ALL THAT JAZZ (1979)
Directed by Bob Fosse
On Blu Ray
Though he made just five films in his extraordinary career, Bob Fosse left a mark on modern cinema that will never be equalled or forgotten. His films all dealt, in one way or another with the foibles of show business, the ins and outs, the highs and the lows, and the horrors. He won the Academy Award for Best Director for his searing musical Cabaret (1972) arguably the greatest musical ever made, and was nominated two other times for Lenny (1974) his powerful black and white film about beat comic Lenny Bruce and for this autobiographical work which deal honestly and openly with the incidents surrounding his massive heart attack while directing a major Broadway show and editing Lenny (1974).
Known as a famous serial womanizer, sleeping with everyone and anyone who interested him, addicted to drugs that kept him awake, others to help him sleep, alcohol, cigarettes and fame, Fosse was a genius. His signature dance style is on display in this film, along with his bold and brash directing style which challenged audiences for twenty years.
Roy Scheider portrays Joe Gideon, a famous and powerful director who is as beloved on Broadway as he is in Hollywood for his work. He begins each day with a pill, a cigarette, a shower and looks in the mirror and states, “It’s showtime” sometimes not getting the words out with his hacking cough. As we move through the film his colour changes from terrible to a sickly grey, and he can barely get the words out. His eyes are constantly bloodshot, he moves slowly, yet when he enters the theatre to work, he is alert and alive, only truly alive it seems when he is working. He makes stupid mistakes as a partner and a father, as everyone around him knows who he is sleeping with, or who he will sleep with next. Yet they love him, and he knows his ability to get away with nearly anything has served him well.
The story is told in flashback as we watch and listen to Joe speaking to a beautiful blonde who we come to realize is death (Jessica Lange), dressed entirely in white like a bride. Oddly whatever Joe is addicted too seems to be white, from his pills to his cigarettes to the glare of the bright lights.
As he directs the play we get a sense of the genius of what Fosse was, turning in a bland pop tune into a raging sexual dance number that all but burns a hole in the screen. That was Fosse, and Fosse is Gideon.
Imagine the courage it took Fosse to make a film in which he is portrayed warts and all, seen for what he truly was, the good and the bad.
The film gives an honest and unflinching look at life as a Broadway dancer, the cattle call which opens the film is now a legendary sequence, and the rejection seen on the faces is hurtful as dancer after dancer is turned away. The rehearsals are the same, as Gideon stalks the room like a panther, looking for the right move, watching the mirrors for a body movement that strikes him as right, over and over and over. I am not sure a better film on the creation of a play has ever been made.
Richard Dreyfuss was originally cast as Gideon but backed out of the project terrified he could not do justice to the role, so Scheider stepped in to give the best performance of his career. Best known perhaps as the sheriff in Jaws (1975) he was simply superb as Gideon, displaying dance and singing talents we did not know he had, and the true courage of a great actor, giving himself over to the role in every way.
Jessica Lange is ethereal and haunting as Death, her penetrating gaze never looking away from Joe slowly seducing him towards her. The image of her at the end of the tunnel as Joe moves towards her is both sexual and terrifying, because to give in to her is to give up on life.
All That Jazz was nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Film, Director and Actor and took home four for its Art Direction, Costumes, Score and Editing.
Fosse’s last film was Star 80 (1983), the harrowing story of Dorothy Stratten, who landed in LA a fresh faced Canadian looking for some fame and was murdered by her estranged husband after finding that fame as Playmate of the Year. In that dark film, the darkest of Fosse’s career, Eric Roberts gave a stunning performance which he credited entirely to Fosse.
“He loves actors and gives us the room to create”, said Roberts.
Which was why is was so revered by the actors who worked with him.
Criterion has done a masterful job restoring the film to its original glory and allowing a new generation of audiences to see the genius that was in a word... Fosse.
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