HTF REVIEW: "All That Jazz" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Apr 21, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Ronald Epstein

    All That Jazz

    Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
    Year: 1979
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 123 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Subtitles: English

    "To be on the wire is life. The rest is waiting"

    I will never forget nor forgive the 1979 Oscars.
    Up for Best Picture that year were a handful of
    true heavyweights that included All That Jazz,
    Apocalypse Now, Breaking Away, Norma Rae and
    Kramer vs. Kramer. In what had to be one of
    the biggest upsets in Oscar history, Kramer vs.
    walked away with the honors. I always
    felt that anyone could have easily made a film like
    Kramer vs. Kramer. On the other hands, it
    was films like Apocalypse Now and All That
    that truly defined that era.


    I was a mere teenager of 16 when I first saw
    All That Jazz in 1979. Not being a huge fan
    of musical films, I saw it because it happened to
    be one of the first "R" rated films I was able to
    sneak into. Little did I know I was about to
    witness one of the most remarkable films I have
    ever had the opportunity to see. Today, All
    That Jazz
    stands amongst my top 5 all-time
    favorites, and my appreciation for the film still
    continues to grow with each viewing.

    Choreographer-turned-director Bob Fosse (Cabaret,
    Lenny) turns the camera on himself in this semi-
    autobiographical account of his multi faceted
    professional and personal life. Through a brilliant
    performance by Roy Scheider, we watch as Bob Fosse
    examines his own obsessive life as a director and
    choreographer as well as a womanizer, drinker, and
    pill-popping druggie.


    As the film opens, we meet Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider),
    a Numero Uno game player and overstressed stage/film
    director who begins his mornings with the plopping of
    alka-setlzers, the popping of Dexedrine pills, and
    the squirting of Visine in his bloodshot eyes.
    Facing himself in the mirror, Gideon quirps, "It's
    showtime folks!


    As we watch Gideon falling from a tightrope, we
    realize he is on the "tightrope of life." We find
    him speaking with Angelique/Death (Jessica Lange),
    who through many scenes reminisces with Joe about
    his life; all the while flirting, complimenting,
    and slowly seducing him. We know Gideon is on a
    collision course with mortality, but how much longer
    he can refrain from giving Death its kiss is still


    Through most of the film we witness Joe's building
    anxiety as he tries to editing his film about a
    comic, while rehearsing a new Broadway show in
    which his ex-wife, Audrey (Leland Palmer) is starring.
    At the same time, he's trying to be a reasonable
    father to his 12-year-old daughter Michelle
    (Erzsebet Foldi), trying not to hurt his girlfriend
    Kate (Ann Reinking) too much, and trying to get into
    the leotards of as many girls as possible, especially
    Victoria's (Deborah Geffner). Joe has reached the
    overload point of too much work, women, booze,
    cigarettes, uppers and increasing doubts about
    the value of his entire life.


    Most of the film's first hour is devoted to watching
    the producer/choreographer put together his newest
    Broadway sensation. Being that this is a musical,
    the first part of this film features a terrific
    musical number, Take off with us that suddenly
    turns into a steamier AirRotica sequence that
    is ultimately sparkling, sensual and spectacular,
    and features an explosive ensemble of dancers.


    The second half of the film concentrates more on
    Joe's failing health and heart attack. Since Joe
    is temporarily out of action, the show's moneymen
    discover they can actually make money if he dies
    before the show opens. Fosse intercuts this scene
    with a gruesome open-heart surgery footage that may
    be difficult for many to watch. The last third of
    the film takes place in the hospital, as we watch
    Joe hurtle toward his fate. Joe makes the transition
    from life to death, accepting the idea of eternal
    life with one woman--Angelique. In the climactic
    episode, Joe imagines his death as a TV spectacular
    presided over by "host" Ben Vereen. This musical
    number is the ultimate highlight of the entire film
    as we watch Joe Gideon's farewell to his young
    daughter and ex-wife followed by his gliding exit
    into the arms of Death.

    Roy Scheider does the best work of his career, and
    along with the breathtaking musical numbers, All
    That Jazz
    is one of the best "eye candy" musicals
    of all time, as well as being one of the best films
    to come out of the 70s.

    I'd like to think that I was the person responsible
    for getting All That Jazz to DVD in the first
    place. It was about three years ago during a
    visit to Fox studios, I had asked Fox Home
    Entertainment's VP Peter Staddon if he would look
    into releasing the film to the format. He assured
    me he would do what he could, and within a year I
    started hearing rumours that the DVD was in early

    The DVD was originally slated to be released in
    2002. The DVD's R1 release date was ultimately
    put on hold after the studio anticipated the
    availabilty of additional commentary content.
    When that deal fell through, the DVD sort of
    went into limbo, awaiting the most opportune
    release window.

    How is the transfer?

    All That Jazz went through a rather lengthy
    and costly restoration effort after the film was
    ressurected from the Fox film vaults and found to
    be almost completely destroyed. The fate of this
    movie was similar to the many motion pictures that
    suffered from the quality of the chemicals used
    for the films by Kodak in the 70s.

    Enter Schawn Belston's, Executive director of
    worldwide library services and film preservation
    at Fox Entertainment. Belston was handed the
    responsibility of restoring All That Jazz,
    which turned out to be a great job for him, since
    it is amongst his all-time favorite films.

    I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Belston at Fox
    Studios last year when he gave us a sneak peek of
    the restoration he had just completed. Schawn
    explained that the film's original negative was
    in piss-poor condition after having been used over
    and over again countless times in order to make
    duplicate prints. There was extensive sprocket
    damage and even huge thumb prints throughout an
    entire reel.

    I tell you all of this because it's important that
    while this transfer did not meet my expectations,
    I can't help but feel that the film looks better
    than it ever has on any previous format. The print
    itself is in immaculate condition. There is no
    evidence of scratches, blemishes or dirt to be seen
    anywhere. Thge only defect in the print I saw was
    a brief second of picture flutter during the musical
    number, "Everything Old is New Again."

    The overall problem I had with this transfer is
    that it still looks like a film from the
    70s period. Images are fairly sharp and detailed,
    though most of the film suffers from excessive
    background grain. Colors seem to have held up
    pretty well here, and for the most part are very
    stable. The only exception I found was in the
    film's opening "On Broadway" number where
    the deep reds of the theater's seats and drapes
    tend to be oversaturated. While black levels never
    become as deep as one would like, flesh tones look
    mostly accurate throughout.


    The other problem I had concerned the film's
    English Dolby surround track, a feature that I
    understand may not be available in the R2 DVD release.
    When All That Jazz opened theatrically, it
    played mono in most theaters. Fox has restored the
    film with a Dolby Stereo surround track.

    I expected this film would be a basic surround mix,
    but was saddened to find that during the initial
    first hour and 13 minutes, the film never became
    an immersive audio experience. The entire weight
    of the soundtrack rests in the center channel, with
    small bits of supporting audio in the main speakers
    that seem to cut in and out. The film's first musical
    number, Take off with us plays entirely in
    the center channel, lacking any sort of dynamics or
    stereo separation.

    It wasn't until the very end of Chapter 13 during
    Gideon's Hospital partying that a jazz piece suddenly
    kicks this soundtrack in the ass, forcing the speakers
    to come alive as if a light was suddenly switched on
    after for being dark for half the film. For the
    remaining 45+ minutes of the feature, we get the
    kind of bass line, stereo separation and music
    surround effect one would expect from a film like
    this. Though dynamics are still a bit limited, it
    was great to hear the film's final numbers play with
    a nice wraparound effect across the rear channels
    and added .LFE support that underline the soundtrack's
    toe-tappin' drum beats.

    Special Features


    Instead of a feature-length commentary, we are
    treated to 23 Screen specific commentaries
    by actor Roy Scheider. Honestly, I'm in favor
    of this sort of commentary as it enables a viewer
    to directly access a particular topic that interests
    he or she the most. The topics here range from
    A Hard look at the addicted man; Becoming Joe
    Gideon; Being a dancer; Almost losing Angelique

    to Having a heart attack. Though each of
    the commentary segments are short, the material
    presented is quite informative. In Becoming Joe
    , for example, we learn that actor Richard
    Dreyfuss was originally slated for the part, that
    is, until he confided to his pal Roy Scheider that
    he didn't want to work with Fosse. It just so
    happened that after Dreyfuss quit the picture, Fosse's
    office contacted Scheider about the film. In
    Heart Attack, Scheider reveals he asked
    Bob Fosse what a real heart attack feels like. Fosse
    told him it feels like a great weight is placed upon
    one's chest. In the scenes that we see Scheider's
    face crying out in pain, there was actually an assisant
    placing his knee down upon the actor's chest so that
    experience could be simulated. In Almost losing
    , we learn about Columbia's concern
    of the film going over budget, and the studio's plan
    to remove Jessica Lange and the Angel Of Death from
    the picture. This is just a very small example of
    some of the highly interesting information that
    Scheider brings to the table.

    Now this is a real treat for fans of the


    Shot during the production of the film, Roy
    Scheider gives up some of his time to talk a little
    about the film, working with Bob Fosse, playing
    the role of Joe Gideon and the physical demands
    of the role. Each of the three filmed interview
    segments lasts for about a minute each.


    A look at the man himself -- Bob Fosse -- in five
    small clips that show him directing and choreographing
    the film's opening "Cattle Call" number. While the
    presented material is overly brief, it's a real treat
    to see this sort of stuff included on the DVD.

    Final Thoughts


    All That Jazz is an absolutely brilliant film
    that delivers many excellent acting performances and
    several outstanding musical and dance numbers.

    I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Schawn
    Belston for putting so much care into this film's
    restoration. Though my critique of the transfer may
    sound unappreciative, I think that my expectations
    were much too high. I realize this film was
    practically rebuilt from the bottom up. There is
    no argument that this film has never looked better
    on any previous format.

    I'd also like to thank Peter Staddon for putting
    the wheels in motion and getting this DVD released.
    This is not the first nor last time your studio has
    listened to the voices within this forum.

    Anyone that has never seen All That Jazz owes
    it to themselves to check this film out upon its
    release in August. Those already familiar with the
    film probably are awaiting a preorder opportunity.

    Release Date: August 19, 2003

    All screen captures have been further compressed.
    They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
    represent actual picture quality
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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    Regarding the look of the transfer can that be attributed to the quality of the film stock used in 1970s?

  3. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

    Dec 20, 1999
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    Thanks for the early review, Ron. Your description of the sound mix sounds very much like what I remember hearing theatrically back in 1979. My memory is that it was a very quiet track until that point in the film.

    Best line of dialogue in the film: "I wonder if Stanley Kubrick ever gets depressed," said when Gideon is editing his film.
  4. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

    May 19, 2001
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  5. Joel C

    Joel C Screenwriter

    Oct 23, 1999
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    I was interested in this anyway (I liked Lenny and Cabaret), but for $14.95 list I can't pass it up.
  6. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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  7. Jordan_E

    Jordan_E Cinematographer

    Jan 3, 2002
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    ALL THAT JAZZ really challenged my then 17 year old perception of the movie going experience when I first saw it all those years ago. Life, death, obssession, genius, and countless other concepts virtually alien to me at the time. I can't wait for this release!
  8. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

    Jun 15, 2001
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  9. David Coleman

    David Coleman Supporting Actor

    Jan 5, 2000
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    ALL THAT JAZZ was the first and maybe only movie where I came out the theater and said WOW! This is tremendous filmaking and I always felt that Fosse was the king of non-linear story telling in film!

    It's been many years since i've seen this one but rest assured for $14.95 you can be sure i'll purchase this one!!
  10. Robert James Clark

    Robert James Clark Second Unit

    Oct 25, 2001
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    This is a brilliant movie that eerily foreshadows Fosse's own death.

    The concluding scene (zzzzzzip) is one of the hardest scenes to watch of any movie I can think of...
  11. ErichH

    ErichH Screenwriter

    Mar 1, 2001
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    Wooh Baby, 1979 was one amazing year for me. Alien and All That Jazz. I came away from the theater just blown away and I knew I'd experienced a pair of JEWELS.

    In spite of what may be a limited quality on the DVD, I think it's a miracle that it's making it's way to us.

    Ron, if you truly had anything to do with saving this one, then THANK YOU!
    ATJ has always been in my top 5 as well. It was #1 for years.

  12. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Cinematographer

    Dec 10, 2000
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    All that Jazz looked very grainy in the theater. The film was basically a mono movie with stereo musical sequences.
    However On Broadway and Take OFf with Us were VERY stereo in the theater and on the old flat laserdisc. However, by the time the film went to its first letterlox laser transfer, all the songs had gone to mono untill the long finale, as you describe for the new DVD. Wonder why?
  13. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    I want to stress this again....

    Although the transfer did not meet my expectations,
    I am not unhappy with the job Fox has done here.
    When you consider the condition the original film
    elements were in, it's simply amazing how immaculate
    the print looks.

    I also do understand that the graininess
    has everything to do with the film stock, but to
    not mention the problem in this review would be
    something people would never forgive me for.

    There was only so much restoration that could be
    done here.

    I think my problem is that I have been spoiled
    by many films out of the same era that look far
    better. Take Little Big Man, for example --
    a film made nearly 10 years earlier and it looks
    like a brand new film.

    This is a reason why I feel inadequate as a reviewer.
    My knowledge of film is rather limited. I have to
    continue to remind myself that I can't keep comparing
    film transfers because I have no idea what the
    condition of the prints were in the first place, or
    how the film actually looked or sounded when it
    played theatrically.

    Take my review as one that points out all the
    problems I see within the transfer, but without
    placing the blame on any particular person or studio.

    Appreciate the interest you guys have shown.
  14. Gerry A

    Gerry A Agent

    Sep 19, 2000
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    "Release Date: August 19, 2003"

    That's still far off. Any reason why they can't make it earlier when a copy or copies are already available for review?
  15. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

    Feb 24, 1999
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    Never really heard of this film...but it sounds right up my alley. I love dark films like Cabaret and this seems to have that same "feel" from Ron's description.

    Another DVD purchased sight-unseen based on one of Ron's reviews...

    dave [​IMG]
  16. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

    Jun 15, 2001
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  17. Matt<>Broon

    Matt<>Broon Stunt Coordinator

    Mar 10, 2003
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    Funnily enough I've noticed this on TV a couple of times in the past few weeks (here in the UK) last time I sat down and watched it.

    Despite initally appearing to be subject matter that I didn't expect to find interesting I was swept up into this film. In places it's a little 70's for my young brain perhaps but generally excellent.

    I shall look it out, if there's a decent R2 version available immediately so much the better!
  18. David Lambert

    David Lambert Executive Producer

    Aug 3, 2001
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  19. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

    Jun 15, 2001
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  20. Chris_Richard

    Chris_Richard Supporting Actor

    Dec 3, 2001
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    Can't wait for this. This is on my personal top ten list of films I want on dvd. I agree about the 79 Oscar. They had 4 classics competing and the best picture went to the glorified tv movie-of-the-week.

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