Now it is more common for directors to make very personal projects where they look at themselves, sometimes at their childhood, with a certain mixture of reflection and self-indulgence. Beyond a certain unquestionable brilliance in films like ‘Roma’, ‘Pain and Glory’ or ‘Belfast’, it’s hard not to feel the pats on the back that their authors want (need) to give themselves. And we’ll see Spielberg with ‘The Fableman’s‘.
Because of that there are an autobiographical drama from 1979 that continues to feel revolutionary and transgressive to avoid complacency. That for each moment of glory or lavish moment of creativity he compensates by showing the most dodgy and even despicable aspects that he perceives of himself. A bit of atonement for sins and a bit of strange calming of the ego in front of the public. This is ‘All That Jazz (The show begins)’, by Bob Fosse, and you can see it on Filmin.
my empire of dirt
As we have said, the film tries to show a fictionalized version of Fosse’s last years, where he explores what should be the sweetest period of his career, after winning Oscar, Tony and Emmy the same year. Instead it ends in a self-destructive spiral doing the biopic ‘Lenny’, which takes a long time to edit, and also directing a stage production of ‘Chicago’, also very demanding.
All this while this fictional version of himself, named Joe Gideon and played by Roy Scheider, maintains his complex and intense relationship with drugs, sex, his inner demons and tries to balance it all with fatherhood. It is not surprising that we see a character as active as emaciatedthat every morning he must look in the mirror and make a gesture to indicate that the show begins.
What’s refreshing about this film is how Fosse constantly tries to trash his apparent achievements and brilliance, constantly pointing out your faults and your regrets. Almost thinking that he would be better off dead -in fact he is aware of the little time he has left-, hence his various contacts with a spectral presence called Jackeline (Jessica Lange), which gives an incredible trace of tragedy that contrasts the living that are seen all the musical numbers he plants.
‘All That Jazz (The show begins)’: the star that goes out
Those regrets could almost be set to music with a song released years later, Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Dirt’ – later repopularized by a twilight Johnny Cash – which comments on building an empire out of dirt. That term almost seems to apply to how Fosse sees what he has built, that he has not really availed himself for personal satisfaction or to consider that he has accomplished something significant, despite having signed true masterpieces like ‘Cabaret’.
That is why we find here one of the best reformulations of what Federico Fellini tried to do in ‘Fellini, ocho y medio’. Fosse wanted to take advantage of a medium as artificial as cinema to explore truths about himself, who knows whether to calm his conscience in his last years of life or to demystify the figure of the masterful author. Or maybe a little of all. That’s why this is his masterpiece and, strangely enough, it’s the behind-the-scenes look that managed to strangely catch on with the audience.