"All That Jazz" won four Academy Awards for Best Music, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design
After suffering a heart attack following the incredible success in 1972, where Fosse nabbed an Oscar for “Cabaret,” an Emmy Award for the TV special “Liza With a Z,” and a Tony Award for the stage production of “Pippin,” choreographer-director Bob Fosse began to write sketches for his highly autobiographical screenplay, bringing in veteran TV writer Robert Alan Aurthur as co-writer. (Also known for his 1959 western “Warlock,” the racing flick “Grand Prix,” and the Sidney Poitier films “For Love Of Ivy” and “The Lost Man” - which he also directed – Aurthur died close to the release of “All That Jazz,” but was ultimately honored with a Best Screenplay Oscar Nomination with Fosse). Over the years, the basic script was shown to Fosse's mentor, Paddy Chayevsky, and some humorous segments were polished by Herb Gardner (known for his screenplay “A Thousand Clowns,” and the play “I'm Not Rappaport”).
Initially begun as a Columbia Picture, the studio became concerned when the $9-10 million budget went almost $1.5 million over. Studio brass suggested removing the key role of Angelique (the Angel of Death, played by a radiant Jessica Lange), so Fosse contacted Alan Ladd, Jr. at Fox, and the latter studio agreed to help finance the film's completion.
Though not a full-length commentary track, Fox wisely gathered and edited most of Roy Scheider's segments close to key chapter stops, so there's less shuttling between the actor's relatively sparse but highly enjoyable anecdotes. Scheider's a good substitute, having remained friends with Fosse after the film's completion since both lived in New York City, and given his performance of Joe Gideon is drawn from Fosse's script and on set direction, he makes a pretty good guide for the “Alcoholic, Workaholic, Sexaholic, Drug User” components that made up one of America's greatest choreographers.
Called “the most driving and loving director I've ever worked for,” Scheider explains how Richard Dreyfuss bowed out during early rehearsals, and Scheider auditioned over a week to convince Fosse he could play the lead role. There's also some truly eerie details – Fosse explaining to Scheider what a heart attack feels like, and how to cough when the morning wake-up routine included booze, cigarettes, and Dexedrine – that hit home, since Fosse died a few years later while on a walk with his wife Gwen Verdon, in Washington. Even the film's ending – a mordant, satirical reworking of the Everley Brothers' “Bye Bye Love” (renamed “Bye Bye Life”) conveys a level of optimistic closure that according to Scheider, Fosse never achieved.
Bob Fosse's grasp and experimentation with film narrative and montage are still powerful examples of film technique. Visual cuts convey wicked irony; sound samples evoke a hyper-reality or cruel juxtapositions (such as the will reading and hospital montage that shocked audiences); and the film's structure plays with different time spans, near-death states, and closing musical sequences that remain fresh in spite of modern music videos and attention-deficit editing by practitioners such as Michael Bay. The erotic dance numbers in “All That Jazz,” the tragic character episodes in “Lenny,” or the brutal violence in “Star 80” still affect viewers, and remain classics in their own right.
A camera crew was sent to shoot some behind-the scenes footage of the “Cattle Call” that opens the film, and Fosse is shown in five short segments (1:43 + 1:46 + :48 + :58 + 2:23) rehearsing and directing a scene from various angles. Roy Scheider's 3 interview segments deal with his impressions of Fosse (:40), the physical demand of the role (1:03), and on the character of Joe Gideon (1:06).
The included trailer is really a teaser, but watch it last as it uses some key visuals that ruin the film's various time frames. (It also blows the finale, and mucks up the film's intersecting viewpoints into something unsuitably melodramatic.)
Fox' DVD is taken from a fairly clean print with good blacks and colour schemes, and the sound mix, a basic 2.0 blend, really plays with sound fields. The music numbers create a clever assault of high, mid, and low range brass, and string passages add to the film's frequently surreal moments.
Film buffs will also have fun recognizing some young faces, including fidgety Max Wright (from TV's “ALF”) playing a nerve-racked producer, C.C. H. Pounder as a mean nurse, actor-director Keith Gordon (“Christine”) as a younger Joe Gideon, Sandahl Bergman as a very agile and nekkid lead dancer, and a don't-blink-or-she's-gone cameo by daughter Nicole Fosse (shooed away by a producer, because of an intrusive warm-up stretch).
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan