All That Jazz
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All That Jazz

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The line between genius and madness is often thin, often exceeded. This was the case for the late Bob Fosse, was a man of exceptional talents and an even larger collection of vices. Director, choreographer, writer, womanizer, drug addict and alcoholic, this man embraced all that life had without any concern for restraint. Made eight years before his death ‘All That Jazz’ is a self-indulgent man’s look back at his life. Unlike many autobiographical works this one show its creator in the best of life. Fosse’s screen alter ego Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) is running out of time with so much yet to do. He has ruined his marriage to Audrey (Leland Palmer), practically ignores his daughter (Erzsebet Foldi), cheats on his girlfriend Kate (Ann Reinking) all while being the choreographer for his ex-wife’s Broadway show and directing a film centered around a stand-up comic. Throughout the film there is a running dialogue between Joe and Angelique (Jessica Lange), the always flirtatious, specter forces Joe to face painful truths and revelations he would much rather leave buried deep in the recesses of forgotten memories. Angelique is not a typical girl of the week or Miss Right Now for Joe; she is the angel of death. While Joe easily lies to almost everyone he is forced to face an unaccustomed brutally honest with Angelique. She seems to relish her ability to Joe, taunt Joe, perhaps to finding sport in engaging this mortal who always faced life on his own terms, now that the run of the show that was his life is about to close.

Joe, aka Fosse, was a man driven of passion, compelled to become completely immersed in what ever happened to spark his imagination at that moment. This ability to completely collapse is attention to a single point, the two sides of the same coin. It made him an unparalleled genius in his field, but left them so self-absorbed that he was unable to retain a meaningful relationship with anyone for a significant period of time. Ultimately Joe’s passion, made him a lot like a giant star; burning hot, living fast and destined to end in a spectacular supernova. It seems as though Angelique is anticipating being able to witness the spectacular end.

Despite the fact that the divorce was rather messy and all but ignores their daughter, or degree does admire and respect is undeniable talent. As such, she is willing to entrust him with the direction and choreography of her play. However, refuses to subjugate his artistic vision for anyone. He Turns his wife’s production from a child-like musical into one of the most steamy, erotic dance numbers every presented on screen. The trademark lithe, almost animalistic dance movements will have most running a cold shower, despite the fact that the Internet has made far more explicit scenes commonplace. Fosse through his cinematic avatar Joe reveals his trademark ability to differentiate between sex and sensuality. The lead dancer, Sandahl Bergman movies with the precision and grace that goes beyond the feline, you are transported beyond watching a beautiful naked woman undulating around the stage and him mesmerized by the precision of her dance moves and how they echo through the rest of the cast. The actress, Ms. Bergman, was well able to use this extraordinary body control in a different type of choreography; the fight scenes opposite on the Schwarzenegger in the 1982, ‘Conan the Barbarian’. A scene like this so epitomizes the distinctive style of Bob Fosse that you will easily be able to pick out elements of it in any production. He provided his talents to.

This film is far from perfect but then again that fits with the man whose life is presented. In a reflection of Fosse’s life the film mixes drama, comedy and dance as it strives to be more than the wonderful thing it already is. There is energy to this film among the tedious repetitions of rehearsals. I suppose this in itself reflects Fosse’s life, the frustration that comes from a personality that demands perfection from himself and all those around him and a man pushing life both emotionally and with some chemical assistance. The dance numbers here are classic Fosse, the use of hands and shoulders, the constant undercurrent of the erotic and sensual bubbles up with every movement. People do care about him, especially his ex-wife, but he is emotionally too devoted to himself to reciprocate any feelings. Still the film draws you in; it surrounds you almost against your will. After all, why should you care about the life of this selfless man? Yet, as the film progresses you do care. You want to see what happens next. All That Jazz is as complex as the man it portrays.

Scheider nails this role as few actors could have done. He is the kind of actor that can slip easily into almost any role. Form a sheriff in a small island community to a big city cop; he devotes his talents to giving the audience his all. When you consider his career just note how many of American cinema’s best he has been in, Jaws, French Connection Marathon Man to name but a few. Here Scheider does not make apologies for his character; he presents Fosse warts and all. The difficultly here is, as mentioned above, getting the audience to care about a character whose behavior most will find repugnant. He does it by allowing these human foibles to become almost endearing, perhaps the reason why the people around Fosse had such a strong love-hate relationship with him. Palmer as the ex-wife is stunning in her performance. One memorable scene is when she is practicing a dance routine and Joe comes in deject by his inability to get a number up to his standards. As she dances around him she pushes his infidelities in his face, never breaking stride in her routine. This was a dance this woman has had with the father of her child many times over, the reason why she can love him and hate him with equal passion. Every ancillary part if filled by an actor that exceeds any expectations you might have. This is the mark of a truly professional cast, everyone gives their all here.

Fosse only directed some six films but what films there where. Sweet Charity, Cabaret, Lenny (shown here has Joe’s film Stand Up, and the poignant Star80. While All That Jazz is considered to be his autobiography, all of his films reflect parts of his life, the tragedy of someone striving for perfection while dealing with a plethora of human failings. Fosse could not have been an easy man to work for, he was a perfectionist and this film demonstrates the results of such obsession. The pacing is perfection. You move through this man’s life in metered phrases. His use of light and shadow is dramatic and extremely captivating. This is one film that certainly demonstrates why movies must be seen in the original aspect ratio, the details of the sets, the action occurring almost out of frame all adds to the production values here. You will see echoes of his other works here. There is a consistency to his style of direction. While many directors constantly strike out in different directions Fosse keeps working his material improving upon it each time. Here we see a man who is becoming increasingly aware of his own mortality. He knows that he is dying of the life he has lived. He would rather burn out a bright light than just fade away. A short life of excess is preferred over a life like those with lesser talents.

While the original DVD was a rather mediocre offering this film has achieved the status of artistic appreciation that many eligible for inclusion in the highly lauded Criterion Collection. As in any title inducted onto this list, the mastering of the film to disk is exemplary. The video is absolutely beautiful, especially in this new high definition addition. Criterion has been releasing many of the best that cinema has to offer on Blu-ray. Of late, and this film certainly has earned its place. It would be impossible to make a flawless film about a man whose very flaws contributed to his genius. After re-watching ‘All That Jazz’ after many years, I found I had to reevaluate much of what I felt about it in the past. A significant portion of that had to do with the amount of understanding and background criterion provides with their famous extras. I know many people tend to ignore added content focusing on the movie. In the case of most criterion releases, this one included, it is like taking scholarly examination detailing what you are watching.

Audio commentary featuring editor Alan Heim
Selected-scene audio commentary featuring editor Alan Heim
Selected-scene audio commentary by actor Roy Scheider
New interviews with Heim and Fosse biographer Sam Wasson
New conversation between actors Ann Reinking and Erzsebet Foldi
Episode of the talk show "Tomorrow" from 1980, featuring director Bob Rosse and choreographer Agnes de Mille
Interviews with Fosse from 1981 and 1986
On-set footage
"Portrait of a Choreographer," a 2007 documentary on Fosse
"The Soundtrack: Perverting the Standards," a 2007 documentary about the film's music
Interview with George Benson from 2007, about his song "On Broadway," which opens the film
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Hilton Als

Posted 09/12/03        08/25/2014

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