****/***** Image A Sound A Extras A
starring Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer
written and directed by Bob Fosse
by Bryant Frazer Celebrated as an incisive, self-lacerating backstage spectacle and razzed as an indulgent and pretentious passion project, genius director-choreographer Bob Fosse's All That Jazz is one of the most ambitious American films of the 1970s. At this point in his career, Fosse had nothing to prove to the show-business establishment (in 1973, he won the Oscar, the Tony, and the Emmy, all for directing), but a 1974 brush with death--exhaustion, heart attack, life-saving surgery--put him in an introspective mood, and the results were spectacular. Not content with reaching a dazzling apotheosis in the on-screen presentation of song and dance, Fosse wove singing and dancing into a semi-autobiographical narrative chronicling the final days in the life of Joe Gideon, a genius director-choreographer whose non-stop work regimen is making him physically ill. Underscoring the threat, All That Jazz opens with a line attributed to the high-wire artist Karl Wallenda, who fell to his death during a performance in 1978: "To be on the wire is life; the rest is waiting," Joe's work is his life, and the irony is that his work--along with the pills and smokes that keep him going--is what kills him.