I don’t like musicals.
I can appreciate a couple of them, and like one or two sequences in them. But they’re just not my kind of thing. Stopping a story for a dance and a campy song is as bad as watching a movie on network TV, interrupted by commercials.
Yet one of my favorite movies is a musical. It’s not like most musicals, though.
ALL THAT JAZZ is about Joe Gideon, a director/choreographer trying to edit a movie, direct a new Broadway show, and hop on every available woman he can get (while popping pills and smoking. Joe works too hard–he does everything too hard, and does too much of it. He has visions of Death, played by Jessica Lange in a distracting hat.
Early on, you know that this movie isn’t about this wacky business of show. This movie is about a man who’s going to die, and he can’t stop himself from rushing toward death, because he’s half in love with Her.
ALL THAT JAZZ is about work, women and dying. Joe is the only significant male character. We meed his wife and his daughter, the sources of joy and guilt in Joe’s life. Inspired by the movie’s director, Joe is one of those artists who truly excel. You watch Joe and know that this is how someone becomes a star in his field, by never not working. Joe survives on booze, pills, women and work, with everything feeding and hurting everything else.
Anne Reinking was director Bob Fosse’s girlfriend, and she basically plays herself in this. (And had to audition.) She can act, she’s fun, and she can also play the dramatic scenes, like when she confronts Joe about his screwing around. (And gets nothing in return.) The scene of her and Joe’s daughter dancing for him is a highlight–Reinking’s got amazing moves. If I knew the first thing about dance I might be able to explain, but she’s just fun to watch.
The main dance scene for the in-movie musical stars Sandahl Bergman, later the co-star of CONAN THE BARBARIAN. It’ll make you forget you don’t like musicals for ten minutes.
Joe’s horrible ways land him in the hospital, as they did director Fosse. The movie’s co-writer/producer died during the making of the movie, which couldn’t have made things any lighter on the set. Death is everywhere in the movie, and without the music and dancing it might’ve been too heavy for a studio. (In the end, two studios had to share distribution and the financial risks.)
It was released the same year as APOCALYPSE NOW, and competed against it for several Oscars. They both lost the major awards to KRAMER VS. KRAMER. Could AN and JAZZ be released today and find success with audiences?
I’m not sure. Both APOCALYPSE and JAZZ are spectacular, but they’re very much seventies films–cynical, political, even, but not in the My Party/The Other, Evil Party way. JAZZ would be truly controversial in the era of Me Too. The women have power, but Joe uses women in his workplace for sex. The movie is relentlessly critical of Joe, but was this Fosse being brave about his treatment of women, or just a self-protecting admission of what everyone knew about him, anyway?
I don’t know. I’m not sure I care.
Movies don’t often confront death so personally as ALL THAT JAZZ does. It might be too grim for most viewers now. But everyone I’ve recommended it to has loved it.