Blu-ray
Must Own
4.5 stars
Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Must Own

All That Jazz

Street Date:
August 26th, 2014
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
August 27th, 2014
Movie Release Year:
1979
Studio:
Criterion
Length:
123 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

"It's showtime, folks!"

Fueled by a mixture of courage, introspection, and good old-fashioned egomania, many directors eventually find themselves turning their cameras inward, channeling their own personal lives and conflicts into their on-screen protagonists. From the works of Fellini to Truffaut and even Cameron Crowe, the world of motion pictures is no stranger to such semi-autobiographical stories, and with his 1979 masterpiece, 'All That Jazz,' Bob Fosse offers one of the most striking cinematic self-portraits to ever dance across the silver screen. And boy does it dance. It twirls, and kicks, and gyrates, and convulses passionately to a filmic rhythm all its own, shattering every preconceived notion tied to the Hollywood musical. Fragmented, dizzying, erotic, cynical, and paradoxically celebratory all at once, the movie is a mad-dash excursion into razzle-dazzle self-absorption and scathing self-criticism -- and like any good show, it's just damn entertaining!

Based on Fosse's own experiences, the story focuses on Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), a famed Broadway choreographer and movie director. Simultaneously working on pre-production for his new stage show and post-production for his latest film, Gideon soon finds himself amidst a growing storm of professional pressures. Likewise, his personal life is similarly tumultuous, as the man struggles to juggle a plethora of women, including his daughter, ex-wife, girlfriend, and newest fling. Gradually worn down by his excessive lifestyle and lofty flaws, Gideon's heart begins to crumble under the stress -- literally and figuratively. Forced to face his own mortality, he must find a way for the show to go on, or let the curtain finally close once and for all.

Narcissistic, philandering, stubborn, and absolutely incorrigible, Joe Gideon has very little right to be a likeable character. And yet, through Fosse's self-reflexive direction and Roy Scheider's incredibly layered performance, we can't help but fall under his charming spell, making it easy to see why the many jilted women in his life seem to stick around. Essentially just a thinly veiled stand-in for the director himself, Gideon's workaholic schedule and womanizing ways continually hold him back, but the man is not oblivious to his behavior. Instead, he actually appears to be painfully self-aware. Basically, he knows that he's a shit but can't (or won't) do anything about it. Likewise, he never hides this fact from anyone, and while this certainly doesn't excuse his actions, it leads to a certain level of reluctant acceptance from his family and friends. Also, it certainly doesn't hurt that he happens to be a genuinely brilliant and charismatic artist as well. And beneath all of his reckless choices, is a sincerely warm and affectionate heart. You want to hate him, but you just can't. After all, behind the showbiz facade, he probably already hates himself enough.

Through Gideon's personal, professional, and physical struggles, Fosse tackles his own demons, weaving a slightly fictional account of the real-life conflicts he faced during the editing of his previous film, 'Lenny,' and the staging for his 1975 Broadway show, 'Chicago.' But rather than simply tell a straightforward account of his artistic and life-threatening crises, the director opts for a decidedly less conventional approach -- mixing song, dance, drama, past, present, and fantasy into a glittering kaleidoscope of motion picture genius. Much like he did with 'Cabaret,' the movie breaks new ground for the Hollywood musical, altering the very form and rhythm that we've come to expect from the genre. Heavily influenced by Federico Fellini's '8 ½,' the film moves liberally through dream and reality, offering occasional flashbacks to Gideon's early life, and a recurring motif that sees the man converse about his foibles with a mysterious angelic figure (Jessica Lange). These ethereal confessional scenes allow the character (and filmmaker) to provide direct commentary on his decisions, revealing more insights into what makes Fosse -- err, I mean Gideon -- tick.

So, what is it that drives this contradictory man then? Well, at the most base level, it appears to be amphetamines and nicotine. Through a series of recurring quick-cutting montages, we watch as Gideon goes about his daily morning ritual: Vivaldi, eye drops, cigarettes, shower, and pills. As the runtime goes on, this process rinses and repeats, growing more and more unsettling in tempo and appearance as Gideon's health gradually declines. The rest of the film is bustling with similarly potent stylistic choices, leading to a highly influential aesthetic marked by impeccable editing and camera work. Fragmented cuts sneak in pieces of fantasy into the waking world, disrupting the normal flow of screen time for something much more abstract and multifaceted. Juxtaposing scenes are also used to draw deeper meaning through contrasts, including a brilliant sequence that transitions back and forth between Gideon undergoing heart surgery and his producers nonchalantly discussing the financial realities of his possible death. Even comparatively traditional scenes feature thoughtful, lively compositions and editing, and scenes set to music (like the fantastic opening "cattle call" audition) are especially striking, finding a seamless air of visual rhythm that works in tandem with the audio without being perfectly timed to its beat.    

Expanding upon this style, the movie's actual song and dance scenes are simply extraordinary. For the first two thirds of the picture, like in 'Cabaret,' the musical sequences mostly occur as in-story performances, eschewing the usual Hollywood style of characters unnaturally breaking out into song. These numbers are all wonderfully performed by the cast and expertly choreographed by Fosse. Highlights include a lovingly playful dance set to "Everything Old is New Again" by Gideon's girlfriend and daughter, and a palpably erotic number called "Take Off With Us" from Gideon's developing stage show. That latter scene just might be one of the film's most arresting elements. Bathed in stark lighting and moody smoke, the provocative performance oozes with sexuality, and the manner in which the shots are framed and edited with the dancers' enticing movements is nothing short of mesmerizing. As pointed out in the included special features, even beyond its place in the larger film, the sequence stands alone as a singular piece of motion picture art.

And then there's the movie's climactic journey into hallucinatory wonder. As Gideon's very life hangs in the balance due to his heart troubles, we transition into a fantastical Broadway rendition of his internal psyche. Staged in the style of old school Hollywood productions, the women in Gideon's life sing and dance for him, espousing lyrics criticizing his faults and bad decisions, showering him with guilt and urging him to turn over a new leaf. At the same time, Gideon takes to the director's chair of his own potential death, barking out orders to his nearly unconscious body as a film crew surrounds his hospital bed, taking Fosse's self-referential approach into new layers of metafictional delight. It's all maddening and emotional and utterly brilliant -- and when Gideon finally heads to the stage himself… it's simply perfect.    

It takes a rare kind of bravery and narcissism to write yourself into a movie, and 'All That Jazz' channels those sentiments into something truly special. Bob Fosse places the camera lens to his own unraveling heart -- and through the film's visual spectacle we see just how simultaneously flawed and big it really is. Proudly self-critical, cinematically innovative, and tragically prophetic, the movie is an imaginative and deeply personal tale about life and death basked under the hot lights of showbiz excess. Through Joe Gideon's imperfect journey, we're reminded that all any of us ever get of life is a rough cut. One filled with mistakes, and regrets, and love, and joy and, you know… all that jazz.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Criterion brings 'All That Jazz' to Blu-ray in a dual format release that includes a BD-50 disc and two DVDs (which contain all of the same content as the Blu-ray). The discs come housed in a standard clear case (eschewing the recent cardboard packaging the company was using) with spine number 724. A booklet with an essay by critic Hilton Als is also included.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Richly filmic and free of any unnecessary processing, this is a gorgeous and virtually flawless transfer.

The source print is in nearly pristine shape and features a moderate layer of natural film grain, giving the picture a rich sheen of texture. Detail is very strong, highlighting lots of fine details in the actors, costumes, and sets. Scheider's sweaty, sickly face is especially striking, and the third act musical numbers sparkle off the screen. With that said, the fantasy scenes often feature an intentionally soft and diffuse style. The overall color palette veers toward a slightly undersaturated look, but certain sequences offer solid pop, especially the climactic dance scenes cast in colorful lights. Contrast is well balanced and black levels are deep and inky. On that note, however, dark hues can look a tad crushed in certain shots. Thankfully, there are no digital artifacts to report.

'All That Jazz' is bursting with visual style, and this Blu-ray from Criterion offers an exceptional video presentation. Sourced from a new 4K restoration by 20th Century Fox and the Academy Film Archive, the transfer is beautifully detailed and authentic, giving the movie the top-tier treatment it deserves.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 3.0 mix and optional English subtitles. Though very center channel heavy, the audio still carries a surprisingly solid presence and opens up nicely during certain musical scenes.

Dialogue is clear and precise and there are no age-related issues to speak of. The majority of the audio is relegated to the center speaker, but the design work is very effective and spacious considering the lack of surrounds. True directionality is rare, but Fosse uses isolated sounds to enhance the story, mood, and emotions of scenes, and these instances come through very well. While much of the track is essentially mono in nature, several musical numbers do expand to the left and right channels as well, and these scenes offer great stereo separation, range, and fidelity, opening up the scope of the track nicely. Balance is handled well between all of the audio elements and there's even some decent low frequency kick during some of the songs.

Outside of the musical numbers, the 3.0 presentation is mostly mono in nature, but the mix is artistically and technically strong. There are no pops, crackles, or hisses, and the songs sound fantastic.  

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Criterion has provided an exceptional and comprehensive assortment of supplements, including a commentary and extensive interviews with the cast & crew. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 1.0 or 2.0 audio (unless noted otherwise).

  • Audio Commentary – Recorded in 2007, this is a full-length commentary with editor Alan Heim. Heim offer lots of production trivia touching upon the main titles, Fellini comparisons, and visual choices. He also talks at length about the editing techniques used and his working process with Fosse. There are some occasional pauses in the discussion but this is a very worthwhile track.
  • Selected-Scene Commentary (HD, 35 min) – Recorded in 2001, here we get commentary with star Roy Scheider on selected scenes. The actor talks about how he got cast, bringing the script to life, working with Fosse, his approach to acting, training for his dance scene, and his lasting friendship with the director.
  • Reinking and Fold! (HD, 34 min) – This is a 2014 interview with Ann Reinking and Erzsebet Fold discussing their work on the film. Fold reminisces about the audition process and what it was like to work with Bob Fosse at such a young age. They also share personal insights about the director as a friend and filmmaker.
  • Alan Heim (HD, 15 min) – This is a 2014 interview with the film's Academy Award winning editor about the movie's editing style. There is some repeated information here from the commentary, but Heim shares new insights as well, including tidbits about working on 'Lenny' abd 'Star 80.'
  • Tomorrow (HD, 32 min) – Presented in upscaled 1080i, this is a 1980 excerpt from the Tom Snyder talk show that features Fosse and Agnes de Mille. The pair discuss their work, the stigma against dancing, and the differences between approaching choreography for the stage and screen.
  • Sam Wasson (HD, 21 min) – In this 2014 interview, the Bob Fosse biographer provides a run-down of the director's early work and entire filmography, sharing interesting insights into his personal approach to filmmaking and dance.
  • The South Bank Show (HD, 27 min) – Presented in upscaled 1080i, here we get a 1981 interview with the director. Fosse discusses his early work, influences, and overall approach to choreography.
  • Gene Shalit Interview with Bob Fosse (HD, 26 min) – Presented in upscaled 1080i, this is a 1986 interview with the director –- just a year before he died. Fosse laments about getting older, trying to curb his smoking habit, dealing with criticism, and his preoccupation with death.
  • On the Set (HD) – In "Fosse Directing" (8 min), we get footage of the filmmaker directing the opening scene, revealing his very hands-on approach. In "Scheider Interview" (4 min), we get a brief chat with the star during the shoot, elaborating on his working collaboration with Fosse and his take on the character.
  • Portrait of a Choreographer (HD, 23 min) – Presented in upscaled 1080i, this is a 2007 documentary focused on Fosse's choreography. Participants like Liza Minnelli and Rob Marshall discuss Fosse's originality, style, influence, and personal touch, along with analysis of specific scenes from 'All that Jazz.'
  • The Soundtrack: Perverting the Standards (HD, 8 min) – Presented in upscaled 1080i, this is a 2007 featurette about Fosse's use of music in film. It includes interviews with composers Glen Ballard & Jerry Casale, actress Liza Minnelli, editor Alan Heim, and other Fosse collaborators and admirers.
  • The Making of the Song "On Broadway" (HD, 4 min) – Presented in 1080i, this is a 2007 interview with musician George Benson about the creation of his 1963 recording of "On Broadway."
  • Trailer (HD, 2 min) – The film's trailer is included.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no HD exclusives.

Final Thoughts

Bob Fosse's 'All That Jazz' is an innovative, subversive, and deeply personal masterpiece. By commenting on his own life and flaws, the director creates a dazzling self-referential journey into song and dance, once again re-writing the rules of Hollywood musicals. The video transfer is simply stunning, and the audio mix is very strong. Criterion has packed the disc with tons of 5-star worthy supplements, giving the movie the special feature treatment it deserves. This is an absolutely stellar presentation for an incredible film, resulting in one of the strongest releases of the year so far. Must own.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray/DVD

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English 3.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles/Captions

  • English

Supplements

  • 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
  • New interview with Heim
  • New interview with Fosse biographer Sam Wasson
  • Interview excerpts and footage from the set, featuring Fosse and Scheider
  • 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
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by theater critic Hilton Als
  • More!

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