10 Delightfully Subversive Movie Musicals

Today, the Criterion Collection issues a sparkling new DVD/Blu-ray special edition of All That Jazz, Bob Fosse’s mini-masterpiece. Based on its reputation (and, in a great part, thanks to the subsequent film version of Fosse’s Chicago, whose opening number provides the title), the casual viewer might presume it to be a standard, formulaic musical — when, in fact, it is anything but. After the jump, we’ll take a closer look at All That Jazz, and a few other musicals that buck the genre’s long-held traditions.

Roy Scheider in "All That Jazz"

All That Jazz

Fosse’s 1979 film has less in common with his stage musicals than his gritty, non-musical 1974 biopic Lenny — or, for that matter, Fellini’s 8 ½, with which it shares a spirit of naked autobiography. Fosse’s protagonist, Joe Gideon (played masterfully by Roy Scheider) is a world-famous stage choreographer-director/filmmaker whose attempts to juggle his work commitments, romantic entanglements, and prescription drugs lead him to death’s door — just like Fosse, who even engaged real-life lovers like Jessica Lange and Ann Reinking to appear in the film (in Reinking’s case, basically playing herself). It’s a raw, honest portrait of a difficult man, its fast-paced, hyperactive, caffeinated editing matching the character’s go-go intensity. The repeating sequence of morning close-ups seem to have particularly inspired the early films of Darren Aronofsky, and the fact that All That Jazz warrants legitimate comparison to Requiem for a Dream should give you some idea of how far off the grid this one goes.