Successful Director/Choreographer Joe Gideon starts to experience health problems due to his stressful, drug-addled life while juggling the women around him. His body gives up just as his big show is about to open, forcing him to evaluate his choices and mortality.
WON 4 OSCARS – Art Direction, Costume Design, Film Editing, Music
“Sometimes I don’t know where the bullshit ends and the truth begins.”
Wake-up, shower, cigarette, Dexedrine. Cue the music and “It’s Showtime, folks!” All That Jazz is an autobiographical look into the life of director Bob Fosse through the character of Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) who is great at succeeding and failing at the same time. The film is based on Fosse's real-life heart attack while putting together the Broadway production of Chicago. Talented and hard-working, Gideon splits his busy schedule between editing a film, directing a Broadway musical, taking care of his daughter, managing his ex-wife and placating his girlfriend. He doesn’t balance any of this well, relying on a cocktail of uppers, alcohol, cigarettes and casual sex to keep him going. So it’s no surprise when his body finally gives out and he suffers a serious heart attack. Lying in the hospital bed, he converses with the Angel of Death (a radiant Jessica Lange), confessing his flaws and regrets. Accepting his death, Gideon ‘directs and stars’ in a bizarre, show-stopping, large-scale musical dream acknowledging his work and the people he’s leaving behind.
While the plot of the film is simple enough, the execution is quite brilliant, using clever editing, gorgeous choreography and sets allowing the audience into the mind of a troubled artist with too much on his plate. Simultaneously insecure and confident with his work, Gideon lives and breathes his creations, striving for nothing less than perfection. He’s hard on his dancers, hard on the producers and hard on himself.
Where he softens however, is in his intimate relationships. While appeasing his girlfriend (Ann Reinking) Gideon tells her he’s been generous to her, giving her whatever she wanted. She calls him out on his womanizing, “Sure you’ve been generous. I just wish you weren’t so generous with your cock.” Interacting with his ex-wife and daughter, Fosse cleverly chooses to show them in a dance. Gideon vents his frustrations to his ex-wife (Leland Palmer) as she rehearses, creating a scene that is charged with sexual and emotional energy as she jabs, kicks, pushes and entwines her body around his. When his young daughter (Erzsebet Foldi) grills him about his happiness, he teaches her dance steps, allowing her to lean against him, stabilizing her while giving advice. In Gideon’s world, words aren’t as important as what you do while saying them. The body speaks its own language.
And when it comes to the body, Fosse has full control, guiding and blocking his dancers to express every emotion. He showcases this talent in the ‘Air-rotica’ musical number. Turning the number on its head, Fosse shuts off the lights, fills the room with smoke and peels off clothes. It’s precise, risqué and incredibly sexy.
Utilizing a talented cast, the film is driven by the performance of Roy Scheider who bore an uncanny resemblance to Fosse. Garnering an Oscar nomination for his performance, Scheider is cocky and vulnerable, talented and troubled; strong on stage and frail in the hospital bed. The dream sequence where he directs himself is bizarre and self-reflexive, displaying the two extremes with which he led his life. Throughout the film, Fosse uses the Five Stages of Grief (changing it to the Stages of Death) to explore Gideon’s awareness of his impending death. Cutting from his inner dialogue, hallucinations and dreams, the film shows the emotions Gideon travels through, finally settling with Acceptance before his death.
The musical/dance numbers in the film reflect feelings and relationships culminating in the final dream sequence where the electric Ben Vereen and Scheider sing the Everly Brothers “Bye Bye Love” changing the lyrics to “Bye Bye Life/I think I’m gonna die.” Gideon stands on a rise as dancers dressed in costumes resembling veins and arteries slither around him. It’s a bittersweet number with the audience cheering and clapping as he says good-bye. The celebration ends when the scene abruptly cuts to Gideon’s pale body zipped up in a body bag. There is a moment of silence before Ethel Merman begins singing "There's No Business Like Show Business!" Dark, funny and bittersweet.
All That Jazz is a remarkable look into the mind of a perfectionist and the forces that drive him to his demise. Bold, disturbing and hilarious, the film explores all the ways show business can literally kill you. Visuals such as a massive cattle call on stage, a real-life bypass surgery set to music and a large-scale stage number add to the hallucinatory feel of the film as Fosse turns the camera upon himself. The film is carefully created to explode at just the right moments, finding a way to enlighten the audience with the joy and absurdity of the entertainment business
All that Jazz