All That Jazz is a stream-of-consciousness commercial-art-film semi-biopic of the life and career of its Broadway-famous writer and director, Bob Fosse. The film is strange, bouncing around from event to event and topic to topic, yet it is impeccably edited to make sense centrally structured around the life, work, relationships, successes, failures, and desires of its director. Bizzare in its striking self-prediction of Fosse’s own death ten years later, this brilliant film is “savagely witty on backstage life and thrilling in how well it conveys the obsessive, all-consuming excitement of those passionately committed and driven in their work.” I couldn’t agree more. I especially enjoyed all of the little Broadway cameo nods throughout the cast.
I watched a special edition of this film, but in doing a little research, learned that there was a Criterion released, and will likely rewatch with the commentary and supplements.
What a surprise this film was. Sincerely, a truly magical, exciting, enthralling surprise that I was almost unsure I even wanted to watch. What I was expecting was that uncomfortable, creepy soft-touch film of the seventies that is awkward in its execution and style, bizarre in its narrative structure, overtly sexual for no apparent reason (there is one part), and a strange back-to-basics performance style that is a renaissance of a time that never existed where people are doing things that people never did in a way that is supposed to be edgy and is really just kinda disgusting, sweaty, and earth-toned like a bad porn but on purpose. But what I got was a beautiful commentary on life, work, and the theater, and it was presented in a truly remarkable postmodern edgy way from beginning to end. It was, simply put, a great film that did a lot of cool new things in a cool new way.
Full of great music and engaging performances, this take on Fosse’s life really reflects the life of an artist that mirrors my own and that I am familiar with. Fosse was able to capture the constant struggle for the energy of creation, and how difficult it is to manage balance that with your own expectations and the expectations of your audience. It also showcases the struggle of creating material, deadlines, a variety of outside influences and expectations, and finally, the toll it takes on your happiness, relationships, and health. Being a performer and artist myself, there was a lot that I saw in this film that really reflected my exhaustion and efforts in much the same way that the protagonist struggled to see in his own drug-addled morning reflection.
Most notable scenes were that oft-imitated morning routine set to Vivaldi, which I have seen in countless other films. The postmodern, compartmentalized scenes with death and former lovers and relatives were really cool – a little on the soft-touch seventies vibe, but easy to ignore with how cool it was executed. I thought the train ride of the film was really neat – a few times as I watched, I felt like I was ready to go to bed, but the way the film is edited you really just want to stay on the train and watch to its conclusion. it sincerely got better, more engaging, and entertaining as it went along, and the final hour didn’t even seem like an hour. The postmodern fifth wall open-heart surgery and dance sequences were absolutely mindblowing but only as much as the beautiful and intimate dance sequence of his daughter and (second wife?) in the living room of his house.
A spectacular and beautiful meditation on life and artistic work, I really thought this film blew my expectations out of the water. It easily solidified Fosse’s contribution to the world in his art, but it was also sadly a testament to his work and his death that he outlined on the screen for us all to watch in glorious celluloid. An incredible film.