All That Jazz has been an astoundingly difficult title
to find in any format for some time, but this gorgeous DVD,
facilitated by 20th Century Fox's recent restoration of the
film, was worth the wait. Although it has been released on
VHS and laserdisc in the past, the film has been essentially
out of print for years thanks to a badly worn negative and
severely faded CRI opticals. Fox
spent 18 months restoring the film, and Giuseppe Rotunno,
ASC, AIC, who earned an Academy Award nomination for his cinematography,
supervised the color-timing of the restored print.
Though a studio restoration effort usually means a DVD release
is around the corner, it seems likely that the recent commercial
and critical success of Chicago, an adaptation of Bob Fosse's
Broadway musical, helped spur some interest in All That
Jazz, which stands as Fosse's most ambitious piece of filmmaking.
Along with Fellini's 8 1/2,
to which it is often compared, All That Jazz is one
of the most exhilarating films ever made about the creative
process, an autobiographical account of a successful theater
director told through a pastiche of sequences, some realistic
and others fantastic, that illustrate the artist's abilities
and limitations as he attempts to infuse his life with meaning.
Fosse, who directed, co-wrote and choreographed the film,
presents his central character and alter ego, director/choreographer
Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), as a self-destructive,
death-obsessed and narcissistic genius whose creative talents
compensate for his personal shortcomings. Gideon darts between
a Broadway theater, where he is staging his ambitious new musical,
and a nearby editing room, where he supervises the cutting
of his new feature about a cynical nightclub comic, all while
carelessly juggling his own personal relationships. His ex-wife,
Audrey (Leland Palmer), a dancer, continues to work with and
admire Gideon despite his infidelities, as does his girlfriend,
dancer Kate (Ann Reinking). Gideon's
most honest exchanges occur with a comely "angel of death" (Jessica
Lange), whose presence portends Gideon's coming heart attack.
Once the attack strikes, Gideon's world is transformed into
an adrenaline-fueled setpiece of stylized, death-themed choreography.
Though it has its share of strong advocates, All That Jazz has
also suffered a bit for being difficult to categorize. As Scheider observes
in his sporadic audio commentary, the film is a "musical
comedy" at its core, which might be why some find it difficult
to accept it as a serious and very personal cinematic statement.
The film is funny and energetic but also dark and cynical,
with disturbing undercurrents that are relatively rare in the
As the production got underway, some studio executives thought
the film could do without the angel of death character altogether,
while others wanted to cut virtually all of the fantasy musical
numbers that comprise the third act of the film. Only a last-minute
partnership between 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures
permitted Fosse to finish the film as planned. In hindsight,
it's hard to imagine what made the brass think such key elements
This disc offers just a few extras: some brief, loosely structured
behind-the-scenes pieces and Scheider's occasional
remarks, which can be heard at the beginning of various chapters.
Some insights from Rotunno, whose
photography beautifully blends fantasy and reality, or editor Alan
Heim, whose work helps establish the film's relentless energy,
would have been welcome.
Thankfully, the transfer is superb. The deep, rich blacks
that went milky on the VHS version are intense on this disc,
and compression artifacts are not very noticeable, even in
big wide shots of a stage packed with dancers. Fox has done
a fine job, and perhaps the success of the more straightforward
Chicago will prompt viewers to take a second (or first) look
at this wonderful film.
-- Jon Silberg