2015 Blind spot series: All That Jazz (1979)

My contribution to Ryan McNeil’s 2015 blindspot series blogathon, where I watch a film each month that I have never seen before.

Based on director/writer Bob Fosse’s own life, and was inspired by his manic effort to edit his film Lenny while simultaneously staging the 1975 Broadway musical Chicago. The story is a semi-autobiographical account of workaholic Broadway director/choreographer Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider). He sleeps around with his dancers and his health is not good.

We repeatedly see him each morning, putting his cassette on with Vivaldi, using eye drops, medication, and taking a shower, followed by saying to himself in the mirror “It’s showtime folks”. The showtime sequence works well visually (and may have inspired Guy Richie’s Snatch), but the story doesn’t grab me emotionally. Joe is a jerk towards his wife and daughter, and it’s tough for me to care what happens to any of them. A film I admire rather than love. The film is saved by the musical numbers and a superb ending sequence with a great cover of Bye Bye Love, originally by The Everly Brothers.
The opening scene is also a highlight, a brilliant mix of music, dance and editing, using George Benson’s catchy cover of On Broadway.  I have to admit I’ve never been to Broadway, so I can’t attest to whether it’s authentic. On the impressive opening, Bob Fosse is quoted as saying:

“Well, I tried to use a documentary style first of all, and it is what my life has been like since I was 25 years-old, it’s been those sort of auditions. And I’ve seen many film auditions of one kind or another, acted in a few films that had auditions, and they’ve been so unrealistic, that I tried very hard to show an audience exactly what happens. I did it in a very stylized way because you can’t spend that much time, it was paramount to show what Roy Scheider’s did, what his occupation was, and the way he handled people, and how many no’s he had to say, and the few yes’s he had, and how he was gentle with people“

In Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1972), the characters were easier to root for. All That Jazz is darker and more ambiguous. The sequences involving his discussions with an angel played by Jessica Lange are interesting, maybe Joe’s meditations with himself, dreams, or idea of heaven.

In the middle of the film, there’s a script reading scene when they laugh and he doesn’t appear to hear anything, as we watch people laughing out loud in silence. This is quite disturbing. Cinematically it’s very effective, he seems very alone in this moment, and to me it suggests he’s losing his grip on reality. You could interpret the whole story as a near death scenario. An artist who can’t stop creating, can’t stop working.

All That Jazz is a film that champions creativity, and also the invisible creativity going on in the mind we don’t see. Joe really had show business in his blood. Yet it also is a film about a workaholic who can’t balance his personal life with his own ambitions.

Won 4 Oscars. Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Music. Was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing, and Best Cinematography. The film won the Palme d’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.

I’m not a huge musical fan. Even so, it’s a technically masterful film I think any serious cinephile should watch at least once in their life. If you are a workaholic, you may relate to the main character.

Favorite quotes: “To be on the wire is life. The rest is waiting”

“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?”

Rating 8/10
Agree or disagree? Have you seen All That Jazz (1979) , and what did you think? Which is your favorite Bob Fosse film?

8 thoughts on “2015 Blind spot series: All That Jazz (1979)

  1. I like this movie a lot. I'm also not a huge musical fan, but All That Jazz really does it for me. The last half hour is so crazy that I can't help but love it.

    I also like how honest the whole thing is, since it's essentially a biopic of the guy directing it.

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  2. @SJHoneywell: I respect and admire what Bob Fosse did with the movie, even if the main character was kind of a jerk(not that every character has to be likeable). That’s true, despite the over-top-ness, at its core the story did feel sincere, the emotions felt genuine.

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  3. So glad you liked it! Scheider gives one of my all-time favorite performances, and I just love the spectacle of it. I like Cabaret, but this film frequently flirts with a spot in my top 100 favorite films. It's one of those that I usually watch some of when it's on TV.

    Like

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