Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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Released in 1979, Bob Fosse's autobiographical film All That Jazz has a rather oddball feel to it. It's a musical, of sorts, a drama, most certainly, and an egotistical wallow, of that the viewer can be certain. To have a film try and be all three things is almost a guarantee of it being a flop, but in this case, it actually works.
Taking a hard look at a dance choreographer and director named Joe Gideon (in reality Fosse himself), All That Jazz looks at the shambles the man has made of his private life, along with the work that it takes to develop a stage production on Broadway with all of the bells and whistles. And on the side, he's making a film as well.
To fuel this life, Gideon (Roy Scheider) has his morning routine of cigarettes, amphetamines, antacids, eye drops and shower, all played to the tune Concerto in G of Antonio Vivaldi, and culminating with him looking at himself in the mirror and announcing, It's Showtime! As to why Gideon needs this every day, well --
The movie, The Standup, loosely based on Lenny Bruce, isn't going too well in the editing process, and the studio is howling about the cost overruns. But Gideon is obsessing over it, especially on the sequence where the comedian (played very well by Cliff Gorman) breaks down the stages of Death -- anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. There's something bothering him there, and he just can't put his finger on it.
The stage production, where Gideon's ex-wife, Audrey Paris (Leland Palmer) has the female lead, is busy sorting out the dancers, always an emotional time as some dancers get the cut, and most of them are just told to go away. But one of the women catches Gideon's eye, a tall brunette named Victoria (Deborah Geffner), who can dance somewhat, but isn't really up to the standard. But Gideon thinks he can do something with her, and while it mostly involves getting her in bed with him, he's also brutally honest with her -- she'll never be a great dancer, but he can make her a better dancer. And then there's the musical numbers, of which one of them isn't going right at all. Over and over and over Gideon tries to make it work, until a flash of inspiration hits...
Then there is his private life, where he has to juggle time with his daughter Michelle (Erzebet Foldi), a winsome young child with plenty of talent of her own, and his long time girlfriend, Kate (superbly played by Ann Reinking) who puts up with Gideon's infidelities and broken promises.
Yes indeedy, it's quite a shambles. And there's more -- Gideon's inner life, where he questions and remembers his past, with a mysterious woman named Angelique (Jessica Lange), dressed all in white and alluring. What with all of this mixed up together, it shouldn't work, but it does, and brilliantly so to boot. Eventually, Gideon's bad habits catch up with him, and he ends up in the hospital when his heart gives out. But that's not going to be enough to stop the show, oh no, not at all...
Every time I see this film, I am blown away by how good it is. At first, I didn't like it much, what with Gideon being such an egotistical pig, but as I have gotten older and more experience under my belt, I can certainly begin to understand him. The musical numbers at first left me going huh, what is this?, but they too started to catch on, especially the final numbers where Gideon's hallucinations take on a very new and bizarre twist. And the last time that I watched this, I could only feel pity for this man who was intent on burning the candle at both ends and right down the middle.
At first, Fosse himself was going to play the part of Gideon, and the studio (Columbia) put its foot down and said, no. Fosse had already been through two heart surgeries and they were certain that he would keel over during the filming. (Fosse would hang on until 1987) So Roy Scheider was brought in, and he takes on the role of Gideon perfectly, a hard driving man obsessed with women and death. What got to me was Gideon's relationship with his daughter Michelle, whom may be the only person he really loves, and Scheider did it perfectly, with just the right touch.
The other actor that got to me was Ann Reinking, as the long-suffering Kate. Her dance numbers are top-notch and wonderful to watch, and there's personality there to boot, which shines right through.
While the film did get a host of Oscar nominations, including nods to Scheider, Fosse and for Best Picture, it only won for art design and costume, editing, and music. Personally, I think that Scheider should have gotten the award, but that's just me.
Parents should be warned that this is a hard R film, with plenty of profane language, nudity, sex and very adult themes, so it's not something you want the children to be watching. Many adults will be bothered by the 'Air Erotica' sequence as well, as it is pretty graphic.
It's a great film about ambition, life on Broadway, and the ego driven life of Bob Fosse. For those who ever wondered how hard life can be for a dancer this is an eye-opening excursion on the bright lights. Five stars overall, recommended.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age