The preternaturally gifted director and choreographer Bob Fosse turned the camera on his own life for this madly imaginative, self-excoriating musical masterpiece. Roy Scheider gives the performance of his career as Joe Gideon, whose exhausting work schedule—mounting a Broadway production by day and editing his latest movie at night—and routine of amphetamines, booze, and sex are putting his health at serious risk. Fosse burrows into Gideon’s (and his own) mind, rendering his interior world as phantasmagoric spectacle. Assembled with visionary editing that makes dance come alive on-screen as never before, and overflowing with sublime footwork by the likes of Ben Vereen, Leland Palmer, and the awesomely leggy Ann Reinking, All That Jazz pushes the musical genre to personal depths and virtuosic aesthetic heights.
"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 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 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.
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).
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.