All That Jazz – 1979
Director – Bob Fosse
Starring – Roy Scheider, Ann Reinking, and Leland Palmer
This one was a little difficult for me. I didn’t particularly like or dislike this film, despite the fact that I really liked some of the performances. Usually with each of the films on this list I have some sort of reaction, and whether it’s shocked disappointment or some degree of elation about how good something is doesn’t matter. It’s the reaction that I’m interested in. The most wonderful (sometimes frustratingly so) part of tackling a chore such as this list, is that each and every one of these films make me feel something. Or they usually do anyway.
The semi autobiographical All That Jazz, wasn’t bad, but ultimately, that is all it ended up being for me. It wasn’t all that long ago that I watched it, and yet I find myself having a hard time remembering it, and consequently it’s pretty hard to write about something when it’s difficult to remember the plot. However, have no fear, I did a bit of research on it to get me back up to speed, and I am going to do my best to write something about it anyway.
Joe Gideon is a man who dwells in… no, he revels in his own excess. It isn’t uncommon for people to glamorize or celebrate something like drug use, alcohol, or casual sex, it is actually quite common for people to claim a vice with some degree of pride. Gideon, the altar-ego of the film’s director Bob Fosse, can claim them all. He is a hedonist for the ages. The good part is that these things are what keeps him creating and crafting his true calling, choreography, the bad part is, it’s also what’s killing him. So the question becomes, is a life spent fervidly devoted to your work worth dying for, and maybe more importantly, is a life without passion worth living?
On one hand, I found it easy to connect with Gideon (played very engrossingly by Roy Scheider) through his love of what he does, on the other I found I wasn’t very fond of his results, nor his methods of achieving them. I know it’s blasphemous to say, but I don’t think his choreography (Fosse, or Gideon for that matter) was really all that memorable, or special. Granted I’ve only really seen this (that I’m aware of), so I suppose his work deserves another chance to connect with me, but based solely on this, I wouldn’t go out of my way to give it one.
Gideon/Fosse, as a human being, is rather sloppy and careless, in love, in his relationships, and even in the way he treats himself. Watching him walk like a wrecking ball through his own life was like a trip to the DMV, long, difficult and very annoying. The odd part was that I like Roy Scheider in the role, and truthfully the Joe Gideon character is interesting to watch. I definitely wouldn’t say that I connected with him, or that I even care if he lives or dies by the end of the film, but it did help to balance out the story a bit and bring it closer to center. I guess it really all comes down to the fact that I liked Roy Scheider’s performance. I like Roy Scheider. He was easily the most watchable part of the film.
On a side note, films of the seventies tended to have real looking people in them. Not everyone was a flawless being of perfect light, unleashed to increase ticket sales in certain demographics. It’s refreshing to see someone with unique features, or a body shape that isn’t cookie cutter pretty, and to its credit, All That Jazz really embraces that organic trend of natural people and doesn’t relegate them to the background or as the doofy sidekick. In fact, just about the only thing that I can appreciate about Fosse’s work, this film included, is his attraction to form and movement and artistry based on a multitude of things regardless of what others thought. I only wished I liked his choreography more.
Clearly the rest of the actors and performers in the film felt very strongly about the impact that Bob Fosse has had, including Fosse himself, but even with that devotion and belief in it, All That Jazz was still only tepid at best. In the end, after reading a bit about it, and doing a little analyzing of my own, I got more out of it than I had initially thought, but truly the motivation for me writing this was because I’ve been putting this review off now for a month and I just wanted to get if off my plate.
As far as the list goes, the spot would have been better served by any number of different films. Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, has similar voyeuristic qualities, with a lot of the infidelity and familial drama, yet it resounded with me far more on every level, from the film’s technical craftsmanship, to Bergman’s direction, to the deep, heartfelt acting. I guess all I’m saying is that, while I never really hated it, this film never really impacted me like one of the 1001 best movies ever should have.