All That Jazz (1979) is the third film in Margaret & David’s classic film segment on At The Movies. Check out their review here.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This blog is going up at the LAST possible moment before M&D review next week’s classic film. I’m only three weeks in and already falling behind. My only excuse is that I’ve been busily working on the final structural edit for my next book, Beast Child. For those of you unfamiliar with my work, check out my website here. There’s even a mini-preview of Beast Child. So I was doing that. And I had to go to a fondue party night. Melted cheese is awesome.
Anyway, I did get to watch the movie this past weekend, and though I enjoyed All That Jazz I didn’t really love it. And I probably should have. I mean – Jazz, and all that. And I do love Jazz, and I do love musicals, and the music and dancing, particularly the dancing, were fantastic. The scenes where Joe Gideon (Roy Sheider) has these deep and meanigfuls with his daughter, Michelle (the ridiculously gifted dancer Erzsebet Foldi), while they practice dances together are full of the young girl’s sheer delight in dance and are truly a wonder. The film is worth watching just for those. I think what really failed to interest me here was the plot.
*plot spoilers* Gideon is putting on a new Broadway show while editing a new movie, The Comedian. In order to keep his creative (and probably literal) juices flowing he takes a cocktail of prescription drugs and has lots of sex with people who aren’t his girlfriend. His daughter is constantly cajoling him to find someone, anyone, to settle down with. Then the pressure gets too much for Gideon and he has a heart attack, after which he hallucinates the five stages of death through musical numbers. The film is interspersed with scenes where Gideon talks to a woman (supposedly the Angel of Death) named Angelique and played by the glorious Jessica Lange.
For some reason the plot just didn’t engage me. The whole thing is apparently a semi-autobiographical recounting of the life of director/choreographer/co-writer Bob Fosse. There’s definitely interest there, but I think I’m just a bit over the whole creative-workaholic = complete-wreak-of-a-life angle. This film does that perhaps better than others, and Gideon is actually a pretty likeable character, for all his philandering and child neglecting, but there’s a whiff of self-indulgence in the film and ultimately I didn’t care enough about Gideon to fully invest in his story. As mentioned, the dance numbers are great and the acting is also wonderful. John Lithgow is superlative as Lucas “not-quite-as-good-as-Gideon” Sergeant, who gets approached to revamp Gideon’s show until the backers realise they’d turn a half million dollar profit (through insurance) if Gideon does actually die and they don’t continue with it after all. It’s the whole Art vs Business thing done brilliantly, and Lithgow really captures the embittered just-shy-of-true-brilliance artist with his performance.
I can certainly see why All That Jazz is considered a classic. The performances and dance numbers are first rate, and the examination of a creative mind’s slow spiralling descent into self-destruction is timeless and will interest many. Perhaps I’m just being self-indulgent in wishing creative people had happier endings.
All That Jazz: True Classic
Tune in next week for The Wages of Fear!