#41) All That Jazz (1979)
OR “5-6-7-8 1/2!”
Directed by Bob Fosse
Written by Fosse & Robert Alan Aurthur
Class of 2001
All That Trailer
The Plot: Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) is a legendary Broadway director/choreographer and successful film director (not unlike Fosse). Additionally, Joe juggles an ex-wife/collaborator (Leland Palmer), a girlfriend who wants him to commit (Ann Reinking), a daughter who wants more stability (Erzsebet Foldi), a smoking habit, a pill addiction and a relentless desire to entertain. While rehearsing his latest musical and editing his latest film, Joe’s health starts to falter and he is hospitalized. Throughout his struggles he has an ongoing flirtation with an angel of death (Jessica Lange). Oh, and there’s a whole bunch of songs and dances.
Why It Matters: The NFR praises Fosse’s unflinching look at the toll showbiz takes on entertainers while “mercilessly reversing the feel-good mood of the classical movie musicals”.
But Does It Really?: As a self-reflection on Fosse and a glimpse of a Broadway that no longer exists, “All That Jazz” is fascinating. Scheider is great in a role no one but Fosse would cast him in. The film as a whole is bit pretentious, but that’s to be expected. I found it all so enjoyable that I wished it had dug deeper into what really makes Joe/Fosse tick (and not just literally, more on that later). Ultimately, the film is like one of Joe/Fosse’s dance numbers: entertaining, imaginative, seductive, but in the end just smoke-and-mirrors hiding the real truth. The film’s legacy isn’t so much the film itself, but rather the insight into one of last century’s greatest artists.
Everybody Gets One: ‘70s Broadway staples Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer and Ben Vereen, character actor C.C.H. Pounder, and John Lithgow, back when he was just a New York stage actor and had not yet mastered alien invasions and serial killing.
Wow, That’s Dated: Well, Joe’s massive cassette player is your first clue. But with this film I get to play one of my favorite games; “What’s Playing on Broadway Back Now?” Quick shots of Broadway and Times Square show us marquees for “I Love My Wife”, “Beatlemania” and “A Broadway Musical”, the latter dates filming of these scenes to December 1978. The late ’70s were also that magical time when Cliff Gorman could be credited as making a “special guest appearance” in your film.
Title Track: Ben Vereen says “all that jazz” once right before the final number.
Seriously, Oscars?: “All That Jazz” went into the 1979 Oscars with nine nominations, including Best Picture. Though the big winner was “Kramer vs. Kramer”, “Jazz” still managed four wins; Adapted Score, Art Direction, Costume Design, and Editing. Fosse was aware of his slim chances and told the New York Daily News, “I’m such a long shot that I think anyone who bet on me should get a toaster, like they give out at the bank for having made an investment.”
- Speaking of the film’s Oscar night, producer/co-writer Robert Alan Aurthur died before the film’s release and received two posthumous Oscar nominations. His daughter Kate wrote a touching tribute to him a few years ago and recounted her experience with her mother as his Oscar proxy.
- Stay with me folks; Joe is Fosse (natch), Audrey is Gwen Verdon, Kate is Ann Reinking (yep, she’s playing herself), “The Stand-Up” is Fosse’s own underrated “Lenny” and “Take Off With Us” has elements of “Magic to Do” from “Pippin”.
- This film has one of my favorite expository reveals of a character’s name. We first see the name Joe Gideon on the label of his bottle of pills.
- The best line in the film; “That’s how you get a job.”
- Yes, that’s Jessica Lange, back during that brief period when she was best known as “You’re no Fay Wray”.
- Leland Palmer is 20 years younger than her real-life counterpart Gwen Verdon. Nice try, Fosse.
- Kudos to the composers of the Stephen Schwartz/Kander & Ebb pastiches throughout the score. Just the right amount of flavor.
- For his brief turn as Joshua, Max Wright (aka the Dad from “ALF”) was nominated for a Golden Stinkers Award (a precursor to the Razzies) for Worst Supporting Actor. I mean, the character’s annoying, but he’s not that bad. He lost to little Ricky Schroeder for “The Champ”.
- Joe’s doctor is adamant he knows more about angina than “show people”. This, coming from an actor who’s playing a doctor.
- That is actual footage from an actual open-heart surgery. See? This film’s educational too!
- Ladies and Gentlemen, half of Roy Scheider’s ass!
- If there’s an afterlife, I hope Ben Vereen’s there when I die. On second thought, I’d rather it be Jessica Lange.
- The film version of “Chicago” definitely takes a thing or two from “All That Jazz”, and I don’t just mean the title.
- Bob Odenkirk gave the film a wink and a nod during an episode of “Better Call Saul”.
- While Ann Reinking’s film career never took off, it doesn’t matter because she’s got Annie! Oh, and “Chicago” revival money.
- “Take Off With Us” eventually made it to Broadway as part of the musical revue “Fosse” (Sinatra never recorded it, though).
- Stephen Colbert recently told Jessica Lange that this film and her performance in it are partly why he went into show business.
- And in a sad case of life imitating art, Bob Fosse made one more film, “Star 80”, before dying of a sudden heart attack in 1987.
Further Viewing: Federico Fellini’s “8 ½” is the benchmark for films that are thinly veiled autobiographies of their directors. The comparisons between this film and “All That Jazz” are too numerous to mention, especially when “8 ½” rounded up and became the musical “Nine”.