All That Jazz
André Tecedeiro
March 27, 2024

“What can I tell you about my next guest? This cat allowed himself to be adored, but not loved. And his success in show business was matched by failure in his personal relationship bag, now — that's where he really bombed.”

In All That Jazz, Roy Scheider plays Joe Gideon, an obnoxious Broadway director and choreographer addicted to work, sex, nicotine, alcohol, and amphetamines. Every morning he proclaims in the mirror “It's showtime, folks” (Better Call Saul drew inspiration from this), but the ritual becomes more decadent by the day.

Right at the start of the film, Joe is a man on a high wire, flirting with death, trying to deal with his finitude, his work, his ego — “Oh, that's very theatrical, Joe”, comments death, seductively, wrapped in white veils.

Gideon works obsessively on several projects simultaneously. By day, he's a choreographer on Broadway and by night he's editing a film about a comedian who makes jokes about accepting death. Even in hospital, he has hallucinations in which he continues to choreograph and direct as if everything in life were a show.

If All That Jazz is Joe’s turbulent life transformed into a show, it is also the life and show of Bob Fosse, the film’s director, Broadway choreographer and co-creator of Chicago.

There are many similarities between Joe and Bob.

Like Gideon, Fosse was a perfectionist and addicted to work, nicotine and dexedrine. He suffered his first heart attack in 1974, while simultaneously rehearsing Chicago and editing a film about comedian Lenny Bruce.

Bob Fosse also had conflicts with producers who asked him for more socially appropriate and less controversial performances.

Ann Reinking, the actress and dancer who plays Joe’s girlfriend, was Bob Fosse's ex-girlfriend in real life. And she had to be cast for the role — as if anyone could play it better than the person herself. Reinking, in an interview with The New Yorker, explains that she thought this was normal, as she has always had to do casting for everything.

As for the angel of death, it was played by Jessica Lange, who at the time was Fosse’s girlfriend.

Where are the boundaries between fiction and real life?

It’s disturbing that Bob Fosse directed, choreographed and co-wrote a musical comedy about his life in which he portrays himself in such a sordid way.

If Joe Gideon is an unpleasant character in 1979, his behaviour is even more uncomfortable in 2024, when it is no longer tolerated for someone in a position of power to have a sexual relationship with the people he works with. Joe's predatory behaviour has another reading after the #metoo movement.

Gideon’s relationships with women are violent and dysfunctional and, although the film is full of talented women, they are there to seduce, to be watched, rejected and disappointed. Even though he's ill, he doesn't get any better and at the hospital he harasses the nurses. When he is taken to the operating theatre, he hallucinates and apologises to his ex-wife for what she did to him and to his current lover for what he will still do to her.

Joe has a hard time dealing with the dirt of showbizz, but he also contributes to it.

And then there are the unforgettable moments.

The opening sequence, an almost documentary record of an audition, captures the warm-ups, the waiting, the nervousness in a crescendo of energy and tuning. And then there’s the unsettling script reading sequence, in which all sound is removed. All that’s left is Joe’s breathing and the amplified sounds of his anxious movements.

Bob Fosse’s speciality is serving up heavy themes in daring choreographies, and in All That Jazz this can involve turning open-chest surgery into a musical number or choreographing exuberant hospital hallucinations.

André Tecedeiro is a poet, playwright and visual artist. He has a degree in Painting (FBAUL) and Psychology (FPUL) and a master's degree in Fine Arts and in Labour Psychology. He has published eight books of poetry in Portugal, Brazil, Colombia and Spain, including A Axila de Egon Schiele (Porto Editora, 2020), recommended by the National Reading Plan. His poems are represented in more than twenty literary magazines and anthologies. For the theatre, he wrote Joyeux Anniversaire (2021), Undoing (2021) and The Rehearsal (2023).

Batalha Centro de Cinema

Praça da Batalha, 47
4000-101 Porto

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