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All That Jazz

Year: 1979
Studio: Columbia
Director: Bob Fosse
Writer: Bob Fosse/Robert Alan Arthur
Cast: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, David Margulies

I knew nothing about Bob Fosse before I eventually got around to watching this movie apart from his stature as a New York chorus line theatre kind of guy, but after seeing it I'll bet I can more accurately characterise him – a self-important blowhard in love with his own mythology, and not just the self-satirisng one Roy Scheider plays as Joe Gideon in the film, but one who thought his auteur, avant-garde approach would be interesting.

Gideon is a self-professed womaniser, cheat and scumbag. He's mounting a huge stage production and trying to finish editing a film at the same time, all the while trying to maintain a relationship with his daughter and the various women he's trying to dump or break away from, get into bed with and everything in between. He doesn't think twice of offering a major role to some starlet he wants to bang and he's cheating on girlfriends who are already adulterous relationships to begin with.

Scheider is great for the role, just a handful of years after Jaws and The French Connection he couldn't have done anything more different but he brings seemingly conflicting characteristics of verve and world weariness to the part of Gideon.

It's the story that ruins it. Like some sort of David Lynch A Chorus Line, Fosse is less interested in telling you what's happening in the world of the story than he is going off on all kinds of creative tangents, never making it very clear which are supposed to be real and which are fever dreams being imagined by Gideon or maybe even the film itself.

The final scenes, after he's put in hospital to try and save his heart, rapidly failing after all the abuses and stresses, are styled after a sumptuous TV musical special of Fosse saying goodbye to everyone in his life.

Like the airline promotion dance number he choreographs early on to present to investors, it goes on way too long and leaves the story high and dry even though it's apparently pivotal to what's going on – especially after the final shocking image that I won't spoil but which involves a zipper.

I tend toward not wanting to like it because the real Fosse – both based on the content of the film and the existence it projects – seems to have been an appalling human being who didn't deserve a platform to extol his virtues and interests no matter how misdirected they were. He probably thought everyone would consider him a lovable rogue, but he seems to have been just another self-important bastard who thought his self-appointed genius excused the way he hurt everyone around him.

So I've got to be honest in a certain smug satisfaction that it fails creatively. Fosse might have been the Baz Luhrmann of his day – a modern circus ringmaster dressed to the nines and promising great things to a rapt audience – but both he and the film are too in love with themselves and their many indulgences.

One in particular that could have been interesting had it been explored more is Gideon's conversations with what appears to be an angel (Jessica Lange). Credited only as 'Angelique', she seems to be some sort of spirit guide in the afterlife he's headed for, listening while he rationalises and occasionally sees through the selfishness and shallowness of his choices.

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