Viciously honest Bob Fosse's classic All That Jazz (1979) takes a look at the life of revered stage director and choreographer Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider, Jaws) as he recalls the ups and downs of his career. Suffering a heart attack, a product of reckless life of abuse, Gideon is visited by the Angel of Death (Jessica Lange, The Postman Always Rings Twice) and the two begin an intriguing conversation where the director reveals his soul.
Attaching All That Jazz to a specific categorization that fully describes the picture's numerous qualities is undoubtedly an impossible task. Part semi-biography, part fantasy, part musical, All That Jazz takes on a simple theme (that of abuse in show business, you could decide whether it is personal or professional) and builds on it from a number of different angles.
As a semi-biography the film does indeed reflect a small fraction of Fosse's life which left an indelible mark on his career. The drugs, the women, the alcohol, all of the excess that was an inseparable part of the director's daily routine is vividly reconstructed here.
The tired look on Scheider's face, which often discloses more than what Fosse's script does, gradually evolves into a bitter realization that the end is close.
As a fantasy All That Jazz also works surprisingly well! The presence of Lange's character, simply named Angelique, is both suggestive and revealing. Through a series of flashbacks the viewer is allowed to see Gideon's professional triumph(s) as well as his personal failure(s). The view is absolutely staggering - the man capable of producing miracles on the stage is unable to direct his own life.
Seen strictly as a musical All That Jazz is just as exciting - lavish decors, impressive choreography, impeccable music soundtrack is what places Fosse's film between the best of the best. In fact, it is difficult to watch all of the actors moving in perfect synchrony without feeling a bit nostalghic. The sense of something dated yet majestic coming off of Fosse's work, a feeling of what Hollywood has long ago lost, is undoubtedly noticeable here.
It is the intimate message All That Jazz carries, however, that always intrigued me. The manner in which the film speaks to artists is far more engrossing than everything else discussed above. There is a subtle reverence detectable through the actions of Gideon mixed with repulsion which gifted artists always struggle with. It is a strange feeling to describe yet one that stays with you forever - a painful rollercoaster of elation and personal failures.
How Does the DVD Look?
This is a strange, very strange rerelease-SE. One that is also utterly disappointing! Here's why:
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TVs the film appears to have undergone a very disturbing to say the least color-manipulation which negates a great deal of Fosse's imaginative vision. Instead of the vivid and intentionally brash colors the picture is known for what we have now is a subdued and "corrected" color palette far and away from what Fosse intended. I am shocked to say the least as this color manipulation is neither suitable nor logical for a film of this status - it is degrading.
Reds, greens, and blues, are completely disorganized often replaced with "natural" colors that affect the film's integrity a great deal. To put it bluntly to me this looks like a B&W film which has been exposed to one of those ludicrous colorizations a few studios like to experiment with.
The rest of the presentation also has some notable flaws - contrast has been tampered with and the once vivid scenes (Gideon's first rehearsal for the scandalous show) look drastically different now, they are smooth, subdued, and overpolished. The actual state of the print is a bit better looking from the original release by Fox as some minor specks and spots must have been digitally removed. Edge-enhancement is not an issue here but what I have described above clearly negates any possible recommendation-mark this release might have otherwise gotten.
Some viewers may find what I described above tolerable, perhaps rather easy to ignore. I don't! This is a classic American picture and there is absolutely no way I can tolerate or downplay what has been done here. Color-manipulation is just as insulting and degrading as cropping is. It is THAT simple! If you have the original release by Fox in your collections - keep it! If you don't you should certainly opt for it and avoid this new SE!!
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with an English DD-Stereo, English 5.1 track, and a French DD-Stereo dub the audio presentation is notably better than the video treatment. Sound is crystal clear, dialog very easy to follow, and the new and enhanced 5.1 track worth a try. There is notably more action coming off the rear speakers yet as far as I am concerned the DD track is the one the film feels more comfortable with (surely some will disagree). In addition the R1 distribs have provided optional English and Spanish subtitles as well as HOH.
The extras department is where this new edition notably outpaces the old one: There is a film commentary by film editor Alan Heim whose contribution is rather uneven - he seems to rely on his memory quite a bit and for long periods of time he remains silent "recollecting" his thoughts. Nevertheless towards the second half of the film some of his remarks are quite interesting. Next, there is a documentary titled "Portrait of a Choreographer" which sheds light on Fosse's career as well as personal life as seen through the eyes of those who were around him. Next, "Perverting the Standards" - another featurette which attempts to quickly describe the film's versatile nature, from musical to a semi-biography. Next, "Making of the song On Broadway" - a very short interview with George Benson in which he discusses the composition of the song. Next, "Movie-Oke: Take Off With Us" - a very short fragment about a "narrated song" which basically ridicules one of the funniest scenes from the film. Next, "Music Machine" which allows you to skip through your favorite music scenes in the order they appear throughout the film. Finally there is a gallery of stills.
I am hard-pressed to find words that truly express my disappointment with what Fox have done. Indeed, Fosse's film deserves a SE which fans will appreciate. This however isn't it! For very obvious reasons described above! SKIP IT!