ALL THAT JAZZ
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Roy Scheider, Jessica
Lange, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking, Erzsebet Foldi, Ben Vereen
Director: Bob Fosse
Audio: DTS HD 3.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 123 Minutes
Release Date: August 26, 2014
“It's showtime, folks.”
All That Jazz is many things...flamboyant, indulgent, excessive, over-the-top...and yet, surprisingly moving and emotionally grounded. It joins the ranks of the many great films about putting on a show, like 52nd Street, The Red Shoes and 8 ˝.
It is Bob Fosse's film, and the legendary choreographer, director and artist had no reservations about putting his own life up on the screen, with all its artistic glory and personal failures. Therefore, the excesses, which for some directors might seem like a stroke of ego, actually seems like a little self-deprecation for Fosse.
The film stars, and I mean STARS, Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon, the Fosse surrogate. Scheider earned props and fans from his work in movies like Jaws and The French Connection, but I dare say, this is the performance of his career. I would never have guessed the tough, no-nonsense actor could have brought a troubled, larger-than-life choreographer to reality, but he does so, and with sheer brilliance and perfection.
Gideon has a lot on his plate...his morning ritual includes uppers, Visine for the red eyes, and the ever-present cigarette stubbed in the corner of his mouth. He is working on a new Broadway show and finishing a movie at the same time. Everyone wants a piece of his time.
There are musical numbers extraordinaire to show his vision coming to life, as well as clips of the strange comedian who is the subject of his movie making funny but pointed observations about death. He has an ex-wife (Palmer) and a loving daughter (Foldi), as well as a current mistress (Reinking), and, as you might have guessed, a little problem with fidelity.
The pressures of show business have often been portrayed on the screen before, but here is a case where the mounting pressures of career and life are literally killing the creator. Though there is much fun and energy in scene after scene, we can't help but notice little flashes that all are not well with Gideon. He imagines conversations with a luminous blonde (Lange) that assess his life...again, all with a taste of self-deprecation.
As his health deteriorates, the music increases...even a number pointedly referred to as the “hospital hallucination”, where a helpless Gideon in his bed envisions himself directing the spectacular number that will end both the movie and his own existence.
It's easy to describe the events of the movie, but not so much the tone and feel. You may have read up til now and pictured a movie of excess and weirdness, and you wouldn't be entirely wrong, but you'd miss the genuine personal emotion that actually makes up the film's energy. Song and dance numbers are one thing, and here, they ARE great, but it's the overall arc of the story of Gideon and his health, and his desire to rise up and just be able to do it ONE MORE TIME that centers the spectacle.
This is a triumph of imagination and vision, of humor and pathos, and of stage and screen. Only Bob Fosse could have brought all of this together, but without the willingness to expose himself and all of his angels and demons without reserve, this could have been just another run-of-the-mill movie musical; entertaining, but easily forgettable.
Instead, you have a movie that transcends the genre of the musical while staying firmly rooted it in. It therefore is more than a great musical, or even a great movie...it's a great and important work of art all around.
Criterion scores again by giving us a wonderful transfer for a late 70s film. The print is clean, and the colors are plentiful and remarkable, with strong and striking detail levels throughout. One or two darker scenes show a little bit of murkiness, but overall, the experience is wonderful, and worthy of such a spectacular show.
The audio is an uncompressed 3 channel surround that's mixed a little quietly, but when I turned it up, I got full enjoyment of the dynamic range of the songs. Spoken words are clean and clear, and the overall audio is clean and free from noise.
This has to be the best extras package of the year...I'm going to try not to miss anything:
Two audio commentaries: a feature-length one with editor Alan Heim and a scene-specific one with actor Roy Scheider
Razzle-Dazzle, a new video essay on the film by critic Matt Zoller Seitz
Episode from 1980 of the television talk show Tomorrow, featuring director Bob Fosse and choreographer Agnes de Mille
A new interview with Heim (who earned an Oscar for his editing)
A new interview with Fosse biographer Sam Wasson
Interview excerpts and footage from the set, featuring Fosse and Scheider
A 1986 interview of Fosse by Gene Shalit
Portrait of a Choreographer, a 2007 documentary on Fosse
The Soundtrack: Perverting the Standards, a 2007 documentary about the music in the film
Interview from 2007 with George Benson about his song “On Broadway,” which opens the film
A new conversation between Ann Reinking and Erzsebet Foldi about their musical number and working with Fosse
The original trailer
Plus there is a DVD of the movie and a wonderful booklet with pictures, essays and more...a spectacular package!
All That Jazz is a masterpiece...it's musical, energetic, and moving all at the same time, thanks to the sure-fire direction and unflinching self-examination of Bob Fosse and the completely amazing and perfect performance by Roy Scheider. This disc from Criterion is one of the year's best all around.