The following is my entry in The Criterion Blogathon, being hosted Nov. 16-21, 2015 by the blogs Criterion Blues, Speakeasy, and Silver Screenings. Click on the above banner, and partake of nearly 200 bloggers’ reviews of movies from The Criterion Collection!
It’s rare that a man gets to write his own obituary. It’s even rarer when he turns it into a movie musical. But stage-and-screen choreographer-director Bob Fosse did just that in All That Jazz, definitely not your grandfather’s musical.
Film buffs will argue that this is merely Fosse’s musical version of Federico Fellini’s famously autobiographical 8-1/2. Grousers will complain that it’s Fosse’s self-serving take on a very self-indulgent life. For me, at least, it’s never less than fascinating. It might not be a musical where you come out humming the tunes, but it has imagination oozing from every frame.
Jaws’ Roy Scheider plays Fosse’s alter ego Joe Gideon, a goateed satyr who tries to keep too many plates in the air at once, artistically and in his personal life. The story shows Gideon trying to nurse along a potentially disastrous Broadway musical, finish the final cut on a bio-flick that looks suspiciously like Lenny (Fosse’s story of Lenny Bruce), and juggle several relationships with women of his past and present.
Fosse definitely stacked the deck by casting many of his former lady-loves, including Ann Reinking as Gideon’s current lover, and Jessica Lange as his blunt-talking Angel of Death. Nevertheless, Fosse is hardly easy on himself. Gideon is a boozer, pill popper, and genial ignorer of any advice that might help him lead a longer and happier life.
This soon culminates in a hospital hallucination that is a supreme tour de force, not to mention the first musical to ever include a scene of open-heart surgery. (It’s graphic, but in context, it’s all too appropriate.)
In one of the weirder career highs of movies, this has to be Scheider’s peak. Gideon is all too self-destructive, but Scheider shows us the charisma that has everyone in Gideon’s life going along for the ride. The rest of the cast is great as well (including Wallace Shawn and John Lithgow in early roles).
Most musicals are all-out to please a huge audience. One gets the feeling that with All That Jazz, Fosse was the audience. But that doesn’t mean you can’t savor his high as well.