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Other/Miscellaneous => Off-Topic Discussion => Topic started by: dave jenkins on December 27, 2009, 02:21:10 PM

Title: All That Jazz (1979)
Post by: dave jenkins on December 27, 2009, 02:21:10 PM
In today's NY Times:
December 27, 2009

All That Fosse: All Those Echoes of ‘All That Jazz’

“IT’S showtime, folks.”

That’s the mantra of Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), the boozing, chain-smoking, pill-popping, womanizing, workaholic filmmaker-choreographer hero of the 1979 drama “All That Jazz,” a hopped-up American variant of Federico Fellini’s navel-gazing fantasia “8 ˝” (1963).

Those three words — recited by Gideon into the bathroom mirror each morning after downing a breakfast of Dexedrine and Alka-Seltzer and listening to Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto Alla Rustica” — sum up both the character and his real-world counterpart, Bob Fosse, the choreographer, theater director and filmmaker, who died in 1987 at 60. He was a Gideon-level workaholic who ended “All That Jazz,” a self-written advance obituary, with a shot of his alter ego being zipped into a body bag while the soundtrack plays Ethel Merman’s definitive version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

But Gideon’s mantra also summarizes that movie’s significance within narrative film, a mode of storytelling that rarely dares venture beyond the linear for fear of confusing the viewer.

Released 30 years ago this month, “All That Jazz” set a new standard for speed and complexity, its structure boasting as many temporal pirouettes as the headiest art house fare. Yet the film never feels labored. It’s not homework. It’s showtime.

The chain of influence that birthed Fosse’s masterpiece stretches from Alain Resnais’s “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (1959), Sidney Lumet’s “Pawnbroker” (1964) and John Boorman’s “Point Blank” (1967) through Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” (1973) and Fosse’s own “Lenny” (1974). The short list of Fosse contemporaries and successors who made commercial films with comparably inventive structures includes Fred Schepisi (“A Cry in the Dark,” “Six Degrees of Separation”), Alejandro González Ińárritu (“21 Grams”) and Steven Soderbergh (“The Limey,” “Solaris”).

“I’m kind of a fan of that subgenre,” said the screenwriter and filmmaker Roman Coppola, whose 2001 drama “CQ,” about a young director struggling to make a science fiction film in Europe, derives some of its spirit from “All That Jazz.” “It’s open. It’s not absolutely linear, with one step leading to the next. It kind of weaves through different episodes and layers.”

Fosse’s regular editor, Alan Heim, said the style of “All That Jazz” represents the culmination of lessons he and the director learned on “Lenny,” a biographical drama about Lenny Bruce that employed a docudrama format (including in-character “interviews” with the actors). When an early, linear cut of “Lenny” played a tad sluggishly, Fosse encouraged Mr. Heim to dice the film into a collage, to compress the story and permit surprising juxtapositions.

“By fragmenting it, the picture became much better, much more interesting,” Mr. Heim said.

Fosse was so pleased with the result that he and his screenwriter partner, Robert Alan Aurthur, built time shifts into the early screenplay for “All That Jazz,” essentially treating the script into an uncommonly detailed shot list. Mr. Heim said the film’s high-speed rifling through Gideon’s recent past, childhood and deathbed fantasies (in which he’s interrogated by Jessica Lange’s bombshell angel of death on a set that looks like the Kit Kat Klub from “Cabaret” as redecorated by Fellini) was so flexible, and so distinctively Fosse’s, that the director’s regular composer, Ralph Burns, hung a label on it.

“Ralph said there are flashbacks and flash-forwards, and then there is Fosse time,” Mr. Heim said. “When we were working on Bob’s films, we were working in Fosse time. The phrase has to do with not really being locked into any particular time frame but taking full advantage of what you can do with film, which is mess around with time. That’s one of my favorite things to do, and you don’t get too many chances to do it in straight narrative movies. I got to do it on Bob’s last movie, ‘Star 80,’ also. It was all very exciting for me as an editor.”

The first section of “All That Jazz” takes place in Fosse time, leaping from purely metaphoric images (a trapeze artist falling into a net, illustrating the quotation “To be on the wire is life, the rest is just waiting”) to Gideon’s morning routine, the auditions for his latest show, an editing session on his new movie, a one-night stand with a dancer, and flashbacks to Gideon’s teenage stint as a tap dancer in a strip club, always returning to his afterlife exit interview. The filmmaker’s grace makes complex, sometimes allusive cutting seem as easy as 1-2-3.

Sarah Flack, a film editor who counts Mr. Heim as a primary influence, danced to Fosse time on several assignments, including “The Limey” (1999) and “Marie Antoinette” (2006). The director of those films, Sofia Coppola, is another member of the Fosse fan club, auteur division. “Marie Antoinette” contains a shout-out to Fosse’s 1979 film.

“When I first saw the dailies of Marie Antoinette’s morning dressing ceremony, it reminded me of Joe Gideon’s morning routine,” said Ms. Flack. “I was thinking it would be great to drop in the Vivaldi music from ‘All That Jazz’ while I was assembling the rough cuts of those scenes, but I wasn’t sure it was appropriate at such an early stage of editing to use music from another movie. Literally the next day Sofia e-mailed me from the shoot in Paris and said, ‘Why don’t you use the Vivaldi music cue from ‘All That Jazz’?”

The editing of “All That Jazz” approximates the act of thinking — a characteristic that Ms. Flack said might be responsible for the film’s ability to cover so much narrative terrain so quickly without confusing anyone.

“Whatever happens in the movie, it’s always about Joe Gideon’s imagination — how it feeds his work as well as colors his own version of his life” Ms. Flack said. She compared Gideon to the title character of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Match Girl,” who “goes in and out of consciousness and fantasy. The little match girl died happy because in her mind she was somewhere warm and full instead of facing the reality of being alone and starving to death in the cold. Joe Gideon doesn’t want to be dying on the operating table, he wants to be with his friends and family. It’s an extreme form of escapism, and the film’s fragmented structure was essential to showing this aspect of Gideon’s mind.”

It’s also a risky form of storytelling because if it’s done badly, the viewer can become confused.

“The thing about that kind of cutting, from what I have learned along the way, is how much it depends on the context you build for it, and how exactly specific it needs to be,” said Wes Anderson, the director of films including “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and a Fosse admirer. “If it isn’t set up right and if it isn’t precise enough, you find yourself sitting next to someone who’s saying, ‘Is this what you had in mind?’ with a look on their face that means, ‘I think you’re crazy.’ ”

Fosse rarely got that sort of reaction, Mr. Heim said, because he was as skillful as he was audacious. “People in this business are always afraid to leave the audience behind,” Mr. Heim said. “One of the things I liked about working with Fosse was that he believed the more you can tell a story without using words, the better off you are. I always felt when I was working on a Fosse movie that, even though there always were a lot of words, in a sense it was like making a silent movie. The pictures were everything.”
Title: Re: All That Jazz (1979)
Post by: T.H. on December 27, 2009, 02:37:12 PM
Thanks for posting that. I'm a big admirer of 'Jazz' and Lenny. I'll probably watch it some point this week, it's been a while. Really good read.