“It’s showtime!” In this part film à clef, part musical phantasmagoria, director/choreographer Bob Fosse takes a Felliniesque look at the life of a driven entertainer. Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider, channeling Fosse) is the ultimate work (and pleasure)-aholic, as he knocks back a daily dose of amphetamines to juggle a new Broadway production while editing his new movie, not to mention ex-wife Audrey (Leland Palmer), steady girlfriend Kate (Ann Reinking), a young daughter, and various conquests. Joe cannot, however, avoid intimations of mortality from white-clad vision Angelique (Jessica Lange) that lead him to look back at his life as he heads for a near-inevitable coronary and his departure from this mortal coil with the appropriate razzle-dazzle. Taking his cue from Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963), Fosse moves from realistic dance numbers to extravagant flights of cinematic fancy, as Joe meditates on his life, his women, and his death. Following a similarly dark revisionist vein as Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York (1977), Fosse shows the stiff price that entertaining exacts on entertainers (among other things, he intercuts graphic footage of open-heart surgery with a song and dance), mercilessly reversing the feel-good mood of classical movie musicals. Critics praised Fosse’s daring even as they damned his self-indulgence, while Scheider was lauded for giving the best performance of his career. Though not a disastrous failure, All That Jazz came nowhere near the popularity of 1978’s Grease, as late ’70s audiences increasingly turned away from “difficult” movies. For all its excesses, Fosse’s fiercely personal approach turned All That Jazz into another striking work from one of the few directors able to make, and experiment with, movie musicals after the 1960s.
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