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All that Jazz is a great film that almost seems to have dropped off the radar screen of classic musicals. The film gives us the account of a choreographer named Joe Gideon (Scheider) whose relentless way of living drives him straight into the grave. The character is based on the real life of director Bob Fosse who suffered the same fate in 1987. Gideon is a womanizing, drug abusing, perfectionist who begins each morning with the same routine. He pops a few pills, takes some Alka-Seltzer, jumps in the shower (sometimes with a cigarette in his mouth!), and declares it's "showtime" after giving himself one last look in the mirror. When we meet him, he's currently putting the finishing touches on a film he's just directed, and he's beginning work on a new Broadway musical. The man looks absolutely exhausted. He's always smoking. He seems on the brink of collapse from angina, and he frequently grasps his left arm apparently in an effort to determine if his heart is still beating or not.
The main idea behind this film is that Gideon knows he's dying. The life he has lived has assured him only a brief stay on this earth. As the film plays out, we see how Gideon comes to grips with his impending fate. His final journey is often touching; sometimes joyful. But above all, it is compelling and once it's over, you'll probably wish Gideon had hung on longer. He seemed to have so much to live for. Even the people around him who he's hurt in life (his ex-wife and current girlfriend, for example) still are a big part of his life. He has a wonderful daughter who he's just getting to know, as well. Without him around, there would certainly be an enormous void left for all of the central characters in this film. We see him confess his life's sins to Jessica Lange who plays an angel waiting to usher him into the afterlife once he finally succumbs to his medical problems. The closer the two of them get, the closer he is to the grave.
Fosse's direction is exceptional. His musical numbers (particularly Airotica) are top-drawer as you'd expect them to be. And he's never afraid to shock you with his camera-work. At one point we get an up-close and personal look at Gideon's heart surgery, and that's a bit grotesque for a musical. Remember this is the same director that showed us Dorothy Stratton's face getting blown off with a shotgun in Star 80.
Fosse also understandably knows these characters better that they know themselves. By the end of the film, you really know Joe Gideon, and you feel like you've lived part of his life. Fosse saw the same fate coming to himself, and indeed it found him in 1987. We often wish exceptional individuals would stick around longer, but then again it's the way they live that makes them so exceptional.
This film is highly recommended. 9 of 10 stars.
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