All That Jazz (1979)
Directed by Bob Fosse
Written by Robert Alan Aurthur, Bob Fosse
Starring: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking
Bob Fosse’s fantasy-filled depiction of his own work editing his film Lenny while staging Chicago on Broadway.
This film is a unique semi-autobiographical work from Bob Fosse (Cabaret). He wrote the script alongside Robert Alan Aurthur (The Lost Man). The stars of the film include Roy Scheider (The French Connection), Jessica Lange (Tootsie), and Ann Reinking (Annie). This film eventually earned nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.
The stars in this film did an incredible job with a script that ultimately asks them for varying versions of their characters. Roy Scheider leads the way with a powerful performance that captures the flaws and talents of his character. What begins as a performance steeped in arrogance eventually brings out unexpected levels of vulnerability. Jessica Lange and Ann Reinking deliver great performances of their own in this one. Lange’s natural elegance really lends itself to her performance. She also handles the varying tones of the film with great skill. Ann Reinking also handles the shifting tones with great skill. She injects a great energy into the film. The rest of the cast does great work with a number of challenging scenes. In addition to the dialogue, many of these actors had to sing and dance throughout the film. Overall, there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch. Roy Scheider would eventually earn an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. (He lost out to Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer).)
This is a uniquely scripted story that moves from drama, to comedy, to fever-dream fantasy. The writing does a great job of putting the audience behind the scenes of a Broadway show. At the same time, the story takes us into the mind of the main character, Joe Gideon. The script also blends in the kind of production numbers you would expect in a Broadway play. While the combination shouldn’t work, it somehow comes together into something really special. The dialogue is minimal, but exceptionally well-written. This allows the visuals and the music to deliver some great moments. Fosse and Aurthur earned a nomination for Best Original Screenplay for the script. (The award went to Steve Tesich for Breaking Away.)
This film has stunning visuals that add a lot to the film. The cinematography expertly captures the fantasy as well as the real-world moments. This includes bringing the musical numbers to life without taking the audience out of the story. Giuseppe Rotunno (Amarcord) was nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards. (The award went to Vittorio Storaro for Apocalypse Now.) The costumes and hair and makeup work also work wonders. In the fantasy moments they put things over the top, and in other moments they add to the authenticity of the film. Albert Wolsky (Bugsy) would go on to win the Oscar for Best Costume Design. The film also won Oscars for Best Film Editing and Best Art Direction – Set Decoration. The music also works perfectly with this story, and Ralph Burns (Lenny) won an Oscar for Best Original Score.
This is a fascinating film that is almost impossible to find a good comparison for. The energy that comes from Scheider’s performance really drives the film from beginning to end. If you’re a fan of any of the stars or the work of Bob Fosse, this is one to check out. It might be inspired by the experiences Fosse had, but it might be a stretch to call it a biopic. I give this one 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Running Time: 123 Minutes