All That Jazz‘s opening scene is a stunning Broadway “cattle call” audition shot in documentary style. It begins with dozens of dancers auditioning on a very crowded stage. One by one, the director dismisses them until the stage is nearly bare. It’s a great way to kick things off, painting an immediate picture of the relentless drive at the heart of this fascinating musical.
Broadway director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) is an extremely busy man. He’s directing a new musical called NY to LA while simultaneously editing a movie he completed months ago. He subsists primarily on cigarettes and dexedrine. He’s a chronic womanizer, which has wrecked his marriage and threatens to wreck his current relationship with a dancer named Katie Jagger (Ann Reinking). Joe is so busy that he can’t spend time with his daughter Michelle (Erzsebe Foldi), even after he promised to do so.
In between editing and directing, we see Gideon sitting in a dark room flashing back and discussing his life with a mysterious woman in a white veil named Angelique (Jessica Lange). Joe tells her about his mother, his early days in showbiz, and his history of failed relationships.
Joe learns that he is literally working himself to death. His pace has cause him to have heart attacks, which leads to an extended hospital stay and shuts down production of the musical.
Unfortunately, going into more detail would ruin the plot! Let’s just say All That Jazz contains some of the most memorable song and dance numbers ever committed to film, great acting and amazing sets.
All That Jazz was co-written, directed and choreographed by Broadway legend Bob Fosse. Its story is largely based on Fosse’s public and private life. For example, Fosse was directing the Broadway musical Pippin while editing the film Lenny. After directing rehearsals for NY/LA, Joe Gideon runs straight to an editing room to work on his latest movie, Stand-Up, which strongly resembles Lenny.
Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon looks a lot like Fosse and even dresses in all-black as the director did. Scheider is probably best remembered as police chief Brody in Jaws. However, I consider this his best performance. He carries the film and appears in nearly every scene, Scheider was deservedly nominated for an Oscar.
The film was an artistic and critical success, nominated for nine Oscars (winning four) and All That Jazz was the winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.