Monday, March 15, 2010

All That Jazz: Just Plain Great

"All That Jazz" from 1979, I'm ashamed to say, is one of those movies that I used to inexplicably avoid watching.  I'm not sure why it didn't intrigue me when I was younger.  I have liked Bob Fosse's style of dancing since I saw "Sweet Charity" as a teenager.  However, it was not until a friend of mine (who lists this as one of his favorites too) finally convinced me to watch it a few years ago.  And I must!  It's now one of my tops.  How I could have missed it before, I don't know.

"All That Jazz" is the semi-autobiographical story of the life of writer, director, and choreographer Bob Fosse while directing the original 1975 Broadway production of "Chicago."  During that production, he had a heart attack because of the extreme stress with that show and his laborious work trying to finish the editing of his film "Lenny," starring Dustin Hoffman.  (His smoking and drug use didn't help either.) While he was in the hospital recovering, he got the idea to make a "musical about his death."  (In Shirley MacLaine's autobiography "My Lucky Stars," she wrote that she was the one who suggested the idea to Fosse while visiting him in the hospital, though Fosse later said to not remember if that was true.)

Roy Scheider stars as the Fosse-based lead character Joe Gideon.  Richard Dreyfuss was originally cast to play Gideon, but dropped out of the picture during the rehearsal process.  And though Dreyfuss might have done a good job, Scheider shines in this role, which was very against type.  As critic Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote, "With an actor of less weight and intensity, 'All That Jazz' might have evaporated as we watched it. Mr. Scheider's is a presence to reckon with."  I couldn't agree more.

This film is true proof, though, of what some people will go through to work with greatness.  Fosse, considered by many to be the greatest choreographer of the 20th century, was a notorious womanizer.  Having grown up around strip clubs and such, he grew to love women like a kid loves candy.  His third wife Gwen Verdon (whom the character of Audrey Paris, played by Leland Palmer, is based on) used to say that women were his hobby.  She married Fosse in 1960 after working with him in the original Broadway production of "Damn Yankees."  They later separated in 1971, but never actually got divorced.  In the 70s, his muse and mistress became Ann Reinking.  Yet he even cheated on her as well.  (One such romantic attachment during that time was Jessica Lange, who plays the Angel of Death in the film.)  Yet Reinking stayed by his side, even though he was still tough as nails.  To get the part of Kate in "All That Jazz," which is based on Reinking herself, she had to audition several times before Fosse cast her in the role.  However, with all that emotional torture that those women went through for him, Verdon and Reinking became the driving force to keep Fosse's dancing alive after his death in 1987.

"All That Jazz" was nominated for 9 Oscars that year, and won 4 of them, including Best Editing for Alan Heim, who appears in the film as the editor of the movie within the movie.  It lost out on Best Picture and Best Director to "Kramer vs. Kramer."  However, in 2001, it was included in the National Film Registry.  Unfortunately, it never made AFI's list of 100 Years...100 Movies, which I believe it should have.  I got the pleasure of voting on the 10th Anniversary round of the list, and I voted for "All That Jazz."  Sadly, not enough others did too. 

So, I say for this week, take some advice from Fosse himself: "Live like you'll die tomorrow, work like you don't need the money, and dance like nobody's watching."  Have a wonderful week, everyone, and I'll be back Friday (after I dance the week away).

(Post-tidbit:  Even though Bob Fosse died in 1987, he received a Laurence Olivier Award, along with Ann Reinking, for Best Theatre Choreographer for the revue "Fosse" in 2001.)

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