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All That Jazz (1979)


It's a lot less about jazz that you thought.
It's a lot less about jazz that you thought.

Genre: Musical Dance Drama

Starring: Roy Scheider (JawsThe French Connection), Leland Palmer (Valentino)

Directed By: Bob Fosse (CabaretLenny)

Overview: A fantastical parallel of the life of writer/director Bob Fosse, All That Jazz follows the life of Joe Gideon, a pill-popping, womanizing Broadway choreographer and film director. As his latest, greatest production is getting ready to hit the stage, Joe ignores the signs of his deteriorating health.

If you ask me - and you are - there's two kinds of Musicals in this world: the Fantastic and the Realistic. As a rule, I don't like Musicals, but for me, Fantastic Musicals start in the hole. Those are the ones where people sing because that's life. Choreography happens spontaneously with strangers in the street joining in to celebrate whatever joy our hero(ine) is experiencing, and epically panning crane shots happen because it's Tuesday. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Sound of Music are perfect examples of Fantastic Musicals that I despise. Realistic Musicals on the other hand, well, they don’t start off hated. I have hope for them. These are stories about people who live in the real world, and the reason there’s singing and dancing is usually because it’s the character’s job. Perhaps they’re on stage practicing for a show or maybe they’re just flat out mad and are living out a daydream in their own head to escape the harsh realities of life. Either way the setting is realistic, the stories tends to be far less saccharine, more original, and I actually can’t predict how it’s going to end. We’re talking movies like Footlight Parade, like Dancer in the Dark, and - thank God - like All That Jazz.

"It's Showtime!"
"It's Showtime!"

All That Jazz’s beautifully slick editing introduces us to Joe Gideon, quite obviously a choreographer extraordinaire, as he auditions a large group of dancers, whittling them down to the cast he will be using for his next Broadway show. The story isn’t happy fluff and pleasantries like in a Busby Berkley Musical. It’s work; it’s overwork. We quickly learn that Joe’s pace is unsustainable: he rises with eye drops, Alka-Seltzers and Dexedrine, then looks in the mirror and says with cheerful irony “It’s Showtime!”  It’s obvious that Joe is running himself ragged with skirt-chasing, Musical rehearsals, making time for his daughter and for his girlfriend, and doing post-production on a film he directed. As his work and relationships progress – or fall apart – his health suffers.

Through it all, All that Jazz manages to include exciting and original dance numbers that manage to pierce the hateful shell of even one such as I, including one number I immediately replayed the moment the scene ended. As Joe presents this song to his producers, they shudder, covering their eyes, occasionally peeking through tiny slits between their fingers as they watch a song given a sexual twist, complete with topless dancers and homoerotic and interracial not-so-subtle overtones. Although this is the very best dance number in All That Jazz, the others are consistently impressive. But to see All That Jazz as a Musical is to look at it with blinders. The film isn’t even really about dance; rather it’s a story with themes of sexuality, fidelity and relationships merely framed by dance. Some of the most profound conversations take place while the people involved are dancing, allowing us to enjoy important moments with compelling and interesting mise-en-scène.  As part of Joe’s character study, the film sometimes takes us to flamboyant plateaus with outrageous sets, but those are used in the daydream/fever-dream sequences that Joe has. His troubles and fears are shown to us in stunningly-displayed inner monologues, including hospital dance montages complete with doctors rambling technical talk and dancers dressed as the circulatory system.

Joe Gideon: Kate, I try to give you everything I can give.
Kate Jagger: Oh, you give all right; presents, clothes. I just wish you weren't so generous with your cock.
Joe Gideon: [pauses in thought] That's good. I can use that.

All That Jazz also takes ample opportunity to dig into the malignant industry that is showbiz, from the vulturous legal aspects of Joe’s illness to the artistic-ideal crushing producers that pay for the show. Sure, All That Jazz has silly and fun moments, but above all, it’s incredibly serious and not to be grouped with the fluffier Broadway show tune Musicals out there. This one sticks with you. All That Jazz won four Oscars. The reasons why are worth finding out.

And of course there's a Busby tribute here and there too...
And of course there's a Busby tribute here and there too...

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 9 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 82% (Jazzercise!)

Bob Fosse’s previous films include the famous Cabaret, but also Lenny, clearly the film that inspired the scenes where Joe is doing post-production on a film about a stand-up comic. Lenny is now on my non-1001 list radar.

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I'm with you on this one. All That Jazz for me went from "I guess I gotta watch this" to "This is my favorite musical ever!" after a single viewing.

Ben Vereen is awesome in this, and I love how surreal the ending gets. 

Welcome back, Squish.  

Thanks David! My internet in my part of Hong Kong was... annoying.

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