Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Film Review: ALL THAT JAZZ (1979, Bob Fosse)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 123 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Roy Scheider (one of the all-time great American actors: THE FRENCH CONNECTION, KLUTE, MARATHON MAN, THE SEVEN-UPS, 52 PICK-UP, BLUE THUNDER, JAWS, NAKED LUNCH, MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS, 2010, SORCERER), Ben Vereen (Broadway legend), John Lithgow, Jessica Lange.
Tag-lines: "All that work. All that glitter. All that pain. All that love. All that crazy rhythm. All that jazz."
Best exchange: Joe Gideon: "I always look for the worst in other people." Angelique: "A little of yourself in them?" Joe Gideon: "A little of myself. And generally, I find it."

Bob Fosse's ALL THAT JAZZ is equal parts auto-biopic, Hollywood musical, and self-chastisement, at once both a swansong and a death rattle.

Fosse didn't pass away until 1987, but eight years prior, with ALL THAT JAZZ, he submits, for our consideration, his greatest passions, achievements, nostalgias and lamentations. Roy Scheider, as Fosse's stand-in, warrants every superlative from tour-de-force to powerhouse, his performance as multi-faceted, in-the-moment, and self-reflective as Fosse's unique vision demands. The use of quotidian repetition (visually and aurally indicated in this film by contact lenses, Dexedrine, showering, and Vivaldi's "Concerto Alla Rustica") has never been more effective.

(For me, Darren Aronofsky's similar stagings in PI and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM are pale imitation.) In Fosse's world, the wreckage of one's life piles on top of itself endlessly- the womanizing, the drug use, regret over familial relationships- and it can all be wiped clean by the promise of a new day ("It's showtime, folks!), everything a rehearsal for a rehearsal, a neverending series of highs and lows which one isn't forced to consider until the end of the line. Thus, Fosse sits in a cobbled-together dressing room limbo netherworld, confronted by Angelique (Jessica Lange), his interviewer, companion, and confessor, contemplating his demise and the life that led up to it. And it's all concurrent: his deathbed, his rehearsals, his family life, childhood embarrassments, in the editing room for LENNY- the comedic monologue on death alternating meanings with each iteration, budget meetings, business brunches, the final act of the last show of one's life and the ultimate send-off with one foot in the grave and one foot on the stage.

An unrivaled rumination on the life of a man who was as susceptible to flattery as he was to self-loathing, who was as much a scoundrel as he was an artist. Five stars.

-Sean Gill

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