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Self-congratulatory, but, without a doubt, brilliant
A brilliant movie from a brilliant artist, and you'll be reminded of that constantly as you sit through All That Jazz, both in positive and negative ways. This, Fosse's fourth and also penultimate film, is his version of 8½. But the great success of Fellini's semi-autobiographical masterpiece, easily one of the five or ten best films ever made, is that its author depicts himself with the greatest humility. And not only great humility but, most importantly, honest humility (or at least believable humility). Fellini's constant self-deprecation felt like honest self-criticism, and it felt as if he was truly exposing his inner self to his audience. In All That Jazz, Fosse tries to do the same, but the self-deprecation comes off almost as back-patting. Fosse presents his alter ego, Joe Gideon (well played by Roy Scheider), as a lovable cad. Oh, he might bang every chick in sight, but it's very much applauded.
I can complain about these more arrogant aspects of All That Jazz, but what is undeniable is how great a filmmaker Fosse really is. It may be extremely self-congratulatory, but, judging from this film itself and its three predecessors, it can be argued that Fosse deserved the adulation that he supplies himself. As a fan, I loved the way he incorporates semi-fictionalized versions of his previous films into this one. 1974's Lenny plays a major part, as Gideon is going through the process of editing his new film The Stand-Up throughout the film. He brings his daughter to its premier, and, it being her first R-rated movie, she thanks her dad and then asks him why that guy wanted to sleep with two women at the same time. The reference to Cabaret is less pronounced but clear, when, stemming off from the daughter's question about threesomes, Gideon flashes back briefly to himself recreating the "Two Ladies" number. This number, of course, was famously created for the film version of Cabaret by Fosse. I'm not 100% sure if there is a reference to Sweet Charity (which would make sense, since it bombed horribly and almost ruined Fosse's filmmaking career), but the musical number with Gideon's girlfriend and daughter begins sort of like the "If They Could See Me Now" number, with Shirley MacLaine in Ricardo Montelbahn's bedroom.
The musical numbers are something to behold. I think this is a given in a Bob Fosse film, but every single one is breathtaking. The sexy rehearsal number, which leads into the even sexier "Airplane" number, would be pilfered by singer/choreographer Paula Abdul in her video "Cold Hearted Snake." More silly trivia, John Lithgow was so goofy looking in his relative youth, that guy who was the captain of the Love Boat and also the dad in ALF has an important part, and Wallace Shawn, of Manhattan, My Dinner with André and The Princess Bride fame appears in the most poorly calculated scene in the movie (Fosse wasn't scrutinizing his film enough if he left it in), has one line, and it is the worst line in the entire film. Damn, I wish I could remember it! 9/10.
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