All That Jazz (1979)

“No, nothing I ever do is good enough. Not beautiful enough, it’s not funny enough, it’s not deep enough, it’s not anything enough. Now, when I see a rose, that’s perfect. I mean, that’s perfect. I want to look up to God and say, ‘How the hell did you do that? And why the hell can’t I do that?’”

‘All That Jazz’, directed by Bob Fosse in 1979, is a fictionalised autobiography with highly stylised fantasy sequences. Roy Scheider plays Joe Gideon, a thinly veiled version of Fosse, who is trying to edit a movie at the same time as choreographing a musical. As he does so, fuelled by alcohol, cigarettes and amphetamines, his health and sanity gradually erode until he suffers from a heart attack that lands him in hospital. It’s an uncomfortable movie at times, Scheider’s performance is such that you feel the central character’s queasy journey towards death, and the slightly seedy (and incredibly honest) details of Gideon’s life gives the movie a harder edge. But the dance sequences are what lift it beyond a mere confessional, self-deprecating work. These scenes dominate the film, both in the work of Gideon (the musical he’s working on turns into an explicit erotic piece), in his home life as his daughter sweetly performs for him, and in his unconscious as, comatosed in hospital and nearing death, he fantasises elaborate, Busby Berkeley-style numbers. It’s a movie about the confusion between reality and fiction, especially in the movies and on stage, it’s about how dance can both corrupt and create. It’s also about self-doubt and creative impotence, a staggeringly personal movie that somehow manages to showcase all the flaws in Fosses’ personality but also all his genius. After ‘Network’ this movie seems to complete a picture of American culture and the ‘American dream’ as simultaneously encouraging innovators, whilst crushing them with the intensity of the workload and the pressures of commercialism. Gideon is a close parallel with Howard Beale, but the difference is Gideon is driven, and destroyed, by internal forces rather than a corporation. In effect, ‘All That Jazz’ is a demonstration of how the capitalistic American work-ethic can rot a man from the inside.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it proves an interesting companion piece to ‘Network’, and whilst it is at times uncomfortable, the choreography is, of course, impeccable and exciting.


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