Culture Monster

All the Arts, All the Time

« Previous Post | Culture Monster Home | Next Post »

Who needs a Bob Fosse biopic when we already have 'All That Jazz'?

January 20, 2011 |  5:57 pm


The news of a planned HBO biopic on the life of director Bob Fosse has theater buffs buzzing this week. "X-Men" director Bryan Singer is attached to the still-in-development project, adding even more intrigue to the pot. But we at Culture Monster are a bit more skeptical about the whole enterprise. In fact, when we first read about the movie, our first reaction was: Who needs a Fosse biopic when Fosse beat everyone to the punch years ago?

Released in 1979, "All That Jazz" is Fosse's bonkers autobiographical account of his own creative and physical meltdown. The movie stars Roy Scheider as the lightly fictionalized Fosse character, Joe Gideon — a chain-smoking, Dexedrine-addicted, self-destructive director who is trying to juggle careers on Broadway and in the movies. Fosse, who directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Robert Alan Aurthur, created a truly idiosyncratic movie — a vanity-free autopsy of a man whose sexual and emotional selfishness often eclipsed his artistic generosity of spirit.

"All That Jazz" was directly inspired by a real event in Fosse's career. In 1974, the director-choreographer suffered a near-fatal heart attack while working on the musical "Chicago" and post-production on his movie "Lenny," starring Dustin Hoffman. Fosse's friend Shirley MacLaine is said to have urged the director to turn his near-death experience into a movie. And thus the idea for "All That Jazz" was born.

But Fosse's movie proved to be a nightmare production. His notorious perfectionism (plus a constantly changing script) caused the shooting to go over schedule. Columbia Pictures was intent on pulling the plug, but 20th Century Fox stepped in with more money to help finish the movie. "All That Jazz" went on to win four Oscars and shared the 1980 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

All of which brings us back to the HBO movie, which will be based on the nonfiction book "Bye, Bye Life: The Loves and Deaths of Bob Fosse" by Sam Wasson. The book's title is a reference to the climactic fantasy scene in "All That Jazz" in which Scheider and Ben Vereen perform the song based on the Everly Brothers' "Bye, Bye Love."

That should be enough to tip off the folks at HBO that any movie made about Fosse will have to stand in the shadow of "All That Jazz." The film is a behemoth in the musical-film genre — you simply can't get around it. It is also that rare movie musical that is highly esteemed by both theater and film critics — a testament to Fosse's unmistakable style (often imitated today) and the sheer force of his personality. No one can do Fosse better than Fosse. So why try?

For those who haven't seen the movie in awhile, here's one of its most famous sequences in which Gideon-Fosse performs his morning routine of eyedrops, Alka-Seltzer, cigarettes, prescription pills and Vivaldi.


'Chicago' creators say Disney and Miramax broke contract to the tune of $12 million-plus

'Pippin' gives a new meaning to 'stage hands'


— David Ng

Photo: Roy Scheider in "All That Jazz." Credit: Hollywood Entertainment Museum.