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All that Jazz

September 27, 2015

ATJFr. Andrew Greeley describes Eric Rohmer’s My Night with Maud (1969) and Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979) as being similarly sacramental for him.25 He believes movies to be particularly suitable for the creating of epiphanies, for they have an inher­ent power to affect the imagination. I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’s book The Pilgrim’s Regress, when Lewis portrays John hearing words near the Canyon: “For this end I made your senses and for this end your imagination that you might see My face and live.” Greeley argues that God discloses himself to us through the experiences, objects, and people we encounter in our lives. He writes that “grace is everywhere.” One must be concerned about the poor, thinks Greeley; but one must also be concerned with the arts, for the artist is a potential sacrament maker, one who can reveal the presence of God within cre­ation itself. Here is the theological basis for our experience of the holy in film. Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue – R. Johnston p. 161

All That Jazz is a semi-autobiographical fantasy based on aspects of the dancer, choreographer, and director’s life and career. The film was inspired by Fosse’s manic effort to edit his film Lenny while simultaneously staging his 1975 Broadway musical Chicago. It borrows its title from a Kander and Ebb tune in that production.

Choreographing and casting for dancers for his next Broadway show, while editing his severely over-budgeted and over-scheduled Hollywood production about a stand-up comic, is getting to Joe Gideon. He is a workaholic, choreographer, and theater director who chain-smokes and chain-sleeps with all of his dancers.

After a particularly stressful script rehearsal with the penny-pinching backers, he is taken to a hospital with chest pains and admitted with severe attacks of angina. Joe tries to take it in stride and walk straight back to the rehearsal, but is ordered to stay for three to four weeks to rest his heart and recover from his exhaustion. The show is postponed, but Gideon continues his antics from the hospital bed. Champagne flows, endless strings of women frolic around and the cigarettes are always lit. Cardiogram readings don’t show any improvement – Gideon is playing with death. As the paltry reviews for his feature film (which has been released without him) come in, Gideon has a massive coronary and is taken straight to coronary artery bypass surgery.

Elements from Gideon’s past life are staged into a dazzling sequence of set-ups — himself directing from the hospital bed, while on life support. Realizing his death is imminent, his mortality unconquerable, Gideon has another heart attack. In glittery musical numbers, he goes through the five phases of grief — anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance – featured in the stand-up routine he has been editing. As death closes in on Gideon, the fantasy episodes become more hallucinatory and extravagant and in a final epilogue that is set up as a truly monumental live variety show featuring everyone from his past, Gideon himself takes center stage.

Joe Gideon: To be on the wire is life. The rest is waiting. [Generally attributed to Karl Wallenda, who had died in a fall the year before the film came out]

Joe Gideon: It’s show time, folks.

Angelique: Do you believe in love?
Joe Gideon: I believe in saying, “I love you.”

Joe Gideon: Kate, I try to give you everything I can give.
Kate Jagger: Oh, you give all right; presents, clothes. I just wish you weren’t so generous with your cock.
Joe Gideon: [pauses in thought] That’s good. I can use that.



Joe Gideon: A great entertainer…
O’Connor Flood: A great entertainer!
Joe Gideon: A great Humanitarian…
O’Connor Flood: A great Humanitarian
Joe Gideon: And my dear friend of 25 years…
O’Connor Flood: And my dearest, dearest friend for 20 years!
Kate Jagger: [Joe turns off the TV] You missed by five years!
Joe Gideon: [walking to the bathroom] Oh boy, do I hate show business!
Kate Jagger: Joe, you love show business.
Joe Gideon: Oh that’s right. I love show business. I’ll go either way.

Joe Gideon: Sometimes I don’t know where the bullshit ends and the truth begins.

Joe Gideon: [looking at Audrey while heading to surgery] If I die, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did to you.
Joe Gideon: [turns to Kate] And if I live, I’m sorry for all the bad things I’m gonna do to you.


Joe Gideon: I always look for the worst in other people.
Angelique: A little of yourself in them?
Joe Gideon: A little of myself. And generally, I find it.

Joe Gideon: Don’t bullshit a bullshitter

Davis Newman: This chick, man, without the benefit of dying herself, has broken down the process of dying into five stages: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Sounds like a Jewish law firm. ‘Good morning, Angerdenialbargainingdepressionacceptance!’.

Joe Gideon: Do you suppose Stanley Kubrick ever gets depressed?

Dancer Backstage: Fuck him! He never picks me!
Dancer Backstage: Honey, I *did* fuck him and he never picks me either.

Davis Newman: You know what death with dignity is, man? You don’t drool.


Michelle Gideon: It’s just that I keep wondering, Dad. Why don’t you get married again?
Joe Gideon: I don’t get married again because I can’t find anyone I dislike enough to inflict that kind of torture on.

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