Picks and Pans Review: All That Jazz

updated 01/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

Explaining the theme is easy: A self-pitying musical comedy director is preoccupied with death. But it's harder explaining how Bob Fosse has made that maudlin quasi-autobiographical notion into one of the great American movies. Absorbing and profound, All That Jazz brims with the nervous energy of fear, self-mocking irony, desperation and an insane kind of hope. One key reason is a spectacular starring performance by Roy Scheider, who in a Van Dyke beard actually resembles Fosse. The director uses the hypnotic close-ups and vivid settings of his earlier Oscar winner, Cabaret, but here blends them with subconscious-fantasy sequences. His choreography hasn't suffered either. One smoky, shadowy ensemble dance is as erotic as any ever filmed. Ann Rein-king, Fosse's onetime companion, lives with the film's hero. Leland Palmer plays his sometime wife (Fosse was, of course, married to Gwen Verdon). Erzsebet Foldi, 13, is the daughter. All the actors profit from Fosse's choreographic ingenuity. The film creates its own universe so well that even footage of open-heart surgery (which Fosse went through in 1975) isn't out of place. Is this neo-musical comedy? Melomusical? Call it superb and leave it at that. (R)

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