All That Jazz

Bob Fosse’s bleakest film, All That Jazz also happens to be his most prophetic, as well as one of the best movie musicals ever made.  Considered semi-autobiographical, Jazz stars Roy Scheider–in a career-best performance–as Joe Gideon, a boozing, pill-popping, bed-hopping choreographer who walks the tightrope between life and death.  Gideon leaves in his wake a string of devastated women, including his ex-wife (Leland Palmer), who knows Gideon better than he knows himself, and a girlfriend (played with heartbreaking naivete by Fosse muse Ann Reinking) hell-bent on love despite being trounced on like an old rug.

Fosse only made four films in his career before dropping dead of a heart attack at 53; but each one proved that he was a preternaturally gifted filmmaker, neurotically choosy of each shot.  Fosse switches between scenes of devastating reality, as when Reinking finds Gideon in bed with another woman and cuts him down mercilessly, and avant-garde fantasy sequences reminiscent of the Kit Kat Club in another great Fosse film, Cabaret.  The ending is disturbing and hard to watch, as Gideon, hovering on the brink of death, stages his own demise as a fantastic musical number starring Ben Vereen and the women he bed and lost.

Sharply edited by Fosse and Alan Heim, epic in scope, and electrifying, All That Jazz is a great film.  And, of course, we get countless moments of that great jazz choreography–the popping hips, snapping fingers and ironic winks–that made Fosse a legend.

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