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Gone to the Movies: “All That Jazz”

Posted by purplemary54 on May 1, 2013

Catherine Zeta-Jones always seemed like a bitch to me, and not in any sort of empowering way.  She had a reputation around Hollywood as being a difficult, demanding star.  “Difficult” used to be a synonym for “Refuses to be a doormat” when used in conjunction with women in old Hollywood; nowadays, it usually means something involving drugs or money, or both (i.e.: CBS considers Charlie Sheen a very difficult star).  She was rumored to be rude to various working folks, both on and off set.  Shortly after her wedding to Michael Douglas, she spearheaded a lawsuit and public smear campaign against OK! magazine after they published what she deemed an unflattering, and unofficial, photograph.  (To be fair, I don’t know all the details; she may have been totally justified.  And smearing a tabloid isn’t exactly unexpected . . . or difficult.)  She came across in interviews as vain, superficial, and entitled.  It’s a big part of the reason why I generally dismissed this otherwise beautiful and talented woman.

Then it was announced a couple of years ago that Zeta-Jones suffered from Bipolar II, one of the main symptoms of which is radical mood swings.  All of a sudden, her capricious behavior in public made perfect sense.  She wasn’t a nasty, selfish bitch.  Catherine Zeta-Jones was mentally ill.  It took a lot of courage for her to come out publicly as suffering a mental illness (she just as easily could’ve claimed she was “exhausted,” or some other euphemism).  But she acknowledged her struggle with her own brain and personality with honesty and candor.  She first sought treatment after her husband’s much publicized battle with cancer, and recently checked into a residential facility for further treatment.  The tabloid press would’ve gotten hold of all this eventually, so kudos to her for making it a non-issue.

Catherine Zeta-Jones won an Oscar for her role as Velma Kelly in 2002’s Chicago.  What impressed me most was that she and the other stars all did their own singing and dancing.  That’s a pretty big deal for a bunch of actors not exactly known for their singing and dancing skills.  But they trained and rehearsed and brought this classic Bob Fosse show to life.  “All That Jazz” is the movie’s sexy iconic number.  It defines the decadence and passion of the 1920s setting, and helps set the stage for the defiance of Roxy and Velma.  It’s a proud song about living life on your own terms, refusing to be limited to tradition or convention: “No, I’m no one’s wife, but oh, I love my life and all that Jazz.”  The term “all that jazz” has become a dismissive catch-all phrase for trivial things or details.  But this song makes it sound like whatever makes life worth living.  There’s certainly nothing trivial about Zeta-Jones’ performance as the murderous Velma.  She knows that everything she does matters, that everything could mean the difference between life and death.  I’ll let you decide whether I’m referring to the character or the woman.  One thing I do know, Catherine Zeta-Jones is not a bitch; she’s a survivor.

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