In this dazzling autobiographical musical, inspired by Fellini’s seminal “81/2” (1963), Roy Scheider plays Joe Gideon, director Bob Fosse’s alter ego. Gideon is a renowned New York choreographer who likes to play as hard as he works. His daily routine consists of popping pills, drinking, smoking, and getting very little sleep.
At work, he maniacally drives his dancers and himself in preparation for a new musical, while simultaneously editing a movie he had just directed. On the home front, he tries to keep his daughter, ex-wife and longtime lover happy, while also not neglecting Broadway investors. Above all, he is in touch with his insatiable libido, which he can’t get satisfied.
All these chores exhaust Gideon, who’s on the verge of nervous breakdown and total collapse. After suffering a heart attack and going through cardiac surgery, Gideon begins to hallucinate wild musical numbers that are metaphoric of his own life.
As noted, the parallels between Fosse’s own life and that of his onscreen alter ego are very clear. Fosse was editing his black-and-white biopic “Lenny,” about Lenny Bruce (with Dustin Hoffman), while rehearsing the show “Chicago.” Like Gideon, Fosse suffered heart attack, recovered quickly, and, among other achievements, made several Tony award-winning musicals and this movie.
Cast against type, Scheider, until then known for supporting roles (“The French Connection,” “Jaws”), gives a credible performance. He looks more handsome than the usual, wearing tight black jeans and sporting a lighter hair-just like Fosse.
Fosse cast his former lover Ann Reinking as Joe Gideon’s fading flame, and basically dissected the life of a doomed, dysfunctional anti-hero who alternately evokes sympathy, then repulses with sexual addiction and constant need for ego-gratification.
Fosse’s indulgent vision at times goes beyond criticism to approach self-loathing. The film’s most arresting scene is the graphic depiction of open-heart surgery, an act that had never been seen on mainstream American screens, not to speak of morbid song-and-dance routines set in the operating room.
Production values are very high. It’s a great looking-picture, but not easy to take. The images by Fellini’s regular lenser Giuseppe Rotunno is superb, the dancing frenzied and bearing Fosse’s signature, and the dialogue often poignant and piercing.
As Angelique, Jessica Lange, also a lover of Fosse, plays a similar role to the one that Claudia Cardinale played in Fellini’s masterpiece “81/2.” Self-reflexive, “All That Jazz” could be described s Fosse’s “81/2.”
Oscar Nominations: 9
Director: Bob Fosse
Screenplay (Original): Robert Alan Aurthur, Bob Fosse
Actor: Roy Scheider
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Philip Rosenberg, Tony Walton; Edward Stewart, Gary Brink
Editing: Alan Heim
Costume Design: Albert Wolsky
Original Song Score: Ralph Burns
Oscar Awards: 4
Art Direction-Set Decoration
Original Song Score
Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider)
Angelique (Jessica Lange)
Kate Jagger (Ann Reinking)
Audrey Paris (Leland Palmer)
David Newman (Cliff Gorman)
O’Connor Flood (Ben Veren)
Michelle (Erzebet Foldi)
Dr. Ballinger (Michael Tolan)
Joshua Ben (Max Wright)
William La Messena (Jonesy Hecht)