other out (two jazz killers). Roxie points out that it'll never work, because they hate each other; Velma says that there's only one business in which that's no problem.

Performance at the Chicago Theater (Billy, Mama among audience) is a success.

My notes
-- like All That Jazz, moves fluidly between reality and fantasy
-- for the most part, doesn't specify close-ups, etc.
-- snappy dialogue
-- fantasy and music comment on action, illustrate character. Poetic correspondence. Music integrated perfectly into plot.
-- flawed characters
-- Prohibition, Jazz Age

FT 540 notes (from 06/19/03)
-- Takes murder, mayhem, transforms into showbiz.

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