I'm not a huge fan of musicals and the ones I like tend to have dark edges, like Cabaret and Pennies from Heaven. I must've watched All That Jazz at least a dozen times on HBO during the 1980s. Until last night's AFI screening at the ArcLight, I'd never seen it in wide- or big-screen.
Wow. All That Jazz is hands-down my favorite movie musical.
My heart's been unusually heavy in the wake of actor Roy Scheider's recent death. For about a 10-year stretch, he was a reliable, easy-going, and utterly believable presence in some of my favorite movies. The unrepentant bastard choreographer Joe Gideon was his favorite role and should've nabbed him an Oscar. It's a stunning, joyful, and heartbreaking performance you can't fully appreciate unless you see it on the big screen.
The dance numbers are amazing and grow more fantastical as the movie reflects Gideon's hallucinations as he lays dying in a hospital. I don't think I'm spoiling much of anything when I tell you that the final scene of All That Jazz sees Gideon gliding slowly towards Death (an alluring Jessica Lange). They're flirting in a dreamscape from the film's beginning, and you know Death is someone all of us are gonna meet. In the climax, Scheider's accepting gaze is sad but hopeful, deeply regretful at the womanizing and drug-abusing life he's led ... yet he's also at peace with himself. And Death is just another pretty woman he's gonna kiss ... albeit the last one.
Here's a terrific breakdown of the film's opening scene by Aaron Aradillas. The film begins with a breathtaking montage of a Broadway musical audition set to George Benson's version of "On Broadway." The first five minutes of this movie make my hair stand on end, and my hair fairly stays there until Ethel Merman belts "There's No Business Like Show Business" over the film's final shattering image.
See this movie on the biggest screen you can find. Immediately.