“All That Jazz” is perhaps the best feel-good, feel-bad, semi-autobiographical musical about death you will ever see. It’s also probably the only one. Bob Fosse’s gleefully morbid musical takes on his own impending death, inspired by his real-life hospitalization due to the exhaustion he suffered while directing “Chicago” on stage and editing “Lenny” for the big screen. It’s honest, brutal, daring, endlessly creative and a bona fide masterpiece from that golden age we call ’70s Hollywood.
Die-hard fans of “All That Jazz,” this writer included, had a lot to be joyful about this year, since The Criterion Collection recently released a gorgeous Blu-ray transfer of the film, along with a treasure trove of documentaries. If that wasn’t enough, Criterion’s YouTube account also posted a visual essay on Fosse’s non-linear editing style from Rogerebert.com editor Matt Zoller Seitz. The essay was supposed to be included on the Blu-ray, but Criterion pulled it at the last second because Seitz used footage from films Criterion didn’t have the rights for. However, instead of burying the essay, Criterion decided to post it online for all to see. You can read Seitz’s article about the whole process here.
Out of the four Academy Awards “All That Jazz earned,” its Best Film Editing statuette might be the most deserved. Editor Alan Heim not only jumped back and forth in time, but seamlessly integrated dream logic into the straight narrative. Seitz’s thesis linking French New Wave and Fellini to Fosse’s style of editing is spot on. He also gives props to George Roy Hill‘s underrated film adaptation of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” which used non-linear editing to its full advantage in order to capture Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s absurdist tale about a man unstuck in time. If you’ve never seen “All That Jazz,” be warned that Seitz shows a lot of clips from the film, including the final scene.
Next up is a brief clip, a taste if you will, from an interview with Fosse where he discusses “All That Jazz.” The full interview is included on the Criterion Blu-ray. Finally, we get to watch the first five minutes of the film itself, which perfectly showcases how the fast cut editing style communicates so much information in such a short time, using minimal dialogue. The stressful Broadway auditions cut to George Benson’s version of “On Broadway” visually describes the cutthroat nature of show business better than any film could.