Tuesday, November 13, 2007

All That Jazz (1979)

Reader Request -Every Monday. I realize it's Tuesday - shut up! I wrote this for Glenn but in the attempt to write about it (abandoned many drafts, rewatched it too much) I decided it needed to be part of my canon after all. And there's also a Fosse blog-a-thon goin' on... or so I've heard. Must check that out when I find moment to breathe. So I guess this is three posts in one*

All That Jazz, written and directed by Bob Fosse, lift its title from the famous opening tune of Kander & Ebb’s stage musical Chicago. That show’s original Broadway production was directed, co-written and choreographed by Fosse himself in 1975. The director undoubtedly felt a certain ownership of that signature opening tune. He may not have written the song but is there any doubt that he lived in those whoopee spots, breathed in cold gin, inspired pianos hot. Did you hear that Fosse’s queer for all that jazz?

The title of this picture is apt and also thoroughly meta which makes it in 1979, ahead of its time. Riffing on a former Fosse triumph is just the beginning of the self-indulgence. Though Fosse did make one more film after it (Star 80, 1983) All That Jazz was his last triumphant hurrah as one of the most influential cultural figures of his time. True to the director’s showbiz bravado, he trained Jazz’s lens on the l
ast hurrah of its fictional director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider). To Fosse’s credit no fiction is forced. The director repeatedly presents his alter ego in reflected doubled images cheekily underlining the Gideon/Fosse oneness. This is a warts and all autobiographical picture of Fosse’s own larger than life persona -- his life, love, work and legend. Joe Gideon is not a character. It’s a stage name.

Now, to the stage. (Read the full article)
*it had better be since it's 1796 words long and still I feel like I barely scratched its surface. This movie is impossible!


Boyd said...

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the title of this post pop up on my RSS reader!!

Way to go, Nathaniel!! Hurray for the hat trick post!

Anonymous said...

Nicely done, Nathaniel, nicely done. ATJ really is an extremely rich film.

In my post on the very problematic biographies of Fosse, I've written about some questions of my own about Joe Gideon vis a vis Fosse. I'm still have no idea if he was playing down his worst faults or exaggerating them.

In any case, one thing about Fosse's films as a director that occured to me just this week is, with the exception of "Cabaret," they're all biographies with one character who's in just about every scene, including "Sweet Charity." Not sure why I'm bringing it up here, but interesting.


the question of biography yes.
FOSSE just demonstrates here that the biopic is almost never used to its true potential. this film is SO great and so many bios are just dull and unimaginative

Anonymous said...

Excellent article, Nathaniel! All That Jazz was one of those movies I saw as a teenager when I was beginning to realize that the movies of the 1970s were unlike any movies that came before or after.

One of the things that always amazed me about this movie was Roy Scheider. What the heck was he doing in that movie? And who could have ever known it'd be pretty near the best thing he'd ever do (ok, one person's opinion). His casting and success in the part, to me, is a testament to Fosse's genius as much as any other element of the movie. I remember reading that Richard Dreyfuss had the part first. What? No way would Dreyfuss have been able to set aside his . . . Dreyfussness for that part.

Glenn Dunks said...

Thank you so very very much, Nat! Greatly appreciated. I can never get enough of reading about this movie. How people look at it fascinates me almost as much as the movie itself.

I liked the part where you said it's almost impossible to write about this film. That's why I never have. It's my favourite film of all time, yet I can never write about it.

And that final 30 minutes or so? Just so perfect. And it is what elevates it to an even higher plain than the rest of the film. For me, even though it revolves around death, I find the final stretch to be one of the most joyous and life-affirming cinema moments I've ever experienced.

I must say though seeing the film on the big screen is something else entirely. It really is better to see films like that on a big screen. Seeing that opening "On Broadway" scene (which single handedly won it the editing Oscar, I reckon), the final musical sequences, the "Take Off With Us" and "Airotica" stuff on a big cinema screen will, I reckon, never be beaten for me.


Thanks again, Nat! This really made my week!


susanna i love scheider's performance. probably should've talked about it more. Obviously this came before AMPAS decided that all mimicry heavy performances should take home statues... but that's a pity. Scheider is so committed to this movie, he's wonderful in it. I love the way he plays all the addictions (including sex) and not just the obvious baity ones (pillpopping) --it's a complete performance.

but then again i think most everyone is very good in this picture. Too bad that Leland Palmer and Ann Reinking didn't get more attention.

Glenn so happy you liked. it's the hardest writing assignment i've had I think. It's too bad more people didn't participate in that Fosse Blog-a-Thon because there is just so much to say. Get 20 people writing about this movie and you can almost guarantee that no two articles will be overly similar.... that's how flexible and rich with topics the movie is

Anonymous said...

Each time you add an entry to your Personal Canon, it reminds me how much I wish you'd sit in a room and finish them all right NOW!

Fantastic article! Believe it or not, I've never seen the movie. But I'm already working on putting that right.

[add to cart]


Glenn Dunks said...

It doesn't surprise me if people haven't seen it. It's not a Cabaret-style musical with famous songs, but I'm always stoked to hear when people have.

I wish I could have participated in the Fosse-thon but, as I've said, I just find it impossible to write about All That Jazz and I didn't feel like rewatching Cabaret to think of something to write about.


i think there's value in writing about the things you love most... although i share the belief that it's much harder than writing about things you don't

i'd try writing about one scene or character or shot or something and see what happens.

as for the canon and FINISHING IT RIGHT NOW. I wish. But as you can guess the articles take longer than other articles ;) and also... SO glad you're going to see it. I know that the old movies post get less comments because not as many people have seen them. Hopefully people read these things (like you) and say "yes"

Glenn Dunks said...

I must ask though... what movie did you kick out of the 100 to make way for All That Jazz. It wasn't there originally, which means something had to go. And you don't believe in ties.


i'm arguing about what gets kicked out. I changed the years to include 1998 and 1999 too (since I won't be able to finish it in one years time... ) so there's a couple other new additions too.

it's a flexible thing.

Boyd said...

Check this out if you want to try on an old movie for size this week - FOR FREE. Not bad at all.

SusanP said...

Great article, Nat. I've never really gotten into All That Jazz and your commentary makes me want to give it another look.


susan by all means do. I had not seen ALL THAT JAZZ since i was a teenager on VHS and I thought it was a "good" movie but not a favorite for me. Seeing it now i was completely blown away. It really is a movie for adults. I had no idea how complicated it was when I firs saw it. I'd love to see it on the big screen now.

Anonymous said...

God I love this film - bravo, Nathaniel. (I'm surprised it isn't higher up on your list, but then again, at least having it down near the bottom means you actually got around to writing about it, which is a very good thing, indeed.)

I haven't seen this in years but I'm going to have to correct that - even if it means watching it on my teeny 13" television (not the same as a big screen, but what choice do I have?)

It's interesting that the sequences with the Angel of Death probably would not work in almost any other film - they'd be seen as too over the top, too self-indulgent - but this film is so over the top and self-indulgent that instead those scenes fit right in. In fact, they are the occasional resting places for the audience to catch our breaths before going back into the gale. It helps that the angel was genuinely such a lovely, etherial woman (Jessica Lange in an early part, making the most of almost no dialogue - Fosse sure knew how to pick 'em); that final image of Gideon gliding toward Death, waiting like a lover, her veil cast aside, lingers in my mind and it's been over ten years since I've seen the film.

I've always felt that Roy Schneider and the film were cheated at the Oscars for Best Actor and Best Film. I mean, come on - who talks or writes about, much less thinks about, that schmaltzfest of pseudo-sensitivity, Kramer vs. Kramer, nowadays?

And it still astonishes me that Robert Benton won Best Director for Kramer, besting both Fosse AND Coppola for "Apocalyse Now." (See the awards recap that year at http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0149455.html) I swear that the taste of AMPAS voters is roughly the same as Aunt Mildred who lives in the midwest and buys Thomas Kinkaid "prints" because that's her concept of "real art".

(who still hopes for an update on the Moulin Rouge essay without wanting to seem a nag)

Glenn Dunks said...

I've been harping on about that Kramer Vs Crap injustice for ages. Sentimental goo versus cinematic genius, basically.