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Bob Fosse
Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking, Ben Vereen
Writing Credits:
Robert Allen Arthur, Bob Fosse

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Monaural

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 8/19/2003

• Scene-Specific Audio Commentary with Roy Scheider
• Interviews with Roy Scheider
• Five Bob Fosse Clips
• Theatrical Trailer

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All That Jazz (1979)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 22, 2003)

Like most kids, my allegiances changed pretty rapidly. That affected my movie preferences. One day Star Wars was the ultimate pleasure for me, but then I might change my mind and adore Jaws 2.

One of my first-ever “R”-rated flicks - Alien - briefly held my top spot, and other adult-oriented fare followed. Between Alien and Kubrick’s The Shining, I came to love a very improbable flick: 1979’s Bob Fosse semi-autobiography, All That Jazz. Maybe I was just a weird 12-year-old, for Jazz certainly isn’t the kind of fare typically embraced by those in that age bracket.

This was so long ago that I honestly can’t recall why I felt so passionately about Jazz. I also can’t remember the last time I saw the movie. I vaguely recall a mid-Eighties screening on cable, but that’s about it.

This meant I was very interested to give All That Jazz another screening on DVD. The film focuses on the life of noted Broadway choreographer and film director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider). The movie lacks much of a plot as it examines Gideon’s day-to-day routine as it leads him toward disaster. An alcoholic, chronic smoker, pill-popper and womanizer, Gideon burns the candle at both ends. He works on the editing of his nearly finished film The Stand-Up while he directs a new stage production. He also maintains a girlfriend named Katie (Ann Reinking) while he nails dancers from his show.

Interestingly, his ex-wife Audrey (Leland Palmer) stars in the latter. Their working relationship seems decent, but tension exists between them, largely due to Joe’s lack of emphasis on his interactions with their daughter Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi). Due to problems with both the movie and the show, Gideon is under a lot of pressure, which steps up his personal misery. Eventually Gideon becomes ill and gets hospitalized with chest pains. From there the movie sees what happens to the character in his debilitated state.

Unconventionally made, All That Jazz comes across as much less of a “TV movie” biopic than the way I describe it. A lot of that comes from Fosse’s construction of the story. He intercuts past, present and future on occasion, and also goes into apparent fantasy. The latter stems from the character of “Angelique” (Jessica Lange). A literal angel of death, Gideon chats with her occasionally throughout the movie, and this allows us to get some insights into Gideon’s character and development. We see glimpses into why he behaves the way he does, but to the director’s credit, he never tries to use the past to excuse his foibles. Introspective but not self-pitying, these moments help flesh out the film.

They also blend quite well with the rest of the picture and give us a good look at Gideon’s mindset. He views virtually everything from a superficial show biz point of view; even the presentation of medical issues from the doctors becomes a production number. Fosse stages many of these moments tremendously well. For example, he drops out the sound to accentuate Gideon’s point of view during his initial chest pains, and the melding of argument with creativity during an argument with Audrey also seems terrific.

Although billed as something of a musical, don’t expect tremendous amounts of visual pizzazz from Jazz. To be sure, the smattering of production numbers come across lots of flair, but they aren’t the point of the film. Instead, Fosse wants to get inside the lead character’s mind, which really means he’s willing to explore his own psyche. Jazz seems remarkably open and honest as Fosse presents himself at his worst. We get a feeling why Gideon became such a success, but he doesn’t get a sweetened presentation.

Scheider’s layered performance helps make the film work. He clearly avoids self-pity and sentiment. Restrained and compelling, Scheider takes on the emotional roller coaster experienced by Fosse as he turns Gideon into a charismatic but flawed character.

At times All That Jazz seems too long, and Fosse also comes across as somewhat too cynical at times. The movie periodically feels like an attempt to attack show business, especially when we see the cynicism of so many people involved in the Broadway production. Still, it gives us a frank and effective portrayal of a self-destructive man. I’m not terribly sure why I loved the flick so much as a kid, but it holds up well after more than two decades and reveals quite a few charms.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus C-

All That Jazz appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though hampered by the source material to a degree, Jazz provided a generally very good transfer.

Sharpness mostly looked fine. Some shots came across as a bit soft and ill defined, but those instances didn’t occur with any great frequency. Most of the movie appeared reasonably detailed, though it rarely was terrifically crisp. I saw no issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement showed up during the movie. In regard to print concerns, the film featured more grain than one might expect, but I believed that emanated from the original photography. Otherwise the movie seemed nicely free from flaws. I noticed a speckle or two but no other defects marred the presentation.

Colors seemed adequate for the most part but they never rose above that level. Another issue related to the era’s film stocks, Jazz featured a fairly natural palette, and most of the tones came across as acceptably accurate. The hues weren’t anything better than that, though, and the film ran into trouble with the occasional red or green colored lighting; those sequences looked somewhat dense and heavy. Black levels were unspectacular but generally fine, and low-light sequences followed along the same lines. Shadow detail seemed decent and didn’t show any particular problems, but those shots were somewhat lackluster. Again, many of the movie’s issues occurred because of the original photography. All That Jazz demonstrated a very solid transfer of that material, but the moderate blandness of the actual product knocked down my picture grade to a “B”.

The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of All That Jazz seemed mostly limited in scope. The majority of the movie appeared to offer essentially monaural audio. Dialogue and effects always seemed firmly rooted in the center channel. The first really noticeable example of stereo music happened during Joe’s parties in the hospital, and the production numbers after that made good use of the side speakers for the tunes. The surrounds may have offered some light reinforcement of these songs, but they seemed to play no distinct role. Without the occasional stereo song, the track stayed monaural.

Audio quality appeared acceptable for the era. Speech was a little thin but always sounded clear and easily intelligible, and I noticed no problems with brittleness or other issues. Effects played a small role in the movie, but they seemed reasonably accurate and clean. I heard no concerns connected to distortion from those elements. Music varied but generally was fairly bright and rich. The stereo production numbers showed moderately natural highs and some decent bass response. Nothing about the sound of All That Jazz stood out from the pack, and due to its modest scope, I felt it deserved a “C+”.

All That Jazz comes with a smattering of supplements. We open with an audio commentary from actor Roy Scheider, who offers a scene-specific track. Recorded in 2001, he remarks upon 23 different segments one can select from a menu. The actor covers a mix of topics related to the movie such as working with Fosse and his co-stars, the challenges of the role, and differentiating fact from fiction. A few too many of the segments just tell us about how great the others were, but Scheider gets into some good details. It’s interesting to hear his reflections on Fosse, and his story about how he got the role also seems compelling.

The presentation of the clips seems frustrating, mostly because it’s hard to tell when Scheider’s comments end. Periodically he goes quiet for a while though he has more to say on a subject. The DVD doesn’t return to the prior menu when Scheider finishes a topic, so we often get stuck with a lot of dead air. This makes the program more of a chore to navigate than I’d like.

In addition, we find interviews with Roy Scheider. Shot on the film’s set in 1979, the three snippets covered a few different topics like Scheider’s impressions of working with Fosse, the physical demands of the role, and some thoughts about his character. Though interesting from a historical perspective, all three bits are very short and don’t tell us much.

Bob Fosse On Set offers five clips in which we see him direct the “On Broadway” audition sequence from the movie’s start. These fairly brief snippets don’t offer a lot of insight into the director’s methods. However, they’re a step up from the Scheider interviews and seem moderately interesting.

Lastly, the DVD features some ads. We get the theatrical trailer for Jazz, presented anamorphic 1.85:1 with monaural sound. In the Fox Flix area, we see promos for the “Marilyn Monroe Diamond Collection”, Oklahoma, The Rose, The Sound of Music, and South Pacific.

While the movie didn’t move me as much as it did 20-plus-years-ago, I still found All That Jazz to present a lively and provocative affair. Director Bob Fosse crafted a clever and intriguing semi-autobiography that earned points for daring and bluntness. The DVD looked and sounded pretty good considering its age. The supplements seem slight but given the disc’s list price of less than $15, there’s a nice selection of materials. With Fosse’s work back in the public eye due to the Oscar-winning Chicago, hopefully All That Jazz will find the audience it deserves.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.074 Stars Number of Votes: 27
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