“It’s showtime, folks!” The paradigm espoused by the director-choreographer at the center of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz represents clearly a “life is show business/show business is life” mindset. And the film makes good on that promise as one of the most provocative, surrealistic quasi-autobiographical musicals begins to unfold. All That Jazz is really like no other movie musical ever made, and its uneasy but gripping amalgamation of song and dance with adult views of sexual coupling and ambition and ego run wild pretty much guarantees its singular place among the great achievements of 20th century cinema.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 3.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 2 Hr. 3 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVDoversized keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer), DVD-9 (dual layer)
Region: A, 1
Release Date: 08/26/2014
As stage and screen director/choreographer Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) hovers between life and death after a serious heart bypass operation, he relives monumental moments from his life as the Angel of Death (Jessica Lange) questions and comments on his life choices. We see a man consumed by work almost simultaneously editing a film while also directing and choreographing a new Broadway show while doing a balancing act with an ex-wife (Leland Palmer) and daughter (Erzsebet Foldi), current lover (Ann Reinking), and latest tryst (Deborah Geffner). To keep up this impossible pace, he chain smokes packs of cigarettes a day, pops Dexedrine as if it were jelly beans, and sleeps little choosing to spend time in the editing room when he’s not in the rehearsal hall. But talent wills out: the picture is better than the producers had hoped and the new show seems to be on the right track to open successfully if only his health can hold up.
The Production Rating: 5/5
Though director Bob Fosse denied the movie’s complete autobiographical nature, the script by Fosse and Robert Alan Aurthur certainly incorporates actual events from Fosse’s life (including his time as a teen tapper in a house of burlesque and the pivotal period in his life when he was cutting the movie Lenny and mounting Chicago for the stage when he suffered his own heart attack). Not only that but the three primary women in his life, played by Leland Palmer, Erzsebet Foldi, and Ann Reinking, are either spitting images of the real thing (ex-wife Gwen Verdon and daughter Nicole Fosse) or the real thing (Reinking who was his real life girl friend and muse for many years). Though the fragmented storytelling and running conversations with the Angel of Death come straight from Fellini, there’s nothing in Fellini to compare with many of the musical sequences in the film which are all singularly conceived and executed, and even sequences where Joe searches for inspiration with his daughter as a dance partner in a rehearsal room or he watches ex-wife Audrey working through some singular moves add a kind of dance ambiance to the picture that gives All That Jazz its unique cinematic fingerprint.
Though A Chorus Line famously begins with the audition number “I Hope I Get It,” Fosse managed in cinematic terms to portray the look and feel of a Broadway audition with the seismically jolting “On Broadway” opening number. As hundreds of Broadway dancers are whittled down to a couple of dozen as the jazzy rhythms of George Benson’s rendition reverberate on the soundtrack, Fosse uses every cinematic angle possible and razor-sharp editing to capture the hope and heartbreak and the sheer athleticism and poetic beauty of a dancer’s body in motion as final selections are made. The numbers that follow, everything from a genial “Everything Old Is New Again” patter number to the stupendous mating of razzle-dazzle show business savvy in “Take Off With Us” segueing into “Airotica,” sheer sexual dalliance first in three potential couples heterosexual or homosexual in nature and then in more elaborate groupings are simply in classes by themselves, all unique and all uniquely Fosse. If the musical hallucinations at the climax stretch on a bit too long with the ironic byplays overworked in the lyrics to “After You’ve Gone,” “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” “Who’s Sorry Now,” and “Some of the Days” (the latter sung unsteadily by twelve-year old Foldi), the stagings of the numbers are all tops, and the “Bye, Bye Love” finale ends on the expectantly jarring note.
Though not remotely a dancer, Roy Scheider convinces the viewer in his genius work as a choreographer in one of the truly undersung performances of musical cinema, and the ladies of his choosing are all marvelously enacted by Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer, Erzsebet Foldi, and Jessica Lange. Playing brilliantly the fictionalized versions of composer and lyricist John Kander and Fred Ebb are Robert Hitt and Anthony Holland. As the featured dancer in the sensual “Airotica” number, statuesque Sandahl Bergman makes quite an impression, and Joe’s assistant Kathryn is played by Fosse’s actual assistant Kathryn Doby. Cliff Gorman playing a Lenny Bruce-like standup comic is featured in a funny monologue about death in the film Joe is editing (ironically, Gorman won a Tony Award playing Bruce in the Broadway version of Lenny made into a movie by, who else, Bob Fosse). John Lithgow can be glimpsed in a couple of scenes as a rival Broadway director (modeled on Hal Prince and Michael Bennett) who is offered the job of taking over the show if Joe dies.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully delivered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Taken from the camera negative, the image quality is exceptionally clear and clean with vivid color, true black levels and skin tones, and sharpness that brings out the best and worst of the imagery (the open heart surgery sequence intercut with a group meeting about the show’s fate is still stomach churning). Contrast is consistently applied to serve up the best rendition of the movie ever on home video. The film has been divided into 26 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 sound mix is unquestionably true to the original theatrical mix, but it seems to occasionally lack presence. Dialogue is always easily discernible, and Ralph Burns’ Oscar-winning music adaptation never interferes with the speech or the sound effects, and there are certainly no age-related problems to interfere with the listening experience.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Commentaries: the film’s editor Alan Heim and star Roy Scheider offer occasional comments throughout about the making of the film and its reception.
Special Features Rating: 5/5
Ann Reinking/Erzsebet Foldi Interview (33:59, HD): the co-stars and old friends meet and reminisce about the making of the film and about Fosse’s work ethic and talents as a director and choreographer.
Alan Heim Interview (15:19, HD): the film’s editor discusses his work on All That Jazz but also his experiences of working with Fosse on Lenny and Star 80.
Tomorrow Interview (31:51, HD): Choreographers Bob Fosse and Agnes De Mille are interviewed by host Tom Snyder in 1980 and talk about aspects of their jobs that they enjoy or abhor.
Sam Wasson Interview (20:43, HD): the author of a biography on Bob Fosse discusses his life and career focusing especially on the aspects of All That Jazz that really resonated in Fosse’s own life.
The South Bank Show (27:01, HD): Bob Fosse is interviewed about his career in 1981.
Portrait of a Choreographer (22:45, HD): a 2007 documentary in which those who had worked with him (Liza Minnelli, Sandahl Bergman, Alan Heim) as well as director-choreographers of today such as Rob Marshall, John DeLuca, Adam Shankman, and Kenny Ortega sing the praises of Fosse’s genius and particularly All That Jazz.
Gene Shalit Interview (26:14, HD): conducted in 1986, a year before his death, Gene Shalit conducts a very probing interview with Fosse just before the Broadway opening of Big Deal (which would earn him another choreography Tony but was a fast flop) and prior to his working on the revival of Sweet Charity with Debbie Allen which would prove to be his last work.
On the Set (7:58, HD): a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the “On Broadway” number being staged and shot by the director. Roy Scheider is also interviewed in costume in a 3:54 clip.
The Soundtrack: Perverting the Standards (7:50, HD): Rob Marshall, Liza Minnelli, and musicians Glen Ballard, Jerry Casalle, and Diane Warren all discuss the choice of songs used in the movie giving it a singular appeal.
The Making of “On Broadway” (3:36, HD): George Benson recalls where the inspiration for his version of the song came from and his memories of the live recording session before an audience.
Theatrical Trailer (1:41, HD)
Twenty-Nine Page Booklet: contains the chapter listing, the cast and crew lists (though it errs in not crediting the fabulous dance ensemble which is quite the life’s blood of the movie), a couple of stills, and author Hilton Als’ analysis of Fosse’s life and work.
DVD Copy: contained on two discs in the case of this dual-format release.
Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
Winner of four Academy Awards (for production design, scoring, costumes, and editing) and the 1980 Palme d’Or at Cannes, All That Jazz is a singular achievement. Previously problematic on home video, the film now looks and sounds simply splendid on this Criterion release with a bonus feature package that puts most discs to shame. Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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