FEATURING: Roy Scheider, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking, Erzsebet Foldi, ,

PLOT: A pill-popping, womanizing, workaholic choreographer’s hard living leads to a heart attack.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Aside from camp spectacles like Rocky Horror Picture Show, there aren’t many weird musicals. The musical is an inherently square art form. There are, however, frequently surreal dance sequences in musicals (see ), and All That Jazz finishes up with some of the weirdest; it’s not enough to put the movie on the List of the weirdest movies in history, but it’s worth a watch if you swing that way.

COMMENTS: Joe Gideon, the stand-in for director/choreographer Bob Fosse, begins every day with the same routine: a drop of Visine, a shot of Alka-Seltzer, a cigarette smoked in the shower, a Dexie, and finally he’s ready to look in the mirror and announce, “it’s showtime!” The director, who’s in the early stages of planning a major (and scandalously erotic) Broadway musical while simultaneously cutting a movie about a stand-up comic (based on Fosse’s own Lenny Bruce biopic), also finds time to sleep with as many aspiring dancers as possible, down a few Scotches at night, and candidly chat about his life with his only confidant, a hot gauzy angel (the radiant Jessica Lange).

With its confessional premise of a womanizing artist painting a roguish self-portrait with the aid of fantasy, All That Jazz cannot escape comparisons to the iconic artist autobiopic, 8 1/2. Compared to , Bob Fosse is all sheen and surface. Jazz suggests none of the depths of the Italian’s conflicted Catholicism or his weary existentialism. For Fosse, life is just work, sex, speed, repeat. The two films suggest the difference between an obsessive artist, and an obsessive craftsman. On the cool scale, Roy Scheider is no , so it’s difficult to buy the film’s premise that everyone is in his life is charmed into submission by this smug, glib, self-appointed genius, beyond his unquestioned ability to advance their careers. It’s no surprise that Fosse isn’t as interesting as Fellini (how many people who have ever lived are?), but still, as embodied by Scheider and his arrogant Van Dyke, Gideon’s naughty hedonism manages to keep our interest through a somewhat repetitive first two-thirds.

Although the early reels provide entertainment enough to carry us through, Jazz doesn’t really start high-kicking until the heart attack strikes and Gideon’s anesthesia-induced musical fantasies kick in. The finale builds weight from the context of the character building that’s gone before; when the choreographer’s preteen daughter—dressed provocatively in an evening gown with a cigarette holder and fur stole—vamps “you’ll miss me daddy, if you go away,” the effect is touching and ironic, rather than creepy. The fantasy numbers are produced by a chain-smoking Gideon doppelganger who appears beside the bedridden director: “you don’t have any lines here,” he mocks as the invalid tries to mumble through his gas mask to the loved ones passing before his mind’s eye. It arrives at a show-stopping, heart-stopping finale set to the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” (with altered lyrics). A smarmy Ben Vereen, acting like a telethon host, croons and hoofs his way alongside Schneider  in a disco-age Vegas netherworld complete with flashing colored lights, horrible automaton heads in the audience, and dancers dressed like Slim Goodbody. The number is stretched out for ten minutes, with a couple of false climaxes, but it never drags; it may not be the summation of a life’s work, but it is a masterpiece of its type. Emphasisizing seduction and drug abuse over tap dancing and top hats, All That Jazz is a musical that can appeal to people who hate musicals, which is a valuable service for many of us.

In 2014 the Criterion Collection pried the rights to All That Jazz away from 20th Century Fox, turning what was already a pretty good DVD release into a superlative DVD/Blu-ray package.


“…an uproarious display of brilliance, nerve, dance, maudlin confessions, inside jokes and, especially, ego. It’s a little bit as if Mr. Fosse had invited us to attend his funeral — the wildest show-business sendoff a fellow ever designed for himself — and then appeared at the door to sell tickets and count the house; after all, funerals are only wasted on the dead.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Dwarf Oscar, who noted, “It’s pretty weird at times, but I actually don’t know if that is a weirdness inherent to the genre of musicals, or if that film is truly one of a kind.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

3 thoughts on “CAPSULE: ALL THAT JAZZ (1979)”

    1. The byline issue you noted has to do with us trying out new visual themes. The look of the site will probably change from time to time in the coming days. We do want to keep bylines for sure, though, so thanks for pointing out that they were missing.

      As far as All That Jazz and Fellini, the similarities are so obvious (and Fosse never denied or dodged them) that most reviews talk about the issue. The Vincent Canby review linked at bottom puts its own spin on it. So, there is tradition to consider. To me, the comparison is useful in highlighting a certain degree of shallowness in Fosse/Joe Gideon’s character. I don’t mean to insult Mr. Fosse (not that it would make much difference if a minor critic insulted a director who’s been dead for almost 30 years), I just think it’s useful to consider the difference between a brilliant craftsman and a brilliant artist.

  1. G,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    I certainly agree with you that All That Jazz and 8 1/2 both explore the life of the artist creating the piece. And I’m not going to argue that All That Jazz is the more realized work.

    My point however is that even though both movies have similar themes, Fosse was not trying to remake Fellini’s film. He was doing his own thing, much like Lynch in Eraserhead was evoking his own life experience. And in comparing All That Jazz negatively to 8 and 1/2, that comparison might discourage potential viewers from seeking out Fosse’s movie (even though much of your review of All that Jazz was positive.)

    My concern was that in your review you were criticizing Fosse for not making something as good as 8 1/2. But he was not trying to make 8 1/2. He was trying to make All That Jazz. Not Fellini’s story. His story.

    I do believe that each work of art should be considered on its own terms, rather than compared to other efforts in a similar vein. When a comparison is made, it takes us out of the work under discussion. You may feel differently, and I do sincerely respect that approach. I just don’t agree with it.

    Your writings, and 366 Weird Movies in general, have given me hours and hours of great enjoyment. I love analysis, and you and the site handle analysis exceptionally well. So I am certainly not criticizing you or the site. I just felt the comparison with Fellini was a bit unfair. “Oh my God, Jimmy jumped eight feet, three inches!” “Shit, that’s nothing. Olympic jumper Peter Peder jumped twelve feet, five inches.”

    Keep up the great, great work.

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