[Film Review] All That Jazz (1979)

All That Jazz poster.jpg

Title: All That Jazz
Year: 1979
Country: USA
Language: English, Spanish
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music
Director: Bob Fosse
Bob Fosse
Robert Alan
Music: Ralph Burns
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Roy Scheider
Leland Palmer
Ann Reinking
Jessica Lange
Erzsebet Foldi
Cliff Gorman
Anthony Holland
Michael Tolan
Max Wright
Ben Vereen
William LeMassena
Deborah Geffner
David Margulies
John Lithgow
Keith Gordon
Wallace Shawn
CCH Pounder
Irene Kane
Rating: 8.2/10

All That Jazz 1979.jpg

Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical picture ALL THAT JAZZ, his fourth feature, gets its inspiration from his real-life heart attack while juggling between editing LENNY (1974) and directing the original Broadway production of “CHICAGO”, here his alter ego is Joe Gideon (Scheider), a theater director and Hollywood filmmaker, is facing exactly the same situation, while slowly being burnt out by his workaholic propensity aided by inveterate drug abuse, chain smoking and skirt-chasing.

Interposing fragments from Joe’s conversation with “angel of death” Angelique (an ethereal and cooing Jessica Lange donned in a diaphanous garment) in extremis, into the main narrative and starting from a massive audition where he cherry-picks dancers (also bedfellows), ALL THAT JAZZ is congenitally jazzy in its razzle-dazzle, rhythm and sentiment, even if you will eventually realize it is a musical about death, and the five stages of grief (aka. the Kübler-Ross model): denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, repeatedly represented through the film-with-the-film called “The Stand-up”, an analogy of LENNY, starring Davis Newman (Gorman, the original Tony winner from LENNY the play, is given a foreshortened second chance to taste the silver screen glamor and he runs aways with great vigor and vim), foreshadows Joe’s own journey towards the end.

Fosse’s introspection of his own mortality is contrite, philosophical, but also somewhat maudlin and self-pitying, a cheesy reconciliation with the women around him, including ex-wife Audrey (Palmer), their daughter Michelle (Foldi), his current lover Katie (Reinking, Fosse’s protégée and then-partner), where all comes to adore him despite his foibles in the medley of dancing numbers that Joe imagines after an open-heart surgery, on the emotional level, ALL THAT JAZZ has no outrageous clashes or subtle transgression to match CABARET, both Foldi and Reinking are magnificent dancers, but acting proves to be too much a stretch for both, especially for the latter, who practically plays a version of herself. Only Leland Palmer, the stage veteran (not that spine-tingling character in David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS), unleashes appreciative acting chops to burrow into Audrey’s ambivalent psyche and proffer enough ammo against a barnstorming Roy Schneider, who is not a dancer himself, but impersonating Fosse’s terpsichorean carriage and physical language with a sizzling intensity, sex appeal and empathy, beautifully dulling the edge of the unsavory taste of Joe’s wanton, self-destructive excesses.

Winning 4 Oscar out of 9 nominations (most worthy for Alan Heim’s kaleidoscopic editing) and for this reviewer’s two-cent’s worth, ALL THAT JAZZ’s show-stopper is the delectably prurient number Air-otica, an outright champion of inclusivity and nudity, this sweaty, raw, titillating testimony of brazen sexuality shows how forward Fosse is among his peers and how avant-garde his choreographic style goes, with the farewell pageantry (where a pyrotechnic Ben Vereen spectacularly upstages a faintly out-of-sorts Schneider who struggles with lip-synching) comes in a remote second, a fitting ending for an exuberant soul who falls victim to his own jones, plus that’s what a bedazzling biopic should be done!

referential entries: Fosse’ CABARET (1972, 8.7/10), LENNY (1974, 8.6/10); Federico Fellini’s 8 AND A HALF (1963, 9.0/10).

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