Seldom Scene
Movie reviews by Gerald Panio

All That Zazz (1979)

“vibrant but sometimes grotesque autobiographical story”

“a vapid, vertiginous farrago”

“everything from satyriasis to eschatology in a series of verbal grands jetés”

“bite and bravado in equal doses”


      –from reviews of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1980)


Here’s a thought: What might your final days look like if Broadway or Hollywood got to stage them for you?  There you are, mortality’s closing in, the Grim Reaper’s out in the garage, and you toss your life’s accomplishments and failures into the hands of some well-known director and her/his team of scriptwriters, songwriters, choreographers, costume designers, and special effects people.  The end result might be a turkey, a Tony- or Oscar-winner, a tragedy, a farce, a melodrama, or an unholy combination of all of the above.  Worst case scenario: your life story winds up being dramatized by someone with a sense of irony.  Would you be man/woman enough to (pun intended) face the music?  Or would you hope to be dead before opening night?  The answer probably depends on the quality of your life, and the size of your ego.  Neither was a problem for Bob Fosse. Why wait around for someone else to do the job when you can do it better yourself?  Besides, what biographer would have been ruthless enough to do justice to all of Fosse’s infidelities?  All That Jazz stands as one of the best, cruelest, funniest show biz autobiographies ever.

Bob Fosse was an 8-time Tony-winner on Broadway, a superb choreographer, an actor, an Academy Award-winning director, a workaholic, a walking libido, an egomaniac.  He incarnated all the best and worst qualities of the theatre and movie people he worked with his whole life.  Starting out in vaudeville as a young child, he was a veteran of burlesque shows by the time he was 13 (possibly the best burlesque musical number of all time, Hey, Big Spender, turns up in Fosse’s 1968 directorial debut, Sweet Charity).  His first Broadway show won a Tony.  His second feature as a movie director (Cabaret) won eight Oscars.  No awards in the humanitarian department, however. A serial monogamist, Fosse went through wives & lovers as quickly as he went through scripts.  Sleeping with him might not get a dancer a job, but he never discouraged the attempt.  (“Do you believe in love? –I believe in saying I love you.  It helps me concentrate.  I say it a lot…when it works.”)  He treated his body as a temple—unrepentantly defiling it with dexedrine, visine, cigarettes, sex, coffee, and booze.  A less spiritual life is impossible to imagine.  With Fosse, it’s all sweat and grit and sawdust and tinsel.  Probably quoting the Flying Wallendas, Fosse’s alter ego in All That Jazz, Joe Gideon, says: “To be on the wire is life, the rest is waiting.”

It’s showtime, folks.

All That Jazz shows Joe Gideon as he tries (impossibly) to juggle a Broadway production, a filmed biography of Lenny Bruce (Fosse had earlier directed Dustin Hoffman in just such a film, Lenny), the women in his life, and imminent angina.  It’s a bravura performance, but stupid.  Roy Scheider was the perfect choice to play Gideon.  It’s the best work he ever did. The audience has the choice of admiring the chutzpah, or walking out in disgust at the self-indulgence.  I’m in the former group.  Lest you think it’s just because I’m into middle age and have intimations of my own mortality and need a role model uninhibited by cholesterol counts, I’ll have you know that I loved this picture when I first saw it 20 years ago. Bob Fosse knows how to turn life into both art and entertainment.

Life is art. At least two of the lead female roles in All That Jazz are played by Fosse’s real-life inamoratas.  Did I say chutzpah?  Anne Reinking, Fosse’s principal dancer and long-time lover, plays Gideon’s mistress Kate Jagger.  Jessica Lange is Angelique, the kind of angel of death that Hugh Hefner probably hopes will come to carry him away.  Not an old flame, Leland Vernon, as Gideon’s ex-wife and leading lady, is modelled on Gwen Verdon, the woman who played both roles in Fosse’s life.  In less talented hands, this could have all been simply messy and acrimonious.  Instead, it’s theatre.  Passionate.  Ironic.  Astonishing. Erzsebet Foldi is also excellent as Gideon’s teen-aged daughter Michelle, creating a compassionate eye in the storm of relationships playing around her.

Credit Fosse’s direction.  Credit the actors.  And credit the dancing.  Nowadays, in this age of rock videos, lambadas and macarenas, musical production numbers with a strong erotic underlay hardly raise an eyebrow.  The choreographers owe a lot to Fosse.  He shifted the focus from the sublime innocent elegance of Rodgers—Astaire—Kelly, and the showstopping spectacles of Busby Berkeley, to the in-your-groin gusto of early Marlene Dietrich and underground Argentinian Tango clubs.  Watching one of Gideon’s numbers, a producer whispers, “Oh, oh, I think we just lost the family audience.”  He’s right.

Back to irony.  If you’re going to be as honest about yourself as Fosse is in All That Jazz, you’d better have a sense of humor.  Sardonic, maybe, put still pretty funny.  How many other films have wound up with a genuine cardiac surgical team in their credits?  Or have dancers dressed as aortas?  Joe Gideon flirts with everyone—with women, with his collaborators, with death itself.  There’s a permanent, wry smile on his face that comes from knowing how much fun that games are to play and how fatal they are in the end.  When his daughter asks him why he doesn’t marry again, Joe replies, “I can’t find anyone I dislike enough to inflict that kind of torture on.”  Outraged that Kate should react to his infidelities by actually dating someone else, he says, “How dare you use my telephone to call someone who’s not gay?”  Lying on a hospital bed, he tells her, “If I die I’m sorry for all the bad things I did to you, and if I live I’m sorry for all the bad things I’m going to do to you.”  Adding insult to coronary, Gideon’s theater has an insurance policy that guarantees his new show will make a half million dollar profit if he dies before it opens.  Now that’s funny.

There are several recurring riffs in All That Jazz.  One is a Lenny Bruce monologue on death that’s part of a film within a film.   The contents of the monologue—the Kübler-Ross schematic of death confronted through anger, denial, bargaining, depression, & acceptance—play themselves out during Gideon’s final days.  Another riff involves a talk show host whose celebrity introductions become progressively less flattering, till it’s Joe’s turn: “Ladies and gentleman, a pathetic humanitarian and a lousy human being!…..”  Every song twists the knife a little:  You’d Better Change Your Ways, Old Friends, Who’s Sorry Now?, Some of These Days You’ll Miss Me, Daddy, and the outrageous Everly Brothers rip-off, Bye Bye Life.  To make sure that this “vertiginous farrago” was translated effectively to the screen, Bob Fosse took the precaution of hiring Frederico Fellini’s great cinematographer, Giuseppe Rotunno.  Good move.

What’s the moral of this modern morality play?  Perhaps it’s that for those with a deep-rooted fear of being conventional, there is truly no business like show business.


Looking Back & Second Thoughts

Because All That Jazz is now in the Criterion Film Collection, it has become harder to access.  And even with my subscription to the Criterion Channel, I couldn’t find the film to stream.  I was about to give up, when I remembered a friend with an enviable film library who might come to my rescue.  And so it came to pass.  Thanks, David.

Although it was a joy to watch All That Jazz again after so many years, I can’t add much to my original review.  I’d really need to read a couple of biographies of Bob Fosse to bring in some new perspectives.  Just from perusing some short accounts of Fosse’s career, however, I’ve gotten a better appreciation of his artistic accomplishments.  He brought a wealth of experience to his work, starting as a child working in Vaudeville, a seasoned veteran of burlesque shows by age 13, eight Tonys for best choreography, and experience as actor, dancer, choreographer, screenwriter, and director for stage and screen.  I remember reading somewhere that he was the only person to ever win an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy in the same year (1973).  He won the Best Director award for his second-ever film (Cabaret) and his first Tony for his very first Broadway production (The Pyjama Game).  All That Jazz’s Joe Gideon was certainly not far off the mark in regards to autobiography: workaholism, boozing, drug-taking, and serial philandering combined with enormous creativity.  Jazz was made after Fosse underwent open-heart surgery himself.  Fosse lived another eight years after the film, dying of a heart attack at 60 in his hotel room just before opening a new Broadway production.  He only made one other film after All That JazzStar 80 in 1983—but continued his intense involvement with theater.

One thing that did strike me as I watched Jazz again was that Fosse makes himself look damn good despite the character flaws.  He has the love of his girlfriend Kate and of his daughter Michelle.  He has the respect of ex-wife Audrey.  He’s even honest with the young dancer he’s currently sleeping with, telling her she’ll never be a star but that he can make her a better dancer.  He’s the classic lovable rogue.  This portrait may be self-serving, but the man’s accomplishments speak for themselves.  This was an artist who undoubtedly made many people’s lives more difficult, particularly the lives of the women closest to him, but I don’t get the sense that he destroyed lives.  And speaking of wrecking lives, let me digress….

Recently, I’ve been reading some biographies of occultist Aleister Crowley.  One could draw interesting parallels between the charismatic lives of Fosse and Crowley.  Both had the same unrelenting drive to push their abilities to the absolute limits, both had the same proclivities for intoxication & infidelity, both had monstrous egos, both had giant appetites for experimentation , and both had enduring impacts on their chosen fields of action (Crowley’s Thoth Tarot deck, painted under his direction by Lady Frieda Harris, is an extraordinary creation).  If anyone is still crying out for an All That Jazz-style big screen treatment, it’s Aleister Crowley.  The key difference between the Crowley & Fosse biographies would be that several of the individuals drawn into Crowley’s orbit paid a heavy, sometime fatal price for their involvement.  He was a dark star.  While a filmed version of Crowley’s early years might make Joe Gideon’s manic life look tame by comparison, it’s impossible to imagine the denouement being staged to the upbeat tune of “Bye Bye Love.”  More likely something grim from Wagner.  It’s a shame that Crowley never had a chance to direct a film version of his own autobiography, or had someone like Bob Fosse around to do it for him. There’s still time.  Crowley’s Confessions is the All That Jazz of the occult world.  One can easily imagine him late in his life, standing in front of his mirror, heroin coursing through his veins, his Scarlet Woman & his acolytes waiting in the adytum, telling his reflection, “It’s showtime, folks!”

Sadly, Jazz’s master cinematographer, Giuseppe Rotunno, was one of the few Cabaret Oscar nominees who didn’t walk away with an award (that film won 8 Oscars; Jazz won 4).  It was his only Academy nomination in a 42-year career.  Jazz’s Production Designer Philip Rosenberg won his only Oscar for that film.  Ditto for Film Editor Alan Heim.  Jazz also earned composer Ralph Burns the second of his two Oscars.  Costume Designer Albert Wolsky won the first of his two Oscars, with another five nominations.

Among the cast, Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ben Vereen, Michael Tolan, and Cliff Gorman have all had active careers.  Lang currently has two Oscars.  Anne Reinking made only two films after All That Jazz, but had a comeback on Broadway in the 1990s.  Jazz was Leland Palmer’s last feature film, and young Erzsebet Foldi’s only film.

Movie Information

Genre: Musical | Autobiography | Drama
Director: Bob Fosse
Actors: Roy Scheider, Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer, Erzsebet Foldi, Ben Vereen, Jessica Lange, Cliff Gorman, Michael Tolan
Year: 1979
Original Review: April 1999


“Who is Number One?” asks “The Prisoner” 50 years later

A thought-provoking essay by Colin Fleming on, that sees Patrick McGoohan’s memorable 1967 TV series as eerily prescient of our current online age of conformity & group-think through social media.  Incidentally, Number Six waking up to the bucolic nightmare of The Village also prefigures America waking up to the daymare of President Trump.  Now we know what Number One looks like.

Rotten Tomatoes

26 films Rotten Tomatoes got 100 percent wrong

I’m not big on rating films that I review. Seldom Scene has no thumbs, stars, bones, or tomatoes.  I prefer to simply write about movies I’ve found memorable enough to want to share with others.  That said, I’m not above checking out how the movies I love and hate are rated by Roger Ebert, VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever, the Internet Movie Data Base, and Rotten Tomatoes.  The mission of the latter, which uses both reviews from professional film critics and from the public, is presented as follows on the website:

“Rotten Tomatoes and the Tomatometer score are the world’s most trusted recommendation resources for quality entertainment. As the leading online aggregator of movie and TV show reviews from critics, we provide fans with a comprehensive guide to what’s Fresh – and what’s Rotten – in theaters and at home. And the Tomatometer is just the beginning. We also serve movie and TV fans with original editorial content on our site and through social channels, produce fun and informative video series, and hold live events for fans across the country, with our ‘Your Opinion Sucks’ live shows. If you’re an entertainment fan looking for a recommendation, or to share an opinion, you’ve come to the right place.”

I tested Rotten Tomatoes out on a couple of Audrey Hepburn films I watched this week, along with Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal and LabyrinthRoman Holiday had a 98% Tomatometer rating, and a 94% Audience rating.  No arguments there.  Funny Face, which I have absolutely no urge to ever watch again (except for one song, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, had an 86% Tomatometer rating and an 81% Audience score.  Not in my books.  The Dark Crystal gets 79% and 81% respectively.  No surprise.  Labyrinth gets 71% approval from the critics, but 86% from the public.  Interesting discrepancy.  The second website I’ve included above, compiled by staffwriter Matthew Rozsa takes Rotten Tomatoes to task for overrating or underrating certain films.  Feel free to test drive some of your most loved & despised motion pictures; see if you’re a voice crying in the wilderness, or one of the gang.

Alternate Movie Posters: Fan Art We Love

From Robert ito at The New York Times.  The title is self-explanatory.  The accompanying article also provides links to other galleries and digital archives of fan-based movie poster art (AlternativeMoviePosters.con &  If you need a short break from working on landscapes or encaustics, you should consider taking a shot an alternate poster of your own.  Also not a bad assignment for a high school art class….

Films Worth Talking About:

Manhattan, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Apocalypse Now, Love on the Run, Hair, The Brontë Sisters, The Tin Drum, Alien, My Brilliant Career, The Marriage of Maria Braun, The American Friend, Tess, Kramer vs. Kramer, Being There, The Black Stallion, Mad Max, And Quiet Rolls the Dawn, Star Trek—The Motion Picture, 10, The Wanderers

The Bigger Picture

FilmsCabaret (1972); Chicago (2002); Fosse/Verdon (TV mini-series, 2019)


Books:  Sam Wasson, Fosse; Kevin Winkler, Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical

The Word on the Street

[NOTE:  While Imdb’s User Reviews for any given film are often wildly inconsistent, there is a remarkable consistency in the writing about All That Jazz.  The film continues to be respected, admired, loved.  Bob Fosse thought highly of himself and his work, and there’s nothing here to prove him wrong.]

What this movie is, is simple: Bob Fosse unveiling his life, his knowledge, and a detailed explanation of his creative process, for future generations to evolve. This film is part biography, part self-exploration, and part legacy. It is the “legacy” part that is overlooked by almost everyone. If you ever dreamed of becoming a choreographer, this is the ideal place to start, because you’ll watch, over and over, as Joe Gideon (Roy Schieder as the fictionalized Fosse) puts his stamp on a dance number, a process so unique and brilliant that it could easily be classified as its own form of dance rather than a subset of modern dance. If three words could sum up Fosse’s style of choreography it would be “make it sexier.” Then make it even sexier. Then, when you’re done, you need to make it even sexier. The “Airotica” number exemplifies this, and served as the inspiration for Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted” video.

The movie brings Fosse’s inner circle and personal life to the screen, pulling absolutely no punches. Some call this film a form of narcissism, but it’s hard to see how a man looking for self-given glory would portray himself falling apart physically and personally, the years obviously having taken a toll, as well as the emotional baggage that comes with abandoning family life (and a brilliantly played daughter by Erzsebet Foldi, in what would be her only film before she retired) for a girlfriend with some side dishes for variety. The women hate Gideon’s infidelity, but love the man so dearly they know not to question or challenge it.   [ray-280]

…the tech credits are superb. The film won Oscars for its Tony Walton sets (Tony Walton has been married to Julie Andrews for years, and is an acclaimed stage and film set designer), its Alan Heim editing (Heim worked on NETWORK, among other things), its Ralph Burns scoring (which includes old jazz, classical, pop, and Broadway standards), and its Albert Wolsky costumes. Its photography, by Giuseppe Rotunno, is also great (Rotunno phtographed many Fellini films and probably had much to do with the lumping of Fosse’s film in with Fellini’s work)….

Tying in 1979 with APOCOLYPSE NOW for Cannes Palme D’Or, this is one of the greatest movies ever made, I think, and you’ll know that once the first moments–a mass stage audition unbelievably well-edited to the tune of George Benson’s version of “On Broadway”–unreel in front of you. It’s an unflinching look into the madness of one artist that, eventually, became his undoing (Fosse died in 1986, in his early 60s, of another heart attack, after completing only one more movie, STAR 80, and one more stage show, BIG DEAL). See it and prepare to be moved in strange ways.   [dean237]

One of the best musicals ever made, it’s a love song to theater and hedonism and all things Fosse.
Roy Schieder does a fantastic job brings Fosse to life, making the charming womanizing cad unrepentant and lovable at the same time.

Jessica Lange as ‘the angel of death’ is all you’d want from a grim reaper, and more.
But the real standout is the vibrant editing and music- long before MTV coopted the fast and loose cutting styles that make it hard to focus, Fosse put it to good use- he doesn’t just cut for shock value, he cuts WITH the music, creating images that go right into your inner rythm somehow.   [karen128]

One of the most gleefully indulgent, self-loathing films ever made- yet watchable as a train wreck, thanks to its bravery, wit and overall excellence.   [gurghi-2]

The grounding strength of All That Jazz is Roy Scheider being front and center breathing life and artistic “smoke” into the film. Never a moment where he takes things too far, everything is held back like a man who has bit off more than he could chew would hold things back. Scheider is perfectly astute and the film wouldn’t be the same without his understanding of the character and story. All That Jazz is centered around a flawed man with a drug addiction, uncontrollable sexual desires, stress levels that go through the roof, and personal relationships that have more bumps than they are smooth. Yet, we understand this man’s life and work because of Scheider.  [RyanCShowers]

All That Jazz was the swan song of a great decade in film-making, and brought to it a rousing yet unfortunate close. The 1970’s were an unparalleled era in cinema defined by groundbreaking and truly important works of art. A time when directors took the medium as a serious form of entertainment and storytelling, while raising it into previously uncharted heights. This is one of the finest examples.   [JimS_8686]

Every day for the past twenty years, I have gotten out of bed, showered, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed off to the theater, whatever venue that may have been. Yes, I was a professional dancer who is now a professional Choreographer and Director and I am very lucky to be able to make a living doing what I love. The drama, the passion, the love of art, the sweat and blood and tears, the triumphs and failures…this is life in the theater. And this is exactly what Bob Fosse captured in this rivoting and beautiful film. Based loosely on Mr. Fosse’s life, this is hardly a “True Story”. Never-the-less, every word in this film is true. After many, many viewings over many, many yeas, this is still the one film that tells the straight story. Scheider is brilliant as Gideon and the supporting cast is equally good, but the lion’s share of the credit goes to Mr. Fosse. Without missing a step, he manages to capture the true essence of stage life while developing the characters to such an extent that the ending, even after many viewings, is still an amazing shock.

If you have ever wondered what it was like to be in a production, forget those fake dance films (“A Chorus Line”, “Center Stage”) and just watch this film. Everyday, I go to the theater…and hear the ghost of Bob Fosse / Joey Gideon whispering in my ear, “It’s Showtime, Folks!”   [kylebengel]