All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979): USA

Reviewed by William Conlin. Viewed in the Fe Bland Forum at Santa Barbara City College.

It takes a strong understanding of oneself to create an autobiography with true depth, but in the case of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, the famed director/choreographer not only painted an honest picture of his hard, fast life, but also managed to predict his own downward spiral into death.

All That Jazz is a frank portrayal of Fosse’s uncontrollable womanizing, drinking, pilling lifestyle. Set during a fictionalized version of 1972 (the year where Fosse won the Oscar, Tony and Emmy Awards for Best Director), Joe Gideon (Roy Schieder) is at the top of his artistic form but is physically falling apart. His wife, daughter and mistress are closing in on him as he frantically attempts to direct a new Broadway show and edit his most recent film. As he quickly spirals downhill he enters a disturbing world where there’s no line between hallucination and reality.

Much like Fosse’s Oscar Winning Cabaret, All That Jazz employs a great use of mirrors to show the audience that they aren’t much different from the characters being portrayed on screen. Fosse’s staccato editing and oblique camera angles allow the viewer to exit the world of reality and gain a certain level of comfort with the abnormal. The now-iconic sequences of Gideon’s morning routine rank in my book next to the shower scene in Psycho when it comes to editing and cinematography.

Led by Schieder (in an Oscar-nominated turn) and featuring Fosse’s real life mistress Ann Reinking as Gideon’s on-screen mistress, the cast of All That Jazz delivers a unified vision of how people are affected when excesses go too far. The climactic final song creates an alarmingly festive atmosphere in the face of death.

Within the autobiographical nature of the film, Fosse shows his remorse at the way he treated his daughter, indifference to the way he treated his wife and humor in the way he treated his Broadway contemporary Hal Prince. Creating a giant cinematic loop, Fosse cast Cliff Gorman as “The Stand Up Comedian”. Gorman originated Lenny on Broadway which Fosse then turned into the motion picture of the same name with Dustin Hoffman. In the final sequence of the film Fosse’s close friend and collogue Ben Vereen acts as a musical conscience for Gideon during his last breaths of life.

All That Jazz, to me, exemplifies the height of dark musicals. For all those who lived year after year with happy, peppy showtunes, All That Jazz gives us a welcome breath of dank, dark air. I would recommend All That Jazz not only to fans of musicals but anyone who appreciates cinema as an art form.

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