All That Jazz is a masterpiece. The film transcends genre, as it’s a perfect blend of musical, dark comedy, biopic and fantasy. It’s a self-portrait, really, of co-writer and director Bob Fosse, and it’s made all the more impressive by the fact that it marked the second to last feature film from the man who had already helmed films like Cabaret, Sweet Charity, and Damn Yankees—talk about going out with a bang. It’s a seminal piece of cinema that is both wildly entertaining and introspective, ruminating on life and death in unique fashion, and the film has now been given the grand Criterion Collection treatment. It’s an absolute must-own for any serious film fan. Read my full All That Jazz Criterion Blu-ray review after the jump.
All That Jazz is largely based on the life of Fosse himself, drawing inspiration from the time when he was trying to simultaneously edit his film Lenny while also staging the 1975 Broadway production of Chicago. I describe it more as a self-portrait than an autobiography, as Fosse uses fantastical elements to really delve deep into his own psyche. Roy Scheider leads the film as Joe Gideon, a theater director and choreographer addicted to his work, alcohol, cigarettes (he smokes in the shower), women, Visine, and copious amounts of Dexedrine.
The montages of his morning routine (all set to Vivaldi) are the perfect encapsulation of who this man is and what it takes for him to get out the door, and we follow Gideon as he attempts to work on his latest Broadway musical and edit a Hollywood film while intermittently flirting with an angel of death named Angelique (Jessica Lange) during some fantasy sequences. His workaholic nature starts to take a toll on his body, and though his girlfriend (Ann Reinking), ex-wife (Leland Palmer), and daughter all try to keep him grounded, his stressful condition worsens over the course of the film, climaxing in one of the best one-two punch finale/epilogues ever seen onscreen.
The film is positively hypnotic, as Fosse brings the story to life with a vigor and aggressiveness that makes it all the more visceral. The musical numbers are incredible, showcasing Fosse’s fantastic range—who can forget the palpable sexuality that flows throughout the “Take Off with Us” sequence? Moreover, the film has something to say as Fosse essentially ruminates on life and death in a way that is both personal and universal. All That Jazz is, quite simply, all that.
As with all Criterion Collection releases, the Blu-ray of All That Jazz comes with a bounty of special features. But this Criterion entry is one of their more jam-packed releases, and you will not be lacking for material to dig through. In addition to a feature-length audio commentary by editor Alan Heim, recorded in 2007, some of the highlights include:
- Selected-Scene Commentary – Recorded in 2001, Scheider offers commentary on five scenes in which he discusses the rougher edges of his character, Fosse’s style, the production history, and more.
- Reinking and Foldi (34 minutes) – Recorded in 2014, Ann Reinking and Erzsebet Foldi talk about their work with Fosse on the film, the dancing styles, and of course their famous “Everything Old Is New Again” scene.
- Alan Heim (16 minutes) – Editor Alan Heim—who won the Oscar for his work on the film—talks about the editing of the feature, its unique visual style, its long production history, and his work on Lenny in a new interview recorded in 2014.
- Tomorrow (32 minutes) – An archival interview with Fosse from 1980 in which he talks about his life, the erotic nature of All That Jazz, and more. A fantastic watch.
- Sam Wasson (21 minutes) – A 2014 interview with Fosse author Sam Wasson about the life and legacy of the director/writer/choreographer.
- The South Bank Show (27 minutes) – Another archival interview with Fosse, this time from 1981 and focusing more on his work as a dancer and choreographer.
- Gene Shalit Interview with Bob Fosse (27 minutes) – Recorded in 1986, this interview sees Fosse discussing his work on Broadway, the differences between stage and screen, criticism, and more.
- On the Set (12 minutes) – Two archival videos showing footage from the set of All That Jazz during the cattle call scene.
- Portrait of a Choreographer (23 minutes) – A short documentary about the signature choreography style of Fosse. Features interviews with Liza Minnelli, Rob Marshall, and others.
All That Jazz is an important piece of American cinema and also one of the best “biopics” ever made, blurring the line between fact and fiction. This Criterion Collection release is an absolute must own not just for fans of the film or Fosse, but fans of film in general. It’s been well worth the wait.