All that jazz

It was a disappointing weekend of footy finals and after a few beers with the boys on Saturday afternoon watching the second of the games I set footy aside and reclined on the couch to watch a movie.
The movie I chose this week I think is a classic, though perhaps not as widely recognised as it should be. I don’t remember the first time I watched All That Jazz, and all I took from that were fragments. The next time I watched it was about eleven years ago, I reckon. It was a Sunday night and I was flying out the next morning for a week of work in Darwin. I watched as I ironed and packed, before I settled down to watch the movie properly. It had a vivid effect on me.

I think this is a great film. I love Bob Fosse as a film-maker, and reckon he’d have been interesting off set too. He has a distinct style and sense of adventure. Another of his movies, Cabaret, is also a favourite, but he was cutting edge throughout. It’s interesting that given his background as dancer and choreographer how that might have influenced his film making.

All That Jazz focuses on a choreographer much like Fosse, a character called Joe Gideon, played by Roy Scheider. He’s a dissolute genius, a chain smoking womaniser and heavy drinker, living right on the edge. The movie focuses on a show he’s preparing for, while in the background he is putting together a movie of a comedian (based on Lenny Bruce – and a movie Fosse himself made a few years before). The comedian riffs on death, and on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ seven stages, which becomes a theme. Around him are the people in his life – a mediocre dancer he’s having an affair with, the loving girlfriend he’s cheating on, his dancer ex-wife and daughter, as well as the investors in the show.

It’s a high-wire life and he lives it recklessly, almost daring it. Throughout the first half of the movie it jumps between these scenes, with the odd fantasy diversion. There are some brilliant set-pieces, fantastic imagination at play throughout. It’s daring and inventive, but in the second half of the movie it really becomes an artistic expression.

By then Gideon has had the inevitable heart attack and is in hospital. The movie takes on a psychedelic vibe as it alternates between fact and fantasy, with Gideon confusing the two. His life and background are explored as his health declines further, leading into the final musical number with Joe Vereen singing Bye, Bye, Life to Joe.

The whole movie is a tour de force, and I can think of few other films who carry such an imprint of their maker. It’s brilliant.

It’s funny what you remember. Things stick in your mind. For me there were three things I recalled whenever I thought of the movie before watching it on Saturday. In my memory the scenes featuring the comedian were more significant, like a commentary on Joe. There’s another lovely scene when the girlfriend and the daughter perform to Joe to Peter Allen’s Everything Old is New Again. Then there’s the final scene, where Joe’s life and death are played out musically.

All of this melded into my mind creating an overall impression. They were the elements my psyche was drawn to, and I think influenced one of the ideas for a novel I’ve had in my head for the last 18 months.

This novel is more extroverted and fantastical, and in fact occasionally when I stopped to think about it I was reminded of another movie, Fellini’s . It was only after watching All That Jazz again that I realised the influence of that, unknown till that point. In fact the two movies have many elements in common, so it makes sense. Both protagonists are auteurs, of different types. Both are troubled, intense souls living on the edge. Both movies feature fantasy elements and a sort of cinematic stream of consciousness. Both, in their way, are intellectual movies – movies that provoke and explore and ask questions. And both have a distinct directorial perspective with an autobiographical inspiration.

Funnily enough that’s pretty much how I conceived my novel too. I love that stuff.

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