“Whatsamatter? Don’t You Like Musical Comedy?”

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[Roy Scheider makes a big production out of dying in Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz.]

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences screened the 1979 film, All That Jazz, directed by the astoundingly gifted Bob Fosse, on May 7. As confirmed by many of those involved in a Q & A, All That Jazz could not be a studio movie today. It almost wasn’t one for Columbia and Fox almost 30 years ago.

Richard Dreyfuss was going to play Benzedrine, booze and babes addicted Fosse alter ego Joe Gideon. But executive producer Daniel Melnick told the audience that Dreyfuss arrived one day with his attorney and agent and secretly confided, “I can’t see my fat Jewish ass onstage being a dancer.”

As a result, Roy Scheider gives the performance of a career as Gideon. It is there in his face during a hospital hallucination, after open heart surgery, when he escapes his bed and lovingly kisses an aged, dying woman. You see his conflicted feelings as Jessica Lange, as a white-clad angel of death, entices him to leave this world.

Among the group onstage after the film was world-class cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, who flew in from Italy. “Peppino” shared emotionally how after they wrapped, Fosse put Rotunno in a chair in the middle of a soundstage, had dancers perform around him and whispered in his ear, lovingly, “I hope I have embarrassed you, Peppino.”

There is so much talent involved: Oscar-winning editor Alan Heim, the acting and dancing of Leland Palmer and Ann Reinking, as Gideon true loves, past and present. Yet it must all come back to Fosse, whose real life carousing, heart condition and need for obsessive tinkering are caught in a remarkably creative, visual manner. This stage dancer, choreographer and director captured dance on film in one of the most thrilling manners imaginable. Fosse’s work is worthy of the highest accolades, beyond the film’s Oscars and Golden Palm at Cannes. His script, with Robert Alan Aurthur, previewed Fosse’s own early demise. Melnick stated many actors, before Scheider signed, refused to do All That Jazz, if the Gideon character died. The proper response might be held within the otherworldly hospital hallucination, where Scheider as Gideon as Fosse looks up, as if to God, and asks, “Whatsamatter? Don’t you like musical comedy?”

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