Choreographer-turned-director Bob Fosse (Cabaret
) turns the camera on himself in this nervy, sometimes unnerving 1979 feature, a nakedly autobiographical piece that veers from gritty drama to razzle-dazzle musical, allegory to satire. It's an indication of his bravura, and possibly his self-absorption, that Fosse (who also cowrote the script) literally opens alter ego Joe Gideon's heart in a key scene--an unflinching glimpse of cardiac surgery, shot during an actual open-heart procedure.
Roy Scheider makes a brave and largely successful leap out of his usual romantic lead roles to step into Gideon's dancing pumps, and supplies a plausible sketch of an extravagant, self-destructive, self-loathing creative dynamo, while Jessica Lange serves as a largely allegorical Muse, one of the various women that the philandering Gideon pursues (and usually abandons). Gideon's other romantic partners include Fosse's own protégé (and a major keeper of his choreographic style since his death), Ann Reinking, whose leggy grace is seductive both "onstage" and off.
Fosse/Gideon's collision course with mortality, as well as his priapic obsession with the opposite sex, may offer clues into the libidinal core of the choreographer's dynamic, sexualized style of dance, but musical aficionados will be forgiven for fast-forwarding to cut out the self-analysis and focus on the music, period. At its best--as in the knockout opening, scored to George Benson's strutting version of "On Broadway," which fuses music, dance, and dazzling camera work into a paean to Fosse's hoofer nation--All That Jazz offers a sequence of classic Fosse numbers, hard-edged, caustic, and joyously physical. --Sam Sutherland
The features on the All That Jazz
DVD are for gourmets rather than gourmands--they don't last for hours, but they're extremely valuable. For example, Roy Scheider's 2001 commentary is scene-specific rather than running the length of the film, but he does comment on 23 different scenes, in segments ranging from 20 seconds to five minutes (about 40 minutes total), offering us a behind-the-scenes look at the film and at Fosse himself (Scheider mentions he made Ann Reinking audition to play the part based on herself). There are also three brief interviews (less than three minutes total) that Scheider recorded on the set during filming, and five clips (7.5 minutes) of Fosse directing the opening "On Broadway" number; picture and sound aren't great, but it's a fascinating look at Fosse in action. --David Horiuchi