The vicissitudes and hazards of show business have rarely been as effectively put on the screen as they are in All That Jazz.
Roy Scheider plays (Joe Gideon) a hard driven, drinking, smoking choreographer / director / womanizer who - if he continues his antics - will be headed for an early grave. The film flashes forward and back in time with dreamlike interludes showing us that Joe is most likely already dead and recounting his life to a beautiful interlocutor (Jessica Lange).
All That Jazz, directed by famous choreographer Bob Fosse, basically ups the ante and pushes the envelope on such old Hollywood musical / dance films as 42nd Street. Instead of concentrating on the dancers and their lives, loves, disappointments and triumphs Fosse instead focuses on the unwavering passion and ultimate demise of the choreographer / director.
The one thing that really sets All That Jazz apart is its gritty, fatalistic tone. This is a film that cannot be mistaken for a film made in any other time in Hollywood; it is pure seventies; from the big hair to the flaired pants to the use of the zoom lens.
Scheider is clearly the alter ego of the film's director Bob Fosse and he does a great job playing a devil-may-care, cynical, exhausted, chain smoking wreck. At times it seems he is pushing it a little too hard; there is never any doubt that this guy's life is in disarray. The only time the film slows down is when Joe is with his young daughter (Erzsebet Fold) and the two women who mean the most to him, his ex-wife (Leland Palmer) and his current girlfriend (Ann Reinking).
The film also features some fine set pieces and dance numbers including an orgy dance, a comic, tragic number with Joe lying on his hospital bed in a respirator and a final Busbee Berkely style dance / death number complete with Broadway lights and glitter.
The best thing about All That Jazz is that Fosse seems to throw all caution to the wind in creating a beautiful mess of a movie. The main fault of the film is that the message of dying for one's art is so obvious that it loses its edge halfway through. However, it is still worth a look.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen the film shows its age a bit. It has that 70's murky, grainy look, which works in its favor since it is a dark movie. The colors are dark too. In fact, the film has a street-tough look through most of it, which suits the material and time period quite well.
The audio is advertized as Dolby Surround 2.0 and without really checking it I believed it. But I've received an e-mail that told me otherwise. I checked it out myself and have to say that indeed the sound is a very weak attempt at surround sound; one could call it monoaural-plus. Many of the film's musical numbers comes across fair.
Fox didn't go all out on the extras and it's too bad because it would have been good to see interviews with the principle cast. Instead the extras are fair. There is a Commentary Track with Roy Scheider, which is great…when he talks. A separate interview with scene clips probably would have been more apropos. As it is the viewer has to watch the movie again and wait for Roy to say something. There are also Five Bob Fosse clips shot in 16mm from the set of the movie. Each of them is about a minute in length and show Fosse setting up shots and coaching some of the extras. Anyone who sees this will wonder where all the other footage is since it seems to be part of a separate documentary. Included also is a short vintage Interview with Roy Scheider, which is also shot in 16mm. Included also is a vintage trailer.
All That Jazz is a cultural artifact of Hollywood in the seventies and happens to also be one of the best (and only) contemporary musicals made. Mixing over-the-top entertainment with gritty realism the film gets at the heart (literally) of why artists are not free but instead bound by their vocation until death. The DVD looks good and sounds adequate (doesn't seem to be Dolby 2.0 as advertized) and the extras - although they look inviting - are actually minimal.