Wow. Bob Fosse was kind of an asshole, huh? I’d never seen Cabaret (1972) or anything that he’d been associated with before. But this movie, which he wrote about himself and then directed, makes it crystal clear that he was a chauvinistic speed-freak for at least a short period of his life. All That Jazz (1979) is the most egomaniacal bit of cinema I’ve seen in quite some time. The whole thing is pretentious and self-absorbed. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing; to be sure, some of the best art on the planet is both pretentious and self-absorbed.
The film is much more morbid than I expected it to be, though: Fosse’s preoccupation with death is established early on and — I’m sorry for this terrible pun — beaten like a formerly living horse right up to the [admittedly haunting] conclusion. The movie is frenetically edited by the apparently obsessive Mr. Fosse, resulting in a relatively surreal musical meditation on mortality (and monogamy) that puts a tight spotlight on the sleazy, “backstage” life of Broadway performers. It also showcases a lot of bare skin and sexuality in the process, which I found quite enjoyable since I am far from a prude.
All That Jazz feels a little Felliniesque at times, although its rigid execution ensures a uniquely American tone throughout, and it never achieves the truly-dreamlike quality that seems to come so naturally to many European directors. It certainly packs a lot of interesting, modern philosophy into a colorful, engaging narrative — and Roy Scheider’s portrayal of Fosse is nothing short of fabulous. But it’s also hard to ruminate on your own personal demons while Fosse is delving so deeply into his.
Three pot leafs out of five for being such a rhythmic and raunchy spectacle: