All That Jazz

All That Jazz

All That Jazz is a Palme D'Or winning 1979 American musical film directed by Bob Fosse. The screenplay by Robert Alan Aurthur and Fosse is a semi-autobiographical fantasy based on aspects of the dancer, choreographer, and director's life and career. The film was inspired by Fosse's manic effort to edit his film Lenny while simultaneously staging his 1975 Broadway musical Chicago. It borrows its title from a Kander and Ebb tune in that production.


Choreographing and casting for dancers for his next Broadway show, while editing his severely over-budget and over-schedule Hollywood production about a standup comic is getting to Joe Gideon. He is a workaholic choreographer and theater director who chain-smokes and chain-sleeps with all of his dancers. Without a daily dose of Vivaldi, Visine, Alka-Seltzer, Dexedrine and sex, he wouldn't have the energy to keep up the biggest show of them all — his life. His girlfriend Katie Jagger, his ex-wife Audrey Paris and daughter Michelle try to pull him back from the brink, but it is too late for his exhausted body and stress-ravaged heart. Decades of overworking and constant tremendous stress have gotten to Gideon. In his imagination, he already flirts with an angel of death named Angelique.

Gideon's condition gets worse, as after a particularly stressful script rehearsal with the penny-pinching backers, he is taken to a hospital with chest pains and admitted with severe attacks of angina. Joe tries to take it in his stride and walk straight back to the rehearsal, but is ordered to stay for three to four weeks to rest his heart and recover from his exhaustion. The show is postponed, but Gideon continues his antics from the hospital bed. Champagne flows, endless string of women frolic around and the cigarettes are always lit. Cardiogram readings don't show any improvement - Gideon is playing with death. As the paltry reviews for his feature film (which has been released without him) come in, Gideon has a massive coronary and is taken straight to coronary artery bypass surgery.

The backers for the Broadway show must decide now whether it's time to pack up or replace Gideon as the director. Their matter-of-fact money-oriented negotiations with the insurers are juxtaposed with graphic scenes of open heart surgery. They realize the best way to recoup their money, even make a profit, is to bet on Gideon dying — which would bring in a profit of over USD$500,000 — not bad in the crazy unpredictable world of showbiz. Meanwhile, elements from Gideon's past life are staged into a dazzling sequence of set-ups — himself directing from the hospital bed, while on life support. Realizing his death is imminent, his mortality unconquerable, Gideon has another heart attack. In glittery musical numbers, he goes through the five phases of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As death closes in on Gideon, the fantasy episodes become more hallucinatory and extravagant and in a final epilogue that is set up as a truly monumental live variety show featuring everyone from his past, Gideon himself takes center stage.

Production notes

The film's structure is often compared to Federico Fellini's , another thinly-veiled autobiographical film with fantastical elements . Cliff Gorman's role of a difficult and self-obsessed actor portraying a real-life notorious stand-up comic was seen by many as a personal rebuke to Dustin Hoffman, the star of Lenny. Gorman had originated the title role of Lenny Bruce on Broadway, winning a Tony Award for his performance. He had been considered a favorite to reprise the role in the film adaptation but was passed over for a "name" actor, Hoffman.

Gideon's rivalry with Lucas Sergeant is said to closely resemble Fosse's rivalry with Hal Prince, director of Follies and Company.

Gideon's rough handling of chorus girl Victoria Porter closely resembles Fosse's own treatment of Jennifer Nairn-Smith during rehearsals for Pippin . Nairn-Smith herself appears in the film as Jennifer, one of the NY/LA dancers.

The film is available on a "Special Music Edition" DVD released by Fox in 2007. Its Oscar-winning editor, Alan Heim, does the commentary. The previous DVD from 2003 features a scene-specific commentary by Roy Scheider, and interviews with Scheider and Fosse.

Principal cast

Actor Role
Roy Scheider Joe Gideon
Jessica Lange Angelique
Leland Palmer Audrey Paris
Ann Reinking Kate Jagger
Cliff Gorman Davis Newman
Ben Vereen O'Connor Flood
Erzsebet Foldi Michelle Gideon
Michael Tolan Dr. Ballinger
Max Wright Joshua Penn
William LeMassena Jonesy Hecht
Deborah Geffner Victoria Porter
John Lithgow Lucas Sergeant


  • "On Broadway" performed by George Benson
  • "A Perfect Day" performed by Harry Nilsson
  • "Everything Old Is New Again" performed by Peter Allen
  • "Take Off With Us" performed by Anthony Holland
  • "Take Off With Us (Reprise)" performed by Deborah Geffner, Sandahl Bergman, Eileen Casey, Bruce Anthony Davis, Gary Flannery, Jennifer Nairn-Smith, Danny Ruvolo, Leland Schwantes, John Sowinski, Candace Tovar, and Rima Vetter
  • "Hospital Hop" performed by Anthony Holland
  • "After You've Gone" performed by Leland Palmer with Ann Reinking and Erzsebet Foldi
  • "You Better Change Your Ways" performed by Ann Reinking with Leland Palmer and Erzsebet Foldi
  • "Who's Sorry Now?" performed by Ann Reinking with Leland Palmer and Erzsebet Foldi
  • "Some Of These Days" performed by Erzsebet Foldi with Ann Reinking and Leland Palmer
  • "Sing, Sing, Sing" performed by Roy Scheider
  • "Bye Bye Love" performed by Ben Vereen
  • "There's No Business Like Show Business" performed by Ethel Merman

Critical reception

It scores a 96% "fresh" (or "good") rating on the movie review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes .

In his review in the New York Times, Vincent Canby called the film "an uproarious display of brilliance, nerve, dance, maudlin confessions, inside jokes and, especially, ego" and "an essentially funny movie that seeks to operate on too many levels at the same time... some of it makes you wince, but a lot of it is great fun... A key to the success of the production is the performance of Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon... With an actor of less weight and intensity, All That Jazz might have evaporated as we watched it. Mr. Scheider's is a presence to reckon with."

Variety described it as "a self-important, egomaniacal, wonderfully choreographed, often compelling film" and added, "Roy Scheider gives a superb performance as Gideon, creating a character filled with nervous energy... The film's major flaw lies in its lack of real explanation of what, beyond ego, really motivates [him]."

TV Guide says, "The dancing is frenzied, the dialogue piercing, the photography superb, and the acting first-rate, with non-showman Scheider an illustrious example of casting against type . . . All That Jazz is great-looking but not easy to watch. Fosse's indulgent vision at times approaches sour self-loathing."

Time Out London states, "As translated onto screen, [Fosse's] story is wretched: the jokes are relentlessly crass and objectionable; the song 'n' dance routines have been created in the cutting-room and have lost any sense of fun; Fellini-esque moments add little but pretension; and scenes of a real open-heart operation, alternating with footage of a symbolic Angel of Death in veil and white gloves, fail even in terms of the surreal."

In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

In 2006, the film ranked #14 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals.

Awards and nominations


External links

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