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Brief Classic Movie Blog – All That Jazz (1979)
Bob Fosse, the brilliant Broadway director and choreographer only directed five feature films and he was nominated for an Oscar for best director for three of these. That’s an astonishing feat. If he had directed more, because he lived longer, or if had started directing them sooner, I am sure this percentage would have been much lower. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, because Fosse was used to being lauded, winning awards, being called a genius and to be fair, he was. However he wasn’t a nice person, and was so self-critical that any negative disparagement of his art work haunted him disproportionately. He never made another film after his unsavory, poorly received, Star 80 appeared in 1983. Of course he didn’t have long to live after that. Fosse’s hard living: drinking, smoking, pill popping, unbridled promiscuity and workaholic behavior caught up with him and he had his second (massive) heart attack at age 60, literally dying in the arms of his ex-wife, Gwen Verdon on the street in Washington DC. All That Jazz is an autobiographical work and much of the last third of the film focuses on the first heart attack Fosse had as he was editing the film Lenny and trying to mount the original production of Chicago on Broadway. Perhaps the most memorable sequence of the film is the first scene, which is an audition for the fictional Chicago that Joe Gideon (Fosse’s character played by Roy Scheider) is directing. It’s dazzling, especially the editing. Alan Heim won an Oscar for his work here. Although well received by the Academy and the public, the film doesn’t date as well as it should-it still looks fabulous-but it is very indulgent and the middle drags on and on. There are many great set pieces, fantasy and dance sequences, but it often becomes a stream of consciousness mess and exercise in dazzle rather than story and substance. Ironically there is a fictional movie review in All That Jazz about a film Bob Gideon directed where the critic laments that Gideon only wants to entertain and dazzle and his current film is overblown and it has no substance; meta Art, before meta was a thing. Fosse not only embraced his negative reviews, he seemed to shine them up and let them float. Nothing was ever good enough, especially his own work to himself. It is interesting to pair All That Jazz with the recent FX mini-series Fosse/Verdon, so many of the details, and story points overlap. Bob Fosse directed “Cabaret” (1972) one of my favorite films and often considered one of the best films of the 1970’s. It is the only film to win eight Oscars without winning best picture. The Godfather won best picture that year and yes Fosse beat Coppola for best director. This is a testament to just how good Cabaret is. All That Jazz is not Cabaret, but it is still a Bob Fosse film, and a Bob Fosse film is still better and more interesting than almost anyone else’s film.