Director: Bob Fosse
Starring: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking, Cliff Gorman, Ben Vereen
Written by: Robert Alan Aurthur and Bob Fosse
Running Time: 123 mins
Original UK Cert: X
Original US Release: 20th December 1979
Bob Fosse was a choreography genius with a unique style that is instantly recognisable as his own. He was also a workaholic who had a problematic personal life. In 1974, while directing the Lenny Bruce drama, Lenny and working on the Broadway production, Chicago, Fosse had a heart attack that almost killed him. This semi-autobiographical musical drama is based on that period, in the same way that Fellini dealt with his own shortcomings in 8 1/2. All That Jazz shows us the brilliance of the man when it comes to his dancing but also the arts and all of his own life.
Joe Gideon is one of Broadway’s most highly regarded directors and choreographer who is trying to balance a new musical while working on the final cut for a movie called The Stand-Up. Working so hard means that he isn’t devoting enough time to his daughter, Michelle or his girlfriend, Katie. What he is doing is smoking too much, drinking too much and womanising too much. One moment a tyrant, the next a saint, Gideon is heading straight towards an early grave and with visions from a beauty dressed in white, Gideon can see the errors of his ways but can’t seem to control his life.
Mixing a sense of the surreal with a look at life behind the scenes of a Broadway show, Fosse’s film is a fascinating journey into the mind of a perfectionist while at the same time someone who loves all the trappings that go with it and all the pitfalls along the way. Fossee doesn’t mind that he is looked upon as a monster and it’s this honesty that makes the film more attractive. He could have easily sugar-coated it to make him seem like a paragon of virtue but he was far from that.
Even when casting this film, the part of Katie, which was written especially for his then partner, Ann Reinking, Fosse made her audition for it several times before allowing her the role. There are even parallels between the events in the movie and real life. The film went wildly over budget, like the movie within the movie, The Stand-Up, to the point that Columbia Pictures, the original financiers of the film, refused to put anymore money into it so the producers turned to 20th Century Fox to pay for the finale.
The film looks spectacular and it allows us to see a genius at work. The routines are crazy, infuriating and magical all at the same time. His signature isolation works magnificently, especially during the daring Airline routine and when Gideon is watching his life slip by during the now infamous heart surgery, in which real shots of the operation are used.
Fosse was a man who, once he wanted something, he got it. Roy Scheider, Fosse’s first choice for the part of Joe, was not looked upon favourably by the studio. They wanted a bigger name, even though he was just coming off Jaws 2. Yet Fosse stuck to his guns and won through and watching the film, you can see why he did. Scheider is magnificent. He looks like Fosse, he moves like Fosse and for a man who audience only really knew from his shark chasing days, he scored hugely with his convincing portrayal of a troubled choreographer and director.
Not an easy role to play, a man with no real morals, who allows himself to be caught sleeping with would-be dancers by his girlfriend, who constantly lets his daughter down and who is heading for an early grave. Scheider manages to bring some sympathy to the part, even if it is one of pity.
The rest of the cast, made up of friends and work colleagues of Fosse, all are superb, with an early performance from Jessica Lange as the mysterious Angelique, an angel who examines Joe’s messed-up life while Reinking and Leland Palmer, as Katie and Fosse’s former wife, Audrey (based on Gwen Verdon) get to show off their dancing skills.
All That Jazz isn’t a conventional musical. It messes around with time, introduces dreams to reality and doesn’t follow the normal musical structure. In fact, it’s more a drama with musical numbers. Whatever way you look at it, it’s a masterpiece that some may regard to pretentious while others can see the brilliance of a man who changed the face of Broadway and who wasn’t afraid to put himself up for ridicule, allowing us to see what he was truly like.