All That Jazz (1979)

All that Jazz

No, nothing I ever do is good enough. Not beautiful enough, it’s not funny enough, it’s not deep enough, it’s not anything enough. Now, when I see a rose, that’s perfect. I mean, that’s perfect. I want to look up to God and say, “How the hell did you do that? And why the hell can’t I do that?”

There are some films that you can’t help but love, or at least admire greatly. The sheer audacity, the showmanship, the all-encompassing vision behind All That Jazz propels what might have been a super indulgent autobiography from director (and writer and choreographer) Bob Fosse into the stratosphere. Its assault on your discerning taste begins right from the jump, as we see what will become a refrain: the beginning of Fosse-stand-in Joe Gideon’s day which always features classical music, drugs, a smoke in the shower, and a pep talk in the mirror. Then, the film provides an early tell that it won’t be playing by the rules. Gideon goes to the casting call for his new show (analogous to Chicago) and, with “On Broadway” as our guide, a world-beating montage begins. Time is compressed, people are broken down to their component parts, all hands and legs and crotches, and Gideon smokes a lot. And from there you know everything you need to know. It’s another example of a superb start in this musical marathon which instantly grounds the audience in the world of the film and indicates exactly what the director’s vision will be.

Gideon is played by Roy Scheider, whom I’ve only really seen in Jaws. Here he’s pretty much the opposite of Brody. In fact, though I probably wouldn’t have picked him to star in a musical, he gives the best male performance I’ve seen in this month-long marathon. He’s always sweating, but that doesn’t stop him from charming the pants off of everybody he meets, quite literally. As the film transitions in the second half into a much different tone he rides the change nicely, still playing the same womanizer but now with a degree of self-loathing that was more hidden in the early goings. He’s joined by Leland Palmer as his ex-wife, who does the seen-it-all thing very nicely and humanizes Gideon, Ann Reinking as his current beau who demonstrates just how well he plays his cards because, damn, is she beautiful and talented, and Erzsébet Földi as his young daughter whose scenes provide glimpses at how great a father he could be if he weren’t stretching himself so thin.

This is a movie about creativity, dedication, obsession, life and death, and dance. As such, Fosse often stages, edits, and dreams up some wonderful scenes which wrap all of these elements into one glorious mess of a movie. If you aren’t wrapped up from the beginning there’s a heavy chance that you’ll grow to hate everything that’s happening here. And I can’t really deny that as being a valid reaction. It’s so over the top, so in your face with the ideas it is tackling that it could just as easily be genius as pretentious. I loved it, though perhaps just slightly less than I could have. There are a few scenes which seem to exist simply to do things that movies in the late 70’s do. These lack the exciting invention of those other, spectacular scenes. Not often is a movie such a fulfilling experience. All That Jazz is all that a movie can be: motion, images, editing, sounds, character, theme, story, and music.

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