Bob Fosse is nothing short of a visionary, this is not intended to be specific to his skills a choreographer or to limit the consideration to only his work as a filmmaker. His musicals in all their wildly revisionist nature prove to be an entirely different fare from the conventional work, particularly as it contrasts the spectacular, but often nausea-inducing showy works of the forties and fifties. Using whispers, snaps and pulling heavily from the sounds of the natural world, Fosse creates a type of musical that works from the ground up making the diegetic and non-diegetic necessitate one another for a fully functioning film. This is not, however, to say that his works are somehow entirely situated within reality. As was certainly shown in my earlier review of Cabaret, but almost exclusively a product of All That Jazz, the otherworldly, or the afterlife, is always at play within the experiences of an individual, particularly one who is fracturing and falling apart at the seams. Furthermore, where another director would play up the loving and earnest look at a person falling into their final days and hours, Fosse chooses to go with the real, looking at the plight of a man dying and his success and failures at reconciliation. While I have encountered other attempts at the independent filmmaking approach to the musical All That Jazz is, undoubtedly, the crowning achievement, managing to use the metacinematic in a simple, but appropriate manner and never allowing for the lavish sets necessary for certain numbers to overpower the narrative. While it is a far cry from the composition and symmetry of the illustrious Busby Berkeley musical numbers, it is certainly no less startling or awe-inspiring. All That Jazz works not in spite of the traditional musical film, but because of its very limitless nature in the filmic language. Indeed, Fosse reminds viewers that perhaps next to the expansive possibilities of animated films that the non-linear and extra-diegetic structure of the musical allow for exploration of the human existence well beyond the corporeal, the final result of such an exploration is absolutely riveting in this film.
All That Jazz focuses on the experiences of Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) a theatre director, choreographer and filmmaker. While Joe has managed to establish himself as a legitimate figure in both communities, the stress of such high demands, doubled with his life of philandering have led him to become reliant on a wicked blend of smoking and anxiety reduction pills to keep awake and productive. On the coattails o f a newly anticipated theatrical show with a tinge for the erotic, Joe proves incapable of delivering to his expectations and when negative feedback emerges both in regards to his play and his newly edited film, he collapses at work. When in the hospital it is revealed that he has been suffering seriously from angina pectoris, a particularly troublesome heart dysfunction that is a result of his high stress job. The doctors at the hospital insist that if Joe hopes to survive he must severely limit the amount of stress inducing endeavors he engages in, specifically anything that involves a lot of movement. Joe is completely flippant to such requests and continues to choreograph from his bedroom, while also taking in the various criticisms of his new film. Furthermore, the seemingly unfazed Joe keeps up with his philandering ways, both sleeping with his dancers and attempting to make advances on his day nurse. When it becomes more clear, however, that Joe is going to die from his angina, he begins to move through the various stages of approaching death, which is narratively overlaid by his recent comedic film's narrative, as the actor in the film states the various occurrences, such as bargaining and acceptance as Joe engages in each issue. These challenges include Joe coming to assure his love for his young daughter and aspiring dancer Michelle (Erzsébet Földi), as well as a sort of truce with his ex-wife Audrey (Leland Palmer). In the closing moments of the film, Joe is having trouble navigating between the reality of his hospital bed and his own execution of a musical about his death, the two seem to coalesce into a feverish nightmare, one that has him singing lead, while he caries about intravenous injections, images of his pumping heart serving as the backdrop for the scene. Although it is a grand bit of spectacle, the film ends in a very matter-of-fact kind of way, asserting that in death finality comes to even the act of dreaming.
Temporal and spatial contrast are huge in the musical, as I have mentioned earlier, the escapist nature of the genre and the necessity of advancing time considerably result in musical numbers serving as transitory spaces between one event and another. In All That Jazz, the various performances should also serve a similar factor, but it is almost as though in this situation the music and Joe's own relationship to the songs is stuck in some sort of liminal space. These moments are liminal in that they reflect Joe as he is lost amidst two opposing forces, that which causes him to identify as one embodiment of the self or other. This is done most innocently, although it might not be apparent, when Joe creates the Air Erotica musical number, wherein he must learn to navigate between his own creations as an artist and his own lustful and passionate desires, the backers for his show being confused by the graphic sexual nature of the various moments, completely overlooking the ways in which such a number might suggest a sexual politics that is far more complex than they could begin to imagine. It is perhaps least innocent at a time when it would seem so, which occurs when Joe's daughter Michelle and his girlfriend Katie (Ann Reinking) jointly perform a song and dance number in his apartment. At this point, Joe must decide whether he wants to fully commit to being a father figure in the traditional sense, or a paternal figure in a sexual sense, both girls seeking a degree of affection that is eerily and problematically similar. These two sequences are somewhat similar in composition, it the final sequence, which features Joe as the lead in "Bye Bye Life" that absolutely traipses the lines of liminality, especially considering that it is performed, assumedly, in Joe's mind, wherein all that he witnesses and learns is wholly an internal struggle, completely detached from the corporeal space. However, because it is about the death of Joe it has a inherent tie to corporeality, the stage thus becoming an embodied thing, something that Joe must navigate one last time free from the reigns of temporal and spatial control. The liminal here is expansive, because in death all the spaces and boundaries appear to become definitively destroyed.
Key Scene: The "Bye Bye Life" number is the final portion of the film and it certainly builds to it in a perfected manner.
Get this film. It is perfect.