The line between genius and madness is often thin, often exceeded. This was the case for the late Bob Fosse, a man of many 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 on a stand up comic.
Throughout All That Jazz, there is a running dialogue between Joe and Angelique (Jessica Lange), the mutual flirting, the painful revealed truths and the revelations of memories, you see Angelique is not a typical girl of the week for Joe; she is the angel of death.
While Joe lies to almost everyone else his is brutally honest with Angelique. Joe, aka Fosse, is a man capable of much passion but his tragic flaw is the man is completely self-absorbed. He turns his wife’s production from a child-like musical into one of the most steamy, erotic dance numbers every presented on screen.
All That Jazz is far from perfect but then again that fits with the man whose life is presented. In a reflection of Fosse’s life, All That Jazz mixes drama, comedy and dance as it strives to be more than the wonderful thing it already is. There is energy to All That Jazz 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, and 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, All That Jazz 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 All That Jazz 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 there all here.
Fosse only directed some six films but what films they 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 All That Jazz 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.
All That Jazz 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.
This DVD could have been better. A film like All That Jazz deserves, no demands the best technology has to offer.
While the anamorphic 1.85:1 video is well done the audio was disappointing. The video is crisp, the color palette nicely balanced with no over saturation or edge defects.
The audio on the other hand lacks what this film requires. While the technical specifications state Dolby digital surround only the center channel appears to be active. I would have loved to hear a full 5.1 remix or even an actual surround track here to compliment the incredible visual impact of All That Jazz.
The extras are better than I expected. There is a commentary track provided by Scheider that provides a lot of the back-story of the making of the film with some notable dead spots.
At least he doesn’t make useless chatter; he saves his words for when there is something to say. Five clips of the great Bob Fosse are included as well as an interview with Scheider and a trailer.
For fans of Fosse this is a must have. If you are not a Fosse fan this film will make one out of you.
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