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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

There's no fool like an old fool.

All That Jazz (1979) on IMDb

Plot Overview

“From the top” a choreographer named Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) wakes up, takes some Alka Seltzer, pops some (prescription) Dexedrine, showers, smokes a cigarette, and is on his way to the theater. We see a cut of a high wire artist and the quote that, “To be on the wire is life.” Joe gets right down to business, “It's show time, folks!” To the opening bars of George Benson's “On Broadway,” he selects about one in ten of the 100+ try­out dancers at a cattle call, not all according to merit (“Autumn. Is that your real name?”) After the “Terrific audition!” he turns to editing a film star­ring a stand-up comic whose lines are not the funniest I've ever heard (“Death is really a hip thing, now”), but it seems related to a life review he's having with a mysterious angel of death, Angelique (Jessica Lange).

After fussing with his girlfriend Kate Jagger (Ann Reinking), he goes back to his Broad­way production of: “Welcome Aboard/Air-rotica.” We go back and forth between that and the film “The Stand-Up” he's working on, until (“It's exhaustion”) he has a heart attack. “He tried to do too much.” His hospital­ization becomes, in his mind, a production unto itself called, “Hospital Hop.” This guy doesn't know when to let up, and I'm reminded of the saying, ‘Death is nature's way of telling you to slow down.’

The film's final act follows a female doctor's template that “has broken down the process of dying into five stages:

  1. anger
  2. denial
  3. bargaining
  4. depression
  5. and acceptance.”

After fighting his inevitable demise brought on by fast living (“This is just a rough cut. I need more time.”), Joe goes out in style to Ethel Merman singing, “There's No Business Like Show Business.”


In one hospital scene, Joe is off wandering the corridors when he stumbles into the room of a delirious old lady who's been marvelously neglected. He embraces her and tells her how beautiful she looks. If my reader will permit me a metaphor on the order of saying: ‘I love Dickens’ [a person], when one means he loves Dickens's works [his books], then I could say the old lady reminds me of our neglected old Bible that a rare wanderer might actually embrace. For that matter the King James Version (KJV) does have a beautiful elegance.

In an earlier dressing room scene, a female performer interrupts a neo­phyte studying First Year Latin, right as he's conjugating the verb for ‘to love’: amo, amas, amat, … . After commenting on it, she leaves and the fellow moves on to the word for ‘girl’: puel … . If he's thinking of loving a girl, Amo puella, maybe in the hospital it wouldn't be unusual to say a girl is beautiful, Puella est pulchra, and if we're thinking meta­phoric­ally of the Good Book, then it would be the Bible as trans­lated from its Greek & Hebrew.

It's Solomon who spoke (Eccl. 12:12) of not making endless translations and that the study of other languages can get weari­some. As long as we're using the metaphor of a person to represent writings, then apropos would be, (Eccl. 4:13-14) “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.” The old fool of a king who came out of prison to reign is some old but foolishly transcribed manu­scripts that came suddenly out of obscurity, while the good native English words of the KJV have fallen into a poverty of disuse, allowing the new trans­lations in modernized, i.e. more developed, English to dominate, which isn't so good. In “All That Jazz,” Joe's daughter Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi) is the “poor and a wise child,” wise for her many observations and sayings, and poor in status, because Joe won't keep his promises to her. Joe is the “old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished” as he always gets his way be he directing on stage or recovering in bed.

If you can keep up with the allegory, this movie is instructive in the following way: If Joe recovers slow, the great performers of “Welcome Aboard” will have moved on and the expired insurance won't pay to train more. If he leaves the hospital before the insurance runs out, how­ever, he won't have the stamina to direct, he'll be too weak. The best out­come for the investors would be for Joe to die while the insurance is still in effect. That way they'll recoup enough to make a good profit. This has a direct application in the allegory. Jesus claimed His words—as remembered by His apostles—would be preserved, (Matt. 24:35) “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Thus were they preserved in the Greek "received text" (textus receptus TR) that was then trans­lated into the English KJV. The corrupted manuscripts if they're older than the "received" date, TRD, they'll tend to dominate in the new trans­lations. Our best hope is that they'll pass into oblivion, any before TRD.

The movie in its allegory gives us two illustrations. One is Mr. Tap who's a great dancer but evokes laughter if he's had an "accident" while wearing his white pants. In the gospel Jesus says of certain pesky demons, (Matt. 17:21) “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” The New International Version (NIV) that as a whole Bible came out in 1978 a year before this movie did (in 1979) uses these older manuscripts recovered from a geographical region influenced by the Gnostics who didn't believe in fasting. Their manu­scripts left out “fasting.” Prayer without fasting would work in some circum­stances as would dancing with­out continence in some out­fits, but in others it would be a joke.

Another illustration is when Joe justifies to Kate his sleeping around by saying, “I go out with any girl … I stay in with you.” Morality being relative, his coming home to Kate after his excursions makes him seem moral, at least to him­self. More­over, when evalutaing the naked dance scenes, the producers figured they would strike different segments differently. People define sexual immorality in various ways: one night stands, sex w/o love, not using a condom, and so forth. The KJV. has in various places prohibitions against fornication. Fornication is by definition human sexual inter­course other then between a man and his wife. The NIV (and a slew of other modern ones) substitute the more familiar word of a prohibition against "sexual immorality," a phrase that means different things to different people.

We English speaking Protestants might be better off sticking with the KJV, but that's beyond my purview here, I'll just give some practical pointers how to avoid being above admonish­ment should a teacher/preacher feel like using a modernized version. In the case of preaching from the pulpit a sermon covering familiar ground in not too great a detail, keep the PA volume down enough not to overly distract a congre­gant who wants to follow along visually in his KJV. According to Wickens & Hollands (107),

The phenomenon of visual dominance appears to oppose our natural tendency to switch attention to stimuli in the auditory … modalit[y]. These stimuli are intrusive, and the peripheral receptors have no natural way to shut out auditory … information. We cannot close our “earlids,” nor can we move our earball away.

Horowitz also refers to these “problems of having a sensory system that is always ‘on’. Your auditory system is constantly monitoring the back­ground” (108). Proper attention to a sermon allows for checking it out according to, Acts 17:11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” To over­whelm the visual Bible read-along with a strange new version preached overly loud is to tend to set it above admonishment that the listener might want to do after the service if he has some question. Further­more, a clear indication to switch from audio sermon to visual Bible (for those who want it) can be accomplished by announcing chapter & verse numbers: “Different physical or salient sensory annunciators or reminders to perform a task will be more likely to trigger a switch to that task than will less salient properties, or purely memorial repre­sen­tations” (Wickens & Hollands 446). If a preacher doesn't announce chapter and verse, his sermon may have a smoother delivery, but if he's using these new versions, he'll be setting them beyond admonishment. The noble "Berean" wants to “high­light the input from the sensual modality that is providing the most information about the task you [the public] have consciously decided is most important” (Horowitz 110).

In the case of a Bible study where group discussion ensues, a parallel reading by course from two or three versions (if we can't all agree on the KJV) would seem to be indicated per (1Cor. 14:29-33) “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. …,” along with some comparative judging of the canonized word in different versions.

Production Values

All That Jazz” (1979) is a story based on the period in its director Bob Fosse's career when he was beginning to put together the musical play “Chicago” that in its form bears some resemblance to “All That Jazz.” The screen­play was written by Robert Alan Aurthur & Bob Fosse. It stars Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, and Leland Palmer. Fosse's ex-wife and dance protégée, Ann Reinking, auditioned for and got the part of movie-Joe's girl­friend Kate Jagger who was based on her. This film is more about dancing than acting, and the performers did just fine.

The film is rated R, probably for its thematic elements, undressed dancing, and a prescription drug. Cliff Gorman was the stand-up comedian in the film within a film. The open heart surgery was done courtesy of St. Luke's hospital team, New York. This film uses editing to maintain its pace. The cuts create a rhythm as well as containing one within each cut. Both closeups and wide shots were used.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I sure did enjoy this movie, in part because I also enjoy dancing and plays and for that mater the movie “Chicago.” It helps, also, to be Bible-literate to appreciate some subtle structures that have parallels in the sacred milieu. I wouldn't mind seeing it again, and I recommend it whether you're seeing it for the first or the nth time.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Unless otherwise noted, scripture is quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Scripture quotations marked NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION or NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION.
  Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. Print.

Horowitz, Seth S., Ph.D. The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind. New York: Blooms­bury, 2012. Print.

Wickens, Christopher D., Univ. of Ill. at Champaign, and Justin G. Hollands, Univ. of Idaho
   Engineering Psychology and Human Performance. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000. Print.