The American Society of Cinematographers

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Die Hard 4
DVD Playback
All That Jazz
The Queen
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All That Jazz (1979)

Special Music Edition

1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)

Dolby Digital 5.1

20th Century Fox Home Video, $19.98 

Death, substance abuse, and infidelity might not seem like natural subjects for the genre that spawned Singin’ in the Rain, but they inspired director/choreographer Bob Fosse to create a seminal American musical, All That Jazz. Using the exuberant style of classic musicals to explore dark themes and morally ambiguous characters, Fosse and cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, ASC, AIC reinvented the genre.

All That Jazz is a brutally honest yet exhilarating self-portrait in which Roy Scheider plays Fosse surrogate Joe Gideon, a self-absorbed, self-loathing artist whose disregard for others is surpassed only by his supreme devotion to his work. Gideon experiences a midlife crisis and must come to terms with his personal failures just as his professional life is hitting its peak. Plagued by visions of an angel of death (Jessica Lange), Gideon fuels himself with speed, alcohol and sex as he tries to complete a film and a Broadway show before his vices kill him.

Given his work with Federico Fellini, Rotunno was a natural choice to shoot the film. Like the blocked director in Fellini’s 8 1/2, Gideon views life through the prism of his art, defining his relationships and memories by imagining them as the kinds of musical numbers he excels at staging. The only way Gideon can relate to anyone is through the work he loves, a sentiment conveyed not only in the film’s fantasy sequences but also in more realistic scenes, such as a touching dance Gideon shares with his daughter.

Rotunno reinforces the character’s complexity through a visual style that alternates between high stylization and gritty reality: the fantasy sequences are as elaborate as anything from MGM’s heyday, but the opening “On Broadway” number plays like a documentary on the process of casting a stage musical. The cinematographer also employs great contrasts between light and shadow, especially in dark portraits of Gideon in his apartment at night. The transfer on this new DVD nicely preserves the nuances of Rotunno’s photography and has a tonal range comparable to theatrical release prints of the film. The Dolby 5.1 mix is strong in the musical numbers, but in other scenes most of the sound is directed toward the center channel, with minimal use of the rear speakers.

The disc includes an insightful commentary track by editor Alan Heim — an appropriate choice, given the film’s heavy reliance on cutting to generate meaning. All That Jazz is actually structured like a musical composition, with visual and aural motifs that deepen in meaning as they reappear throughout the story. Just as Rotunno often abandons reality in favor of emotional truth, Heim shatters temporal continuity to jump back and forth in time — and back and forth between life and fantasy — several times within the same scene. Every edit and composition perfectly expresses Gideon’s inner state at a particular moment in time.

Unfortunately, this disc doesn’t include the select-scene commentary by Scheider that was available on Fox’s previous DVD. It’s a curious omission, given the actor’s absence from the disc’s featurettes. The 23-minute “Portrait of a Choreographer” is an affectionate but superficial collection of reminiscences about Fosse by various friends and admirers, including Liza Minnelli (Cabaret). The 8-minute “Perverting the Standards” is a slightly more incisive consideration of the film’s unorthodox approach to the musical form, featuring interviews with noted composers and songwriters. The remaining supplement is a 3 1/2-minute piece on the recording of George Benson’s “On Broadway,” the song that opens the movie.

Also featured are two galleries of production and publicity stills, a “music machine” feature that enables the viewer to jump to many of the film’s set pieces, and a karaoke supplement for those who feel inclined to sing along with the number “Take Off With Us.” Heim’s commentary is the only supplement of real worth to filmmakers and scholars, but it and the transfer are enough to make this new edition of All That Jazz a worthwhile purchase.

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