While this film might not appear to be one about the medical profession (at least, at first glance), it is quite obviously one that explores the themes of life and death.
All That Jazz is a musical based loosely on the life of Bob Fosse, particularly the manic lifestyle he maintained while editing the film Lenny and (simultaneously) staging Chicago on Broadway.
Bob Fosse is played by the character Joe Gideon (who is himself played by Roy Scheider), who’s putting on a musical and cutting a film about a comedian, while sleeping with one the dancers he hired, stringing his girlfriend along, trading barbed comments with his ex-wife, and trying to squeeze in time to see his (ever-so-precocious show-biz) daughter. He manages to keep from keeling over up the pace through a cocktail of chain-smoked cigarettes, Alka-Seltzer, Dexedrine, and Visine. Gideon greets every day with the following catch-phrase: “It’s showtime, folks!”
Throughout the film, we see flashbacks to Gideon’s youth and the occasional flirtation with a woman in white (the Angel of Death, as played by Jessica Lange). Not exactly the most subtle way to show that Fosse Gideon is flirting with death. However, their scenes crackle with energy. Lange handles the small, but very significant role, with a delightful combination of playfulness and sensuality. You could say that Gideon not only flirts with death, but spars with it. Almost in the manner of a drug-addicted, over-sexed Don Quixote.
Ah, but here’s the interesting part. At one point (after Gideon has suffered a “severe attack of angina”), he is hospitalized, but continues to party on. And one of the doctors says, basically, “This man doesn’t seem to care if he lives or dies.”
Here’s where the medical theme comes in. Who is the doctor to tell Gideon how he should live? Is Gideon really a man who doesn’t care about dying or is he one trying desperately to live to the max?
We know that doctors are bound by the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.” But can a doctor force a patient to live a less flamboyant life, if that patient doesn’t want to? Of course not.
Finally, is Gideon a man who wants to live on his own terms or one who simply can’t accept his own mortality? I’d say it’s the latter. Gideon is, essentially, a teenager trapped in a middle-aged man’s body. However, Gideon ultimately is forced to confront the five stages of grief that the comedian in his film repeats throughout. And with that, let’s just say that the film reaches a grand finale—and so does Gideon.
If you’re one of the few people who don’t know the ending and don’t want to, do not watch this video of the final scene! 🙂
This movie is a must-see for film lovers. Even if you don’t usually watch musicals, this one is a surreal treat, not unlike a musical version of 81/2!