Movie Review, All That Jazz

6 Jun

allthatjazz3

I’ve always wished I was a bigger fan of Fosse–he has Chicago and Cabaret and his dancing style is as iconic as iconic gets, but to me it’s all hats and long legs and elbows.   If that’s the Fosse you’re looking for, you’re in for a disappointment–because this movie is nothing like any musical I’ve ever seen before, and others that came later which were influenced by it are but pale imitations.

What we get is the last days of Joe Gideon’s life–concluding with a musical adaptation of a heart attack.  Most of the movie is set with Joe talking to death about what got him here in the first place.  She merely reflects things back at him, as he is, and was always his own audience.

We see his last few days in broad strokes–Joe works too hard, he’s involved with a film and a show at once.  Joe has a daughter, an ex-wife, and a lover, and still he finds time to mess around.  The biggest thing one notices watching this film is how Joe and nearly everybody around him is incredibly insincere–that’s one thing you’ve got to have in your head in this movie–there’s a lot of razzle-dazzle, but that’s part of it, that the showiness is covering nothing.  Joe smokes compulsively, takes uppers, and morning by morning follows the same routine getting more and more haggard as he pushes himself on.

Joe is a doer–he keeps moving to avoid thinking, and thus cannot make any connections with the people around him.  It’s ironic that the very thing he sacrifices himself for–the show–ends up moving on without him, closing down not because it would be impossible to stage, but because the insurance would make the producers more money.   In his private life, Joe avoids any kind of emotional truth–often doing something unpleasant than pulling back and saying things that he’s supposed to.  He’s even performing in love.

When Joe has his heart attack, we are frustrated because he’s had warnings since the beginning of the film, from his cough, to the comedian’s dialogue about death, to the images of a high-wire act falling down,  even the doctors sitting down and spelling it out for him,  we see his destruction coming a mile away, but he will not look at it–it’s hard not to see Joe’s death as an elaborate suicide, dancing to death with a jaunty mask of fun which he’s even tiring of.

The musical numbers are all top-notch, and mostly short–funnily enough the song “All That Jazz” is not one of them, but we do have the massive hit “On Broadway.”   The most Fosse-ish number is “Come Fly With Us” but the movie takes particular aim at showing how flashy and shallow it is, particularly when his daughter and girlfriend perform a fun little dance “Everything Old is New Again.”  That dance is light, but it shows all the stuff that Joe is missing–playfulness, fun, silliness, ease, love.  He knows those things are there, but he cannot open to them.

The biggest point is the series of songs during  his heart attack hallucination featuring his daughter, wife, and lover.  They cajole, they beg, they show consequences, they preach, mixing big broadway with sickening versions of the hospital all mixed up together.   It is simply brilliant–in these scenes the buried emotions that tick beneath the surface come pouring out from the drug addled mind of a man mourning himself.

The big Finale–Bye Bye Life–pales in comparison–I know it’s supposed to be the big moment, but it’s a little too tongue-in-cheek after all that emotional storming.   It’s as if Joe cannot handle the directness of the personal messages and has to be sent off big and generically, with no real emotions–just cleverness.  Our last scene is watching his body being zipped up as Ethel Merman sings “There’s  no business Like Show Business.”

There are few good musicals that are made specifically into movies and use the medium of film to its full advantage–most are adaptations of stage productions and are stuck aping what has already been done.  Here, Fosse explores death and work in America from his personal viewpoint and it is brilliant–think of it as a David Lynch film, but much much more personal, this movie is no thrill ride–it’s more like a haunting, a cautionary tale–a series of images and songs which will play in your head as you search for the meanings within meanings of things.  Watch it.  It might not impress you the first time but it sticks and it gets stronger with every viewing.

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