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Film / All That Jazz

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"It's showtime, folks!"

All That Jazz (1979) is Bob Fosse's gimlet-eyed take on an especially hectic moment in his creative life: the period in the mid-'70s when he was directing and choreographing the Broadway musical Chicago while also directing the film version of Lenny. Fosse's Author Avatar, Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), spends the film smoking, drinking, womanizing, and popping pills, all the while flirting with the Angel of Death (Jessica Lange), while the various women in his life look on with love, helplessness, or just plain exasperation. Between bouts of indulgence, he tirelessly works on his film, The Stand-Up, and choreographs some brilliant musical numbers.

The opening audition sequence, set to George Benson's rendition of "On Broadway", has been endlessly imitated (Staying Alive, the film version of A Chorus Line, etc., etc.). One of Paula Abdul's music videos paid homage to "Airotica," the second half of the "NY/LA" number.

Written by Fosse and Robert Alan Aurthur, directed and choreographed by Fosse. It won Academy Awards for Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, and Score. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, and Actor (Scheider).

Compare/contrast and Synecdoche, New York.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Cliff Gorman's Davis Newman, besides being a Take That! to Dustin Hoffman, also references Gorman's own performance in the title role of the Broadway production of Lenny.
  • Amicable Exes: Joe and Audrey seem to get along quite well — he's directing NY/LA so that she can star in it, and while they have a sort of a combative relationship, it's Audrey who stays with Joe in the hospital and takes care of him until his death.
    Dying Dream Joe: At least I won't have to lie to you anymore!
  • Arc Words: “It’s showtime folks!”
  • As Himself: Lighting designer Jules Fisher.
    • Ann Reinking as Kate Jagger.
    • Fosse's regular assistant choreographer Kathryn Doby.
    • The film's editor, Alan Heim as Eddie the Editor.
  • Author Avatar: Joe Gideon.
  • Bowdlerise: TV edits have to omit "Airotica," even though it's a key moment in the plot.
  • The Cameo: Wallace Shawn, Nicole Fosse.
  • Captain Obvious: "They're taking their clothes off!"
  • The Casanova: Joe Gideon.
    Kate Jagger: You can go out with any girl, any girl in town!
    Joe Gideon: [points to Kate] That's right. I go out with any girl in town! ...I stay in with you.
  • Casting Couch: Gideon hires Victoria Porter out of lust, and winds up in bed with her shortly thereafter. Her attempts to use this to her advantage, however, don't go very well.
    Dancer #1: Fuck him, he never picks me!
    Dancer #2: I did fuck him, and he never picks me either.
  • Casting Gag: Ben Vereen's turn as creepy variety show host O'Connor Flood is extremely close to his role as the Leading Player in Pippin.
  • Chess with Death: Sort of. As flirty as he does to Angel of Death, he sometimes can be seen rejecting her intimate advances as he struggles to live. Especially after the "Hospital Hallucination" sequence, where he desperately asks if he's still alive, while being caressed by Angel of Death.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The producers seem more interested in profits than anything else (at one point discussing which companies will pay to have a song in their ads while the song is being written), and, when Joe is hospitalized, they start betting on him dying for an insurance payoff, while courting Lucas Sargent, another director, as a contingency.
  • Creator Cameo: Editor Alan Heim appears briefly as the editor of The Stand-Up.
  • Dawson Casting: In-Universe, Audrey is probably close to Joe Gideon's age (40s), but plays the 24 year-old main character of NY/LA.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dr. Ballinger has shades of this:
    Dr. Ballinger: Mr. Gideon is having severe attacks of angina, they could possibly lead to a massive coronary.
    Joe Gideon: Aw shit, I've gotta get back to rehearsals! I'm fine! What do doctors know?
    Dr. Ballinger: About angina? Just a little more than show-people, Mr. Gideon. Now if you wanna leave that's fine, but I think you'll die if you do.
  • Death Is Dramatic: Joe Gideon goes out in a hallucinated production number, complete with mostly adoring audience. Subverted by his actual death just being Zipping Up The Body Bag.
  • Death Seeker: Gideon spends the entire film flirting with Angelique, the Angel of Death herself. Most of the plot revolves around the likelihood of him experiencing death.
  • Death Song: "Bye Bye Life"
  • Dream Ballet: "Bye Bye Life" and the numbers leading up to it, sort of.
  • Dying Dream: The "Bye Bye Life" sequence.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Joe, when the Angel of Death comes to collect him.
  • Flatline: An electrocardiogram is built into "Bye Bye Life." We hear Gideon flatline at the end.
  • Gallows Humor: A dying Joe stumbles into the morgue, where he's met by a couple of confused morticians. He turns to them, smirks, and says "I'll be back" before turning and walking out.
  • The Hero Dies: The last shot in the film is Joe's body bag being closed.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Averted. Gideon's symptoms are extremely realistic.
  • Hopeless Auditionees: There are several in the chorus call sequence.
  • Horrible Hollywood: Broadway variant. Trying to get a role is an exercise in agony, if you haven't sold your soul to get your projects made it's because you haven't had them made yet, and the producers care more about who'll shell out for Product Placement than actually making something worth putting on the stage.
  • Informed Flaw: Victoria is supposed to be the weakest dancer in the cast, but doesn't always look like it. (Victoria can't sing, either, but we only get to see the composer's agonized reaction.)
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Joe doesn't seem like it at first, but as the movie goes on, you see he does genuinely care deeply for his daughter, Michelle. This even comes to play with Audrey (his ex-wife), who he has taken on directing NY/LA for, and Kate (his current-girlfriend), at least a little, despite his constant unfaithfulness. It's even implied in the final number that the reason Joe finally did die is that Kate had left him for someone else, and didn't love him anymore and it made him give up.
    Joe Gideon: (to Audrey) If I die, I'm sorry for all the bad things I did to you. {to Kate) And if I live, I'm sorry for all the bad things I'm gonna do to you.
  • Jukebox Musical: The soundtrack is made up of a mix of popular songs and showtunes ("On Broadway", "Everything Old Is New Again"), classical pieces ("Concerto Alla Rustica") and new arrangements of songs sung by the stars ("Some Of These Days", "After You've Gone", or "Bye Bye Life") with new lyrics or music. The only original numbers on the soundtrack are "Take Off With Us", the "Airotica" sequence, and the sort-of song "Hospital Hop".
  • Mating Dance: The "Airotica" ballet.
    Executive: Uh-oh, I think we just lost the family audience.
  • Mood Whiplash: The climax of Bye Bye Love is interrupted by Zipping Up The Body Bag, which is then followed by There's No Business (Like Show Business) camped up by Ethel Merman.
    • Earlier in the film, scene after scene of cynicism, sleaze, and manipulation is suddenly interrupted by Joe's girlfriend and daughter performing a home-brewed dance routine set to the tune "Everything Old is New Again"...leaving Joe genuinely warmed and touched. (According to the DVD commentary, Roy Schieder had to ask Fosse to stop the scene more than once because it struck him as so sweet and beautiful that he was genuinely being moved to tears.)
  • Morality Pet: Michelle is this for Joe.
  • Morning Routine: Joe Gideon's morning routine includes Vivaldi's "Concerto Alla Rustica" on cassette tape, eyedrops, smoking in the shower, taking Dexedrine pills with Alka-Seltzer, and finally declaring into a mirror: "It's showtime, folks!"
  • Muse Abuse: Joe Gideon is portrayed as blatantly using the suffering his inveterate womanizing and over-the-top lifestyle causes for his friends, family, and lovers as inspiration for his work. They react pretty much as expected.
    Audrey Paris: Well, I don't know about the others; but I think it's the best work you've ever done, [in tears] you son of a bitch!
  • The Musical Musical
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: In addition to Joe Gideon being Bob Fosse's Author Avatar, Cliff Gorman's Davis Newman is clearly based on Lenny Bruce.
  • Prima Donna Director: Lucas Sargent has shades of this, especially during one scene in the diner — he's approached by a fan asking for his autograph. Sargent happily begins to sign said autograph as the fan praises his work, but his expression notably and instantly stiffens when she tells him that "Next to Joe Gideon you're my favourite director. I'm sorry your show was a flop". He bitterly finishing signing her autograph, before violently insisting that he'll get the cheque.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Dr. Ballinger, the doctor who first diagnoses and looks after Gideon, and who, exasperated by Joe's antics, is constantly explaining to him that his lifestyle and behaviour will lead to his death. Doubles as an Ignored Expert
  • Roman à Clef: Avowedly so.
    • Joe Gideon is Fosse.
    • Audrey Paris is his ex-wife, Gwen Verdon, and Michelle is their daughter, Nicole.
    • Kate Jagger is Ann Reinking.
    • Gideon's rival, Lucas Sergeant, is director-choreographer Michael Bennett.
    • The composer-lyricist Paul Dann is Fred Ebb.
    • NY/LA is Chicago, which Fosse was rehearsing at the time of his heart attack.
    • All That Jazz refers to the opening song of Chicago.
    • The Stand-Up is Lenny.
  • Rule of Three: O'Connor Flood is heard introducing someone on three occasions. The first two times, he introduces them as "a great entertainer, a great humanitarian, and my close friend for (X) years" (Joe and whoever's with him at the time make bets on how many years O'Connor will say, and always lowball it). The third time, he's introducing Joe, and he is not nearly as complimentary.
  • Scenery Porn: The sets of Gideon's dream sequences are all exquisitely designed with prominent Vaudeville theater motifs. It's telling that it won the Oscars for both Art and Costuming.
  • Self-Deprecation: The entire film is essentially an exercise in it.
    O'Connor Flood: Ladies and gentlemen, let me lay on you a so-so entertainer, not much of a humanitarian, and this cat was never nobody's friend. In his final appearance on the great stage of life — uh, you can applaud if you want to — Mr. Joe Gideon!
    • Fosse's producers said that everyone he mocked in the film took it with a grain of salt because the person Fosse was hardest and most cynical towards was himself, Warts and All.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The film is all the way on the Cynicism side of the scale, to the point of nearly toppling off the side.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Especially at the end, with the one-two punch of "Bye Bye Life" and "There's No Business Like Show Business."
  • Take That!:
    • Davis Newman, played by Cliff Gorman, sends up Dustin Hoffman, who was Lenny Bruce in the film version of Lenny. On Broadway, Lenny had been played by...Cliff Gorman (who was understandably displeased that the film role went to Hoffman instead of to him).
    • The opening is effectively Bob Fosse declaring that he can do A Chorus Line better than Michael Bennett could.
  • The Rival: Lucas Sargent is this for Joe Gideon. Overlaps a bit with Unknown Rival, since Joe doesn't seem to pay him much mind.
  • Title Drop:
    O'Connor Flood: This cat allowed himself to be adored, but not loved, and his success in showbusiness was matched by failure in his personal relationship bag, now that's where he really bombed. And he came to believe that work, showbusiness, love, his whole life, even himself, and all that jazz, was bullshit.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Joe still keeps up his hard-drinking, chain-smoking, womanizing lifestyle, despite having a heart attack. Enforced, as Joe's unwillingness to accept his own mortality ("flirting with death") is a key theme of the film.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To Federico Fellini's , another surrealist Roman à Clef about a famous director struggling with his health, relationships and creative endeavors.
  • Zipping Up The Body Bag: Accompanied by Soundtrack Dissonance.