All That Jazz: Bob Fosse's Magnum Opus
All That Jazz is a 1979 musical drama made by the late and great, Bob Fosse. It's a story based on Fosse's life, as he details the sordid career of Joe Gideon, a womanizing, drug-using dancer. It stars the underrated Roy Scheider, who gives his best performance of all time. The film is Bob Fosse's magnum opus. It's a masterpiece of cinema & one of my favorite films of all time.
I first watched this back in 2018. I had heard of the film before, since I was a huge fan of Roy Scheider. I was at my fiancee, then girlfriend's, apartment while she was in class. I watched half of the film & was blown away by how good it was. When Emily came back from her class, I immediately started the film over so I could show her. We watched the whole thing together & we both loved it. I've never been so mesmerized by a film like that before. I knew from then on, that it would become one of my all time favorite films.
Bob Fosse has become one of my favorite filmmakers. After my experience with All That Jazz, I had to watch his other films. He has a unique style like no other. He was a musical-theater choreographer, director, & actor. He's worked on countless stage musicals & films. His background with working in theater had helped shape his visual eye behind the camera. He only made 6 total, but they're all unique in their own way & all of them are fantastic.
Cabaret (1972) is Fosse's Oscar winning musical masterpiece. He beat out Francis Ford Coppola for Best Director in 1973. Coppola was nominated for The Godfather, but lost to Fosse & I think that was the right choice. Fosse's direction is so slick & unique. He made one of the most fascinating musicals up to that point. Cabaret is phenomenal in every way.
Lenny (1974) is a biopic about 1960s controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. Dustin Hoffman stars in the leading role & it's one of his best performances. Fosse's weird style helps make this film standout against the sea of biopics. The gorgeous black & white cinematography really adds to the experience. Fantastic film.
Star 80 (1983) is a disturbing film about the murder of playboy model Dorothy Stratten. It was Fosse's last film before his death in 1986. It's hard to watch due to the graphic nature of the story & Eric Roberts' haunting performance. Fosse wants to make the audience as uncomfortable as possible, & he succeeds. It is one of the most unsettling films I've ever seen.
Sweet Charity (1969) is Fosse's film debut. This film establishes Fosse's unique style. It's a well crafted musical with good performances.
Liza with a Z (1973) is a TV special starring Liza Minnelli as she sings & dances to Fosse's choreography. It's a fun little watch & Minnelli works so damn well with Fosse.
What every Bob Fosse film has in common is the editing. All but Sweet Charity were edited by Alan Heim. Heim is one of the greatest film editors to ever live. Fosse & Heim were a match made in heaven because when they work together, the film is perfectly edited. It's hard to explain, but each cut feels meticulous & planned out.
If you don't want to be spoiled for All That Jazz, then I suggest stopping here. I cannot recommend this film enough.
This film is a self reflection of Bob Fosse’s life. Now that may seem egotistical, but Fosse isn’t just stroking his ego. It seemed to me that he was showcasing the destruction of his life. From his hard nonstop work ethic, to his drug/alcohol addiction and his constant chain smoking. Yes, Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) did have a fun life, but it was also the cause of his ultimate demise. He was a talented theater director/choreographer, but he was also a terrible father and partner. I appreciate how Fosse is honest about putting his life on the big screen. He does all of this in a very creative way.
I love how this film starts off. We get a montage of Joe Gideon getting ready in the morning to the song concerto alla rustica. It sets up everything we need to know about the film with the quick cut editing and the unique artistic vision. Some scenes will cut to Gideon talking to the angel of death, played by Jessica Lange, in a weird back theater-like purgatory. There, Gideon and the angel talk about his life in a meta like way. Those scenes are really well done because the closer Gideon gets to the angel, the closer he is to death. Their dialogue is really well written too. On paper, it sounds pretentious, but Fosse really nails it because he sticks to his vision and the tone throughout the film.
This film has the best editing I’ve ever seen. I cannot praise it enough. It amazes me how consistent the cuts are throughout. It appears Fosse had multiple cameras and angles shooting throughout each scene, but that’s not the case because there are some wide shots that would show the cameras. Fosse must’ve spent months editing this film, because each cut feels meticulous and planned accordingly. Whenever there are musical numbers and dance scenes, each cut is perfectly timed to the beat of the song. I think that since Fosse came from a theater background, he had a different vision when it came to shooting films. Either way, his direction is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Fosse knew what he set out to make and he succeeded with flying colors.
Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon is his best performance. Yes, his performance in JAWS as Chief Martin Brody is iconic, but I think he’s the best in this film. He’s so believable in the role. He can play the everyday man who kills a great white shark and he can play a womanizing theater choreographer. Not only that, but he can sing and dance too. He truly is one of the most underrated actors in cinematic history. Fosse had to fight for Scheider because the studio wanted a bigger name. Once again, Fosse had the right choice.
My favorite scene in the film is when Gideon shows the producers one of his choreographed dances for the play. It starts off as they expected it to be, fun for the whole family… until it turns dark and sexual. I love how the characters react to the sudden change. It’s such a diversion of expectation, but it makes sense to Gideon’s character. The dance itself is well done due to Fosse’s incredible choreograph skills, and it’s well shot and edited. Fantastic scene in every way.
Once the third act kicks in, the film becomes really artistic in how Fosse showcases the end of Gideon’s life. The final musical number “Bye Bye Life” is pure cinema. Words can’t describe how perfect it is. I love the abrupt cut to Gideon in a body bag after this long and loud musical number. It’s brilliant. This whole film is brilliant.
Bob Fosse was truly one of a kind. He was a visionary filmmaker who deserves to be named one of the greats. His artistic skills are like no other, and I love all of his films.