All That Jazz "Some of TheseDays"

“Do you believe in love?” “I believe in saying, “I love you.” “

 

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…”

 

Before the curtain fell on ALL THAT JAZZ, I got to thinking about this quote by The Bard. It goes on, of course, to explain how we play children, students, soldiers, and the like. However, I got to thinking of it where the great artists are concerned. They too will play many parts; protégé, mentor, hanger-on, meal-ticket…

However, it’s the way all of those roles tangle into one crazy mess that allows great art to come forth. Of course, what happens when that great art does come-forth can be even more of a tangled mess…and lord help us when the artist takes a stab at untangling it all.

ALL THAT JAZZ is a semi-autobiographical story by legendary director and choreographer, Bob Fosse. Here, our hero’s name is Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), and like Fosse he is both a revered Broadway director and a maverick filmmaker. Gideon’s days involve a routine of controlled chaos:

Wake-up, clean up, dope up, gear up. He then goes to a theatre where he creates, choreographs, dictates, and directs. He interacts with actors, accountants, producers, and proprietors. When all of that is done, he retires to raise a woman, spar with a woman, inspire a woman, and fuck a woman.

The next day? Back to one.

The story finds Joe trying to launch a new Broadway show and finish a Hollywood film about a stand-up comedian. It’s here, at the beginning of one idea and the end of another, that Joe’s health finally starts giving out on him, and he begins to have imaginary conversations with an angel of death (Jessica Lange).

Joe’s life – and by extension, Fosse’s – is a difficult tale to tell. So much of it is categorized as “you had to be there”, since so much of it seems so self-centred and eccentric. You would think that explaining such a life, a genre other than musical theatre would be employed…since describing something so complexed might be an easier sell if it weren’t constantly interrupted by pretty face, lavish spaces, jaunty tunes.

Thing is, that’s precisely how a story like this should be told since Joe’s life – and by extension, Fosse’s – was so surrounded by these pretty faces, lavish spaces and jaunty tunes. The rest of us have bus drivers, office mates, and yoga instructors…Fosse had all of this.

 

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When I was younger, an old friend used to explain part of her spiritual beliefs by saying “Love the sinner; hate the sin” (which was her way of saying that she might not of approved of pre-marital sex, but she would never disown someone she cared about for partaking in it). That idea jumped to mind during ALL THAT JAZZ when Joe turns to Audrey looking for feedback on his newest number. Her answer is glorious:

“I don’t know about the audiences, but I think it’s the best work you’ve ever done. You son of a bitch.”

At first it seems like a twisted answer – the compliment and the cuss all knotted-up together. But then I got to thinking back to my old friend and her loving sinners while hating sins. It never occurred to me to look at things this way, but it’s likewise true – in a weird way – that one could hate an artist while loving their art.

To the outside world, an artist could seem like a genius. An artist could seem to posses a brain that is able to tear apart the very fibre of their creative outlet and stitch it all back together in ways never even conceived of. It might well produce an end result that’s rapturous to audiences, critics, and fellow artists alike. But to the inner circle, this genius might well be laced with a toxic personality. To those closest, this creative genius might be a cookie full of arsenic…capable of the sweetest delights and lethal toxins.

One might think that such a personality would sully the impact of the work they create, but strangely it’s just the opposite. Great work is great work. We might sigh and grumble when we first take it in, but we can’t deny its beauty.

Many of the singers and dancers Joe works with go through this – griping about his methods and douchebaggery, often right to his face. However, when he turns his easel around to show what he’s been working on, the griping ends. He’s a dick, but undeniably – he’s a talented dick.

Hate the artist; love the art.

 
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A trend in this writing series that I still haven’t tired of is discovering the origins of tropes. Watching so many movies through the years, you come across certain ideas or tricks often enough that they begin to feel cliche. What’s easy to forget though, is that every cliché was once a fresh and original storytelling device – such as the entire final act of this film that turns a Joe’s hospital stay into a lavish musical number. Sure, Fellini did it first, but the musical element raises it up a notch.

Via Fellini or Fosse, it’s a thread that’s been used in more movies and TV shows than I can count.

What’s wonderful about seeing its origin in ALL THAT JAZZ, is that in this story it makes complete sense. Joe is a man who sees the world in choruses and choreography; in solos and sequins. What might a mind like that start to think about when dosed with a heavy amount of drugs to ease his heart condition? Seems like there’s no other correct answer except “a trippy show”. What’s more, in this final act, he’s reflecting back on everything he’s done and everything he still wants to do. That’s a lot to sort out for one brain, so it feels fitting that Joe would make heads-or-tails of it by way of musical numbers.

When this trope has been copied, it’s been by way of some mental break – drug-induced or otherwise – manifesting itself with the people in one’s life spontaneously singing and dancing. But how much sense does that make? Ask yourself how you would feel and how your body might rebel if when taken to hospital your parents, children, friends, or partners started interacting with you overtop of a Sondheim score. (Odds are you’d ask for less drugs…or more, who’s to say?).

In ALL THAT JAZZ though, it makes complete sense. If a painter were clinging to life, the challenge would manifest in colours and brushstrokes. Were an athlete in this position, a match or game would unfold before their eyes. One can only imagine what happens when a chessmaster faces a life crossroads. For the director though, life is revisited in songs and steps…and for the director, it all seems quite normal given the role these things have played in the directors life inside and outside of the theatre.

So watching ALL THAT JAZZ play the acoustic original of a track I’ve heard remixed by every DJ under the sun was a beautiful sight…and perhaps the first time I’ve truly enjoyed this gimmick.

 

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There are musical numbers in ALL THAT JAZZ that are glorious…and others that are excessive. Some seem silly and some are quite sexy, but amazingly enough, this is one of the few musicals I’ve encountered where the real takeaway lays between the songs. In those spaces, I watched Joe converse, express, accuse, and atone in-between directions and decisions. He catches up with his daughter while she helps him choreograph. Before that, he has a heart-to-heart with his ex-wife while watching her rehearse.

Souls are bared surrounded by competitors, and truths are told before audiences.

In short, it’s the reality of an artist working at the top of their game, and brining everyone they love into that twisted reality. The reality means that there’s no time to stop for the moments that everyday lives allow over dinner tables and coffee shops. For an artist, these moments must happen between brushstrokes…while waiting for notes to come in. Everyone gets it, and everyone rallies to make it work.

Some might see it as a sign of mixed priorities; I see it as something to aspire to.

 

BSS

I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for February so far…

 

Becca Sharp watched THE RULES OF THE GAME

Beatrice watched ANNIE HALL

Courtney Small watched THE CONFORMIST

Keisha watched THE ELEPHANT MAN

Boudreaux watched WINGS

Josh watched INFERNAL AFFAIRS

Wendell Ottley watched THEY CALL ME MISTER TIBBS

Jordan Dodd watched THE MASTER

Katy Rochelle watched AMELIE

Allie watched SCHINDLER’S LIST

Katie watched THE PLAYER

Anna watched THX-1138

Ruth watched SUNSET BOULEVARD

Daniel Bayer watched ON THE WATERFRONT

Bob “Look, My Calendar Works Now!” Turnbull watched NAVIGATOR and A NIGHT AT THE OPERA

Fisti watched THE PUBLIC ENEMY

John Hitchcock watched NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

Andina watched THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE

Jay Cluitt watched THE GOONIES

Mette Kowalski watched THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED

Chris watched HOOP DREAMS

Dan Heaton watched MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA

Brittani Burnham watched ENTER THE VOID

Luke Pajowski watched MALCOLM X

Paskalis Damar watched DAYS OF HEAVEN

Sean Kelly watched GIRLFRIENDS

Melissa Hunter watched TITANIC

Kevin watched FITZCARRALDO

Steven Flores watched SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN