The influence of Fellini’s 8 ½ is clear in Bob Fosse’s own memoir-like fictional film. The story of a theatre director under immense pressure to make his next show a hit, while under the usual pressures of the business, told with a mixture of fantasy and realism is cut from the same mould as Fellini’s great picture. The creative evolution of Fosse’s work from 'Sweet Charity', 'Cabaret' and 'Lenny' seems to culminate in this overly ambitious yet invigorating explosion of cinema.
All That Jazz (1979) dir. Bob Fosse
Starring: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking
By Alan Bacchus
As co-written by Robert Alan Aurthur and Fosse, All That Jazz seems to translate the period after shooting Lenny and the staging of his famed Broadway production of Chicago into this delirious and existential examination of his own life. Bob Gideon (Scheider) is the Fosse hero, a director/choreographer introduced in one of the film’s renowned set pieces, the cattle call casting of his dancers. Fosse stages a brilliant sequence which starts off as 400 or so dancers on stage performing the choreographed routines while Fosse and his producer toil over the selections. The sequence lasts a number of minutes and immediately anchors us in the piss and vinegar backstage dealings of real life Broadway.
Clearly we’re not in a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland picture, Fosse’s Broadway is an all-consuming ego-driven fountain of creativity. As Fosse finds his way through the prep, his estranged relationship with the nine-year old daughter, his ex-wife, his philandered girlfriend and his Dexedrine habit already burden the talented creator. But Gideon miraculously manages to succeed. Unfortunately his heart cannot keep up and suffers a heart attack requiring bypass surgery and ultimately death.
All this is portrayed through the eyes of one of Broadway and cinema’s masters of dance choreography. A number of stunning set pieces, in addition to the opening cattle call number, titillate us with the best of Fosse’s trademark style. As with the convention used in Cabaret dance numbers are written into the reality of the narrative, as opposed to moving outside reality to express characters’ emotions.
The employment of Fellini’s frequent lenser Giuseppe Rotunno also signifies Fosse’s desire to make his own version of 8 ½. And the visual aspect of this picture is more in the forefront than any of his previous films. And it’s perhaps best example of the marriage of dance choreography and editing ever put to film. While the traditional convention of shooting dance is holding on full shots of the actors head to toe in long takes, Fosse compliments his unique punchy groove stylings with carefully chosen close-ups of hands, feet and heads enhancing the rhythm of the choreography.
There’s no doubt Fosse falls into muddled trap of self-indulgence and excess in the final act, specifically the garish final number featuring Ben Vereen which dates itself as a product of the disco/glam rock era, but as pure eye candy the sequence is a marvel and doesn’t tarnish the thrill of this career-defining picture.
All That Jazz is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection