All That Jazz: Special Music Edition – DVD Review

DVD available at Amazon.com

Director:
Bob Fosse

Cast:
Roy Scheider….Joe Gideon
Jessica Lange….Angelique
Leland Palmer….Audrey Paris
Ann Reinking….Kate Jagger
Ben Vereen….O’Connor Flood
Sandahl Bergman….Principal Dancer #1
John Lithgow….Lucas Sergeant
Keith Gordon…Young Joe Gideon

MGM Home Video presents All That Jazz. Screenplay by Bob Fosse and Robert Alan Aurthur. Running time: 123 minutes. Rated R. Theatrical release: Dec. 20, 1979. DVD released April 3, 2007.

The Movie

Often you’ll hear a movie described as a love letter. Normally it’s a love letter to the director’s youthful memories. Cinema Paradiso was a love letter to the village movie house that inspired Giuseppe Tornatore to make films. All That Jazz is a cinematic obituary notice from Bob Fosse. There is no other way to describe this film except as an illustration of the hard living that eventually claimed this Oscar-winning director’s life before he hit 60 (in 1987). But this film isn’t a funeral dirge. Fosse declares that no matter what, he’s dancing into his grave.

Joe Gideon is a barely disguised version of Fosse. He’s a major choreographer/director developing his latest musical on Broadway. He’s in post-production on a movie about a stand up comic (starring the actor from the original stage version of Lenny). He’s heterosexual, which is a rarity when it comes to stage performers with happy feet, and sleeps with any woman with a set of legs that can bend his way. To further confuse the character with the actor, the address on Gideon’s prescription pill bottles is where Fosse lived. We are being given access to this director’s life through his proxy actor. Unlike recent biopics that have clogged up the screens lately, All That Jazz starts Gideon’s life story near the end. We do get a flashback to his childhood experience as a dancer in a burlesque strip club. But we don’t have to go through the” How I Became a Star” outline. This is a showbiz story that takes us inside the whirlwind of the entertainment industry as seen by a creative lion at his peak.

The film kicks off with the legendary “On Broadway” sequence. This is the finest distillation of the cattle call casting process captured on celluloid. If you didn’t know this was a dramatic movie, you’d swear this scene was a documentary. You can believe the hundreds of dancers are seeking the handful of parts. This does in one song what A Chorus Line spent hours exploring. Forget about those auditions you saw in Showgirls. If you have any dreams of hitting it big on the Great White Way, this is a vision of your future.

Fosse does not make his life look pretty; he’s not the Angel Gideon. He chain smokes. He enjoys his booze. He can’t live without his pills. He’s a dog when it comes to the women, but is still tight with his ex-wife and has a girlfriend. Yet he still has time to get hot and heavy with other ladies. He’s squeezing five extra hours out of each day.

All That Jazz shows how Gideon can’t just relax. He’s constantly pushing his art. He’s not happy with his dance routines for the big show. He’s rides his editor to make his movie splice better. But he isn’t a complete jerk. He makes sure people see the beauty in what he’s pushing them to accomplish. He doesn’t want anyone to accept less than his best. Even when he’s ordered by the doctor to relax, he turns his hospital room into an extension of Studio 54. He fears what will happen if he slows down.

The film has quite a few flights of cinematic fantasy. Gideon discusses his life with the mysterious Angelique in the back of a theater. Is she the angel of death? There are elaborate dreamy dance numbers featuring Gideon’s lovers, family and associates. You almost think you’re watching a Fellini film minus the subtitles. There’s no escaping this connection since Fosse brought Giuseppe Rotunno, Fellini’s cinematographer, to capture the action.

While All That Jazz ends on a down note, Fosse gives us an amazing finale. Gideon and O’Connor Flood (an altered version of Sammy Davis Jr.) rip through “Bye Bye Love” with an intensity never achieved by the Everly Brothers. To understand the genius of Fosse, remember that you are watching Roy Scheider matching Ben Vereen in a song and dance number. Who would expect the cop from Jaws to match the dynamic energy of a Broadway vet? Fosse knew how to elevate the talent of others. This is one of those musical numbers where every ounce is expended by the performers. Which is appropriate when you see the next scene.

All That Jazz stands alone in biopics. It gives us the fantasy and reality of showbiz without compromising truth or beauty. Bob Fosse was able to construct a cinematic eulogy.

The DVD

VIDEO:
The picture is 1.85:1 anamorphic. This transfer is a bit more detailed than the 2003 edition. Since Fosse used a lot of smoke so the image is not as crisp in the dream sequences.

AUDIO:
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Stereo. There is also a French Dolby Stereo dub. The new mix is powerful on the musical numbers. The sound levels are richer than on the earlier DVD. The commentary track is provided by editor Alan Heim. He also plays Joe’s editor in the film. He shares stories from both side of the camera. He mentions that him and Fosse didn’t spend all night and weekends in the editing room. During the editing process, Fosse became upset that he didn’t get better performances out of Heim. “I’m not an actor,” the editor said to calm down his boss. Fosse responded, “But you’re a human being. I should be able to get a better performance out of a human being.” The captions are in English and Spanish.

EXTRAS:

Note: This edition contains none of the bonus features from the 2003 edition. You’ll want to hang on to your old copy if you enjoyed Roy Scheider’s commentary and the original behind the scenes featurettes.

Portrait of a Choreographer (22:45) is a series of testimonials about Bob Fosse from the choreographers and performers who knew him. There’s plenty of background footage and production stills to mix with the various talking heads. Sandahl Bergman explains how Fosse’s dance moves differed from other Broadway routines. Joe Gideon’s methods of rehearsal was Fosse way of putting his performers through their paces. Leave it to Liza Minelli to crystallize what made Fosse’s editing work in this film. “He never cut for the sake of cutting,” Liza said. “He cut because he needed to see something. He cut flawlessly because you never even noticed. You just noticed that it’s alive.”

The Soundtrack: Perverting the Standards (7:51) is a continuation of the earlier documentary, but this time focused on the music choices. Joining the speakers are the guys from Devo. Editor Alan Heim explains how they tinkered with the music to make it fit with the dance action.

Movie-Oke “Take Off with Us” (1:20) allows you to sing the musical’s theme song by following the bouncing airplane.

Music Machine allows you to jump to the musical numbers within the film.

Still Galleries allows you to choose between shots of Bob Fosse and the Production Snapshots.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for
All That Jazz: Special Music Edition
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

10
THE VIDEO

8
THE AUDIO

9
THE EXTRAS

8
REPLAY VALUE

9
OVERALL
9
(NOT AN AVERAGE)