(Co-Winner of the Palme D’or w/ Kagemusha at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival)
While Bob Fosse’s name is synonymous with dance and theater, his work as a film director has been one of the most celebrated in his prolific career. With musicals such as Sweet Charity and Cabaret, Fosse moved away from the musical with 1974’s Lenny about the controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. In 1979, Fosse would make a semi-biographical picture that mixed the dazzling musicals he’s known for with a gritty outlook on life entitled All That Jazz.
Directed by Bob Fosse with a script co-written with Robert Alan Arthur, All That Jazz follows a choreographer/film director whose workaholic lifestyle is spinning out of control. Struggling to get a new musical play going and finishing a film, he is visited by an angel of death as his health begins to take a toll. Based on Fosse’s own life, the film is a study of creativity and the toll it takes on its creator. Starring Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking, John Lithgow, and Ben Vereen. All That Jazz is spectacular yet hypnotic musical-drama from the late Bob Fosse.
Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) is a brilliant artist who is known for making great Broadway shows and movies that he’s directed. Yet, Joe’s life is going out of control as he is trying to work on a new musical while finishing up a film about a standup comedian that is still in its rough cut. Every day, Joe chain-smokes and pops up various pills to get himself going as he’s under numerous deadlines while often forgetting to do other things in his life like spending time with his daughter Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi) much to the ire of his ex-wife Audrey (Leland Palmer). Joe also spends his time sleeping with other women much to the dismay of his girlfriend Katie (Ann Reinking).
Joe’s workaholic schedule is starting to take his toll as he’s imagining talking to an angel of death named Angelique (Jessica Lange) about his life and the fact that he a schmuck. With Joe trying to find ideas for his show while being under pressure from collaborators and backers including Jonesy Hecht (William LeMassena) trying to get him to finish. Thanks to some prodding from Audrey, Joe gets an inspiration for his show though it would alienate his backers as he continues to work on his varied projects where it would finally take a toll on his health. After finally suffering chest pains, Joe is sent to the hospital as a cardiologist (Michael Tolan) suggests that Joe should relax.
Instead, Joe continues to play with death in his ways at the hospital while learning about the reviews over his film which he knew wasn’t finished. While Jonesy and other financiers try to figure out how to salvage the show with its expensive production by even turning to another Broadway director in Lucas Sergeant (John Lithgow). Joe starts to realize his own faults as his perception of reality is blurred through his own imagination featuring the people in his life as he starts to face his own mortality.
While the film is based partially on Bob Fosse’s own life at the time he was trying to finish his 1974 film Lenny, some of it is definitely inspired by the works of Federico Fellini. Particularly 8 ½ which was about a film director’s life that is unraveling by his writer’s block and the women in his life. In this film, it’s about a man whose lifestyle and antics finally takes a toll on him in a lot of ways. His personal life is becoming messy due to his womanizing while professionally, he is uninspired and having a hard time getting or finishing projects. This would eventually lead to him facing mortality in the guise of a beautiful angel who would have him see parts of his own life.
The character of Joe Gideon is essentially a scumbag and he knows it. He doesn’t spend a lot of time with his daughter though doesn’t mean to hurt her. He sleeps around with other women much to the chagrin of his ex-wife Audrey and current girlfriend Katie. He likes to flirt around with death by drinking, chain-smoking, pill-popping, and fucking every piece of ass out there as if it was his last day. Yet, he knows that he couldn’t help himself in doing these things as a way to cope with his own work as he is his own worst critic. He wants to do something great but has a hard time trying to please himself and others. The fact that he’s taking much longer to finish a film because of a long monologue that he’s cut over and over again.
The script that Fosse and Robert Alan Arthur create is an intriguing study on art and how artists tend to suffer for their work literally. Yet, it’s also about how the world of Broadway works as there’s a bit of a subplot when Joe’s financiers try to salvage the play they’re working by figuring out how to make money if things go bad while getting another director involved. Fosse and Arthur’s dialogue is phenomenal for its humor as well as the way characters respond to each other and their actions.
Fosse’s direction is truly magnificent in its ambition and presentation by creating a film that is gritty and stylish. For many of the musical sequences that is early in the film, he shoots it on location in the stages or rehearsal halls. Yet, there is something very real to the look and the rough presentation as he allows the staging of these numbers to make it seem intense with sweat dripping on the dancers, musicians, and Joe himself. At the same time, he doesn’t sugarcoat anything that is happening when people are rehearsing as the scene where Joe is looking for dancers. What he shows is everything from people are on time and have rhythm to the lone dancer who is lost in the shuffle knowing he or she won’t make it.
Fosse’s look of the fantasy sequences is truly mystical in the way it plays off to Joe’s messy head as it’s filled with decayed objects and such along with memories including a young Joe (Keith Gordon) dancing around. One of the film’s great moments is a montage of images that play up to the way Joe opens his day to the music of Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in G as it always feature Joe saying “It’s show time folks”. If Fosse’s staging of the musical and smaller dramatic moments are wonderful, it’s also the way he frames those scenes where he definitely gets a wide depth of field of what is happening along with allowing the camera to soak in the atmosphere. Using tracking shots and steady hand-held work to allow Joe to be followed along with the intensity of the dance numbers that is choreographed by Fosse himself. The overall work in Fosse’s direction is mesmerizing and masterful as he creates what is truly an engaging yet entertaining film.
Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno does a phenomenal job with the film‘s photography in bringing a sense of realism with atmospheric lighting to some of the rehearsal scenes. In the fantasy sequences, Rotunno goes for that same kind of grit along with a ghostly look as the film while the dance sequences late in the film are filled with dazzling lights that brings a lush yet seductive look to Rotunno’s camera. Editor Alan Heim does a superb job with the editing in not just creating amazing rhythmic montages to Joe’s daily routine but also to the dance numbers and dramatic moments in the film. Heim’s work is really the technical highlight of the film for the way he plays off Joe’s intense lifestyle with its frantic cutting as well as playing to the repetition of Joe’s day that includes a slow half-frame speed.
Production designer Philip Rosenberg, along with set decorators Gary J. Brink and Edward Stewart, does an amazing job with the art direction in the creation of the fantasy sequences from the decayed look of Joe‘s world with Angelique to the dazzling stage setting for the many of the film‘s dance sequences in the latter part of the film. Costume designer Albert Wolsky does a great job with the costumes from the all-black clothes that Joe wears to the lush dress that Angelique wears along with the fantasy dance sequences in the film. Makeup artist Fern Buchner does a nice job with the make-up for some of the dance fantasy sequences that play up to the Felliniesque elements of the film.
Sound editor Maurice Schell does a fantastic job with the sound work to capture the feet on the floor to the atmosphere of rehearsals and the meetings. Notably a scene where Joe is in a meeting with all of these people and all he can hear are sparse sounds as it’s one of the highlights of the film. The music by Ralph Burns is superb for its creation of some amazing music pieces that are played for the film including rehearsal music and stuff that’s made up in the scene. The soundtrack includes Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in G plus George Benson’s On Broadway and a snazzy cover of Bye Bye Love sung by Ben Vereen. The soundtrack is another of the film’s highlights as it’s an important part of the film.
The casting by Howard Feuer and Jeremy Ritzer is brilliant for its large ensemble that features early appearances by actors who would go on to bigger things such as Sandahl Bergman as a principal dancer, C.C.H. Pounder as a nurse, Wallace Shawn as an accountant, Keith Gordon as the young Joe Gideon, David Margulies as a financier, and John Lithgow as a rival Broadway director. Other notable small roles include Ben Vereen as a singer whom Joe likes to watch, Deborah Geffner as a dancer Joe sleeps with, Cliff Gorman as the actor in Joe’s standup comedy film, Michael Tolan as the cardiologist, and William LeMassena as a financier who tries to help Joe with his play while protecting his investment.
Erzsebet Foldi is great as Joe’s teenaged daughter Michelle who adores her father despite his absence as she always try to get him to slow down while has a few great dance numbers including one with Ann Reinking at an apartment as it’s a fun performance to watch. Ann Reinking is excellent as Joe’s girlfriend Katie, a woman who has a hard time dealing with Joe’s womanizing while trying to ground him. Leland Palmer is superb as Audrey, Joe’s ex-wife and Michelle’s mother who is also a former dancer as she tries to pull him back to real life while dealing with his workaholic persona. Jessica Lange is wonderful as Angelique, an angel of death who is a seductive woman but also quite terse in how she makes Joe confess his own faults.
Finally, there’s the late Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon in what is his best performance of his career. Scheider brings a sense of charm and weariness to a character that is at times, a schmuck but also knows the fact that he is a schmuck. Yet, Scheider makes Joe Gideon into a fascinating figure who is willing to do great things for his art while is willing to accept criticism knowing that the critics could be right. It’s a very fearless yet entertaining performance from the great actor.
All That Jazz is a brilliant yet entertaining musical from Bob Fosse featuring a remarkable performance from Roy Scheider. Featuring great supporting work from Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, and Ann Reinking, it is definitely one of the best musicals that strays away from the idea of what a musical is. Even as Fosse makes it personal and engaging as it’s one of his greatest films in his short filmmaking career. In the end, All That Jazz is a marvelous film from the late, great Bob Fosse.
Bob Fosse Films: Sweet Charity - Cabaret - Liza with a Z - Lenny - Star 80 - The Auteurs #56: Bob Fosse
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