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All That Jazz

1979's All that Jazz is definitely one of my favorite films, a permanent part of my video collection and a film I can watch over and over again without tiring of it.

This dark, twisted, self-indulgent, musical version of Fellini's 8 1/2 seems to be Fosse's exploration of his own personal demons as he lays his life out there for all to see in a not too flattering light as a career-driven, hard drinking, smoking, womanizing director/choreographer who is only alive when he's on a Broadway stage creating dances or behind a camera lens but is clueless on how to deal with regular life and the little imperfections that most regular folks are able to cope with and accept.

Roy Scheider delivers a brilliant performance as the Fosse alter-ego Joe Gideon, who is trying to stage a new Broadway musical and put the finishing touches on a movie he directed and the stress of all this work puts him in the hospital after a heart attack. This story was based on the period in Fosse's career when he was beginning to mount the musical Chicago for Gwen Verdon and was still editing his 1974 film Lenny with Dustin Hoffman and had a heart attack shortly afterwards.

This film sucks you in from the beginning with shots of dancers warming up onstage as the opening bars of George Benson's "On Broadway" begin to fill the audio. Soon the camera pulls back to reveal hundreds of dancers onstage as Gideon weeds out the dancers he wants to cast in "NY to LA", the fictionalized version of Chicago. This number is just brilliant and is a wonderful introduction into the world of NY theater auditions for the uninitiated. Fosse, is, more than anything, a choreographer, and his dance direction in this film is nothing short of astonishing. I can watch the "Take Off With Us/Air-Rotica" scene over and over again and never tire of it. I also enjoyed when Ann Reinking (as Joe's girlfriend, basically playing herself) and Erzsebet Foldi (playing Joe's daughter, Michelle (Nicole))do a dance for Joe to Peter Allen's "Everything Old is New Again" in his living room. Joe's fantasy production numbers after he enters the hospital are also dazzling, especially long-legged Reinking's rendition of "You Better Change your Ways".

There are also small quiet moments in the film that are equally effective, in particular a lovely scene in a dance studio with Joe and his daughter where she tries to talk him into getting married and giving her a little brother. This is not a side of Gideon we see much of (Fosse either) and it is a lovely moment. Jessica Lange's ethereal quality was used to great advantage in her small but showy role as Joe's Angelique. Leland Palmer (who starred in Fosse's Pippin on Broadway) registers as Audrey Paris, Joe's ex-wife and Michelle's mother, a fictionalized Gwen Verdon. Her scene with Scheider in the dance studio where she calls him on his constant infidelity is a gem.

Cliff Gorman scores as Davis Newman, the star of Joe's film, THE STAND UP (this film's version of Lenny), who is seen visiting Gideon in the hospital and psychoanalyzing him at the same time.

The "Bye Bye Love" finale is a little over the top and WAY too long but I like the end of it when he says goodbye to everyone before his death (especially loved the looks exchanged with John Lithgow and his hug with daughter Michelle). All in all, All that Jazzis a must for Fosse-ites and fans of musical theater..whether it's stage or screen. Not as good as Cabaret, but still a unique movie experience to be savored.