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May 22 2015

1979: Cannes' Golden Fosse and 'All That Jazz'

In honor of the Year of the Month (1979) and this weekend's announcement of the Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival,Glennlooks at Bob Fosse'sAll That Jazz.

All That Jazzis my favourite Palme d'Or winner,awarded 35 years ago.Not only that,it's my favourite film from 1979.Actually,if you really want to know,Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical musical fantasy is my favourite film of any year,period,and it's remarkable how easily I can come to that decision whenever anybody asks what my favourite movie is considering I have the Libra mentality of terrible indecisiveness.

Looking over the list of subsequent Cannes winners and it's a remarkably odd choice.Even when juries have given the top prize to an American film,it has never been one quite sobig.It's not only a relatively big-budget America studio film,but it had already been a hit with Oscar voters several months earlier than the 1980 Cannes festival at which it won (tying with Kurosawa'sKagemusha).UnlikeNo Country for Old Men– directed by this year's Cannes jury presidents the Coen Brothers – which was apparently the victim of a jury belief that it did not need the prestige of a Palme d'Or,Kirk Douglas' jury apparently had no qualms with awarding a four-time Oscar and two-time BAFTA winner with the most prestigious prize in international festival cinema.In a strange coincidence,Fosse's 1979 Oscar Best Picture competitor,Apocalypse Now,had won the Palme d'Or a year earlier.It was the sort of occurrence that would never happen these days and even crazier to imagine something so razzling and dazzling taking the top prize from a competition that included names like Hal Ashby,Samuel Fuller,Bruce Beresford,Alain Resnais,Jean-Luc Godard,Walter Hill and the aforementioned Kurosawa.

Mr.Bob Fossesent methistelegram.I am veryhappy and proudto share theGolden PalmwithMr.Kurosawa.I thankRoyScheiderfor hiscollaborationinthefilm.And Iregret not havingbeen able to returnmyself,to expressmy joy andmyemotion."


I hope I got the translation right!

Maybe I'm not giving Cannes juries enough credit.Maybe I'm not giving Hollywood's studios enough credit.Yet while I do highly doubt anything of its sort could come out via the major studios today,the way the film plays today doesn't sound all that radical.Its structure of diegetic musical sequences,fantasy moments,and jukebox dance numbers fits right at home with the genre's moldability - I don't think audiences today necessarily have a true,unwavering concept of what the movie musical is.There was a long enough gap between ‘traditional' genre hits that musicals were allowed to shapeshift into anything fromFootloose,toThe Bodyguard,toMoulin Rouge!,toRay,toPitch Perfect.

Being on the cusp of that radicalized take on musicals that had started seven years earlier with Fosse'sCabarethad done,still likely meant that the film was a surprise and a shock for many viewers.And we all know how much Cannes loves a surprise and a shock!Updating Fellini's(only 15 years old at that point;All That Jazzis twice as old now than Fellini's film was in '79!) by way of a frazzled,decaying Manhattan bursting with creative energy worked surprisingly well.

From that stunning opening sequence that is so brilliantly edited and choreographed to George Benson's "On Broadway"that they ought to teach it in school,to that climactic finale that is somehow both desperately sad and yet life-affirming in its celebratory pizzazz.Of course,there's the famous "Airotica"sequences,copied by seemingly dozens of music videos,and I personally adore perhaps most of all the hospital fantasy sequence where the women in his life each perform soul-bearing songs on a movie set inside his mind,confronting himself with his faults and his misdemeanors.

Forgive the sidebar,but if one wanted to be pop culturally in the now,they could look at it as a precursor to theMad Menfinale where Don tried to confront each of the women inhislife with his faults,showing himself like never before.Is Erzsébet Földi as Joe Gideon's daughter telling him "Ya gotta stop screwin' around,daddy!"not a precursor to Sally and Don?"I scandalized my daughter..."

It wasn't Fosse's first time at Cannes.The film made prior toAll That Jazz,the 1975 stand-up comedy biopicLenny– the very one that his character Proxy inJazzis seen tirelessly tinkering with – competed and won the Best Actress prize for Valerie Perrine.If you've noticed I have more or less avoided actually talking about the film itself then that's because I have never actually been able to truly write aboutAll That Jazz.I find it such a beast of a film that I inevitably start writing one thing and spin right off onto another and there simply isn't enough time to spend 2000 words on why the editing is the best I've ever seen,or why individual costumes are so important,and how every single scene,shot,and frame is perfect.There are certainly worse problems to have when writing about movies,but you'll just have to take mine and Cannes' word for it.

Who do you think will win this year's Palme d'Or and what do you make ofAll That Jazz's win 35 years ago?

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Reader Comments (11)

I had my Fosse year last year,watching Cabaret,Lenny and All That Jazz all for the first time.
Basically,until last year,I wasn't qualified to talk about movies and now I am!
I go back and forth between loving Cabaret or Jazz more.

May 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

That is one of the great musicals and one of the true winners of the Palme d'Or while sharing it with one of the greats who brought a classic.

May 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

There is this legend that says Cannes wanted Douglas Sirk for president of the jury,but the American office of the Cannes festival got the wrong person,mr.Kirk Douglas.

May 23,2015 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I would break the law to see this one on a huge screen.

May 23,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

mike in canada -- love it.Fosse was a true genius.It's frustrating that he doesn't get the respect he deserves as one of hte greatest auteurs.I assume it's because he made mostly musicals.(sigh)

glenn - really weird stats there about the consecutive Oscar and Cannes thing.hadn't really ever thought of that but you're right that it wouldn't happen today..

May 23,2015 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nat,the closest we've gotten lately is both "Zodiac"and "Death Proof"screening at Cannes in 2007 after having already opened in America.Weird that,technically,the 1979 Best Picture line-up has two Palme d'Or winners despite,at the time,it was only one.

Mike/Nathaniel,he also only made five.:(

Cal,that is pretty amazing.

Peggy Sue,I've seen it twice!Once on 35mm (not the greatest of quality but I didn't care) and then just recently on 4K.I was sitting directly behind Bob Fosse's daughter!

May 23,2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Lovely article Glenn,anyone who has seen "All That Jazz"can understand why your enthusiasm just bubbles over in several directions.
I went to the cinema in 1979 alone,saw the film and was so impressed,I came back the next night with 2 friends who loved it as much as I did.
That opening sequence on the big screen was totally new,no one had done auditions like that before.So many people have imitated Fosse since that they probably can't understand how original he was.
I think he is valued as an auteur,anyone who loves dance reveres his work including his films.

May 23,2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Thanks for this.Any piece on this film I devour,and good ones like this mean all the more.

May 23,2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Wow,now I want to watch it tonight,even though I last saw it only about a month ago.I love your Mad Men observations.

May 23,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Glenn -- i can't stop thinking about that Mad Men comparison either.I know what you mean about writing about this picture.I tried to do it justice when I covered it for my ill fated "personal canon"project and I ended up just barely grazing the surface of things I had to say about it.

perhaps we should take it on for BEST SHOT.but i think i'm scared to.

May 23,2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Fathers and their daughters,hey?

I actually know exactly what shot I would use of you did a HMWYBS for this film.

May 28,2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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