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All That Jazz

When Bob Fosse died in the fall of 1987, he was about to open a triumphant revival of his classic call-girl musical Sweet Charity. It was a fitting end to a life in show business that surprised no one — the director/choreographer had already prophesized this moment eight years earlier in his prescient filmed autobiography/eulogy All That Jazz (1979). Starring Roy Scheider as Joseph Gideon, a thinly-veiled fictional incarnation of Fosse, it's a buoyant celebration of the self-destructive creative personality in all its workaholic, perfectionist, alienating splendor. The film begins with Gideon weeding through a massive, stage-choking cattle call audition to end up with a select company of dancers for his new show, the subject of which is left intentionally vague. As with Fosse, Gideon is enamored of and profligate with his women, several of whom remain in perpetual orbit around his dying sun partly for financial support, but mostly because they can't live without him. Despite his helplessly indifferent wanderlust — the line of the movie regarding this character deficiency comes from Kate (played by former Fosse flame Ann Reinking), but discretion prohibits its reprinting here — these ladies, including his precocious, adolescent daughter, love this chain-smoking, pill-popping whirlwind of creative insecurity because he really does have enough love to go around. But as Gideon begins to examine his life through his art — both in reality and in a Fellini-esque dream-state that expands as his health worsens — he doesn't repent for these shortcomings so much as make his peace with them (as he says cavalierly, but honestly, to Kate, "You're always talking about being faithful. Why do you think so small?") While he's busily destroying himself with all manner of drug and drink, Gideon manages to go about the directing of his show as his producer and the investors circle his decaying body, from which they could recoup their steadily escalating costs if he happens to kick before the curtain goes up. They're certainly nervous enough to hope for his speedy demise; Gideon seems determined to push the decency envelope with some scorching dance numbers that expose more than enough bare flesh to scare off the family audience, as evidenced in the powerfully erotic number "Take Off With Us." It's a classic Fosse routine of sweaty, grinding, intermingling limbs and same-sex coupling that is probably more responsible for spreading his bawdy influence than any of his memorable stage musicals (dedicated MTV viewers will probably recognize it as the inspiration for wannabe choreographer Paula Abdul's "Cold Hearted" video.) Eventually, Gideon is hospitalized, sending the money men scrambling to court an artless replacement director (John Lithgow doing his best Hal Prince), while the dying genius dips in and out of consciousness as he prepares his final, extravagant number. The last half-hour of this picture is the most visually resplendent passage of Fosse's career, ending with a glitzy, showstopping rendition of the Everly Brothers' "Bye, Bye Love" by Ben Vereen that constitutes one of the most jubilantly protracted death scenes in film history (and, just as Fosse was clearly influenced by Fellini, it's probably not a stretch to assume that Fosse's work here bled over into Dennis Potter and Jon Amiel's The Singing Detective.) Yes, All That Jazz is a ridiculously overdramatic, self-important piece of cinema, but its brand of high-style narcissism is perfectly suited to the world of theater, which was shaped indelibly by Bob Fosse over the last half-century. It's a valentine to the fleeting gift of creativity. Fox presents All That Jazz in a very clean looking anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Extras include an extremely terse, scene-specific commentary by Roy Scheider recorded in 2001 that can be accessed through a menu, or encountered intermittently throughout the film. There also are three blink-and-you'll-miss-them interviews with Scheider filmed on-set back in 1978, as well as five clips of Fosse directing the cattle-call audition, both of which are for Fosse completists only. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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