All that Jazz

I’m a sucka for musical films. But some are so bad, like that depressing thing, Pennies from Heaven that Herbert Ross did years ago. I don’t think Scorcese’s New York, New York was ever given serious consideration. It was interestingly like A Star is Born. I like Fosse’s All That Jazz, and wonder would he be alive, would Chicago, or even Dreamgirls, been done earlier?

I love the quick tracking in as the curtain opens, the closeup of Jim Broadbent with more eye makeup than Nicole Kidman and the blast of hot air. The entire piece truly is a blast of hot air. With the exception of the allusion to Bollywood, here, the whole piece is an art directors dream, and a couple of good editor’s cut. I believe I saw this in the movies, so the long shot might have seemed more effective, although I have seen that better done in other films. Moulin Rouge, has to be one of the worst movies ever made. It is as if someone opened the vaults of 20th Century Fox, and said rip off what you would like.

This is a movie in search of itself, and thankfully ends, never quite to be thought about. Kidman, generally a good actress, must have taken leave of her senses for this drivel, which might have flashed out of Fassbinder’s head and been immediately disposed of. Even Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy, another art director’s dream, had a semblance of a story to guide it along and introduced new musical material. It also had a better photographer. Moulin Rouge, unlike the original movie who in title only, this one rips off, is truly a lead balloon in search of more hot air.

You could write a book about Jennifer Hudson’s feet. They are that funny, they seem not to fit the sophisticated voice and face. They also costume her in a terrific suit and neckline for this one.  Yet those feet, even in flats. The other Jennifer, Holliday, the original Effie White should have looked this good! Watch her on youtube in that awful cheezy pink get-up. Back in the early 80s, I had read about her performance in Newsweek, and she was the darling of Broadway, that season. But anyone who saw that Tony award video, knows that Holliday was just too “big” for the screen and she actually would scare anyone off with all those hysterics of her face. She is a far cry, from that pretty Jennifer Holliday who lost a 100 pounds and really is quite lovely. But I saw both Jennifers on a BET thing, and Holiday would blow anyone off the stage. Which is why the other Jennifer got the part and the Oscar in the first place.

Now watch Hudson’s feet and moves in Step into the Bad Side. That one, Eddie Murphy and Beyonce seem right at home. Is someone in Hollywood real dumb? There are a hundred parts they could create for a good looking, great figure girl, like Beyonce. She is such a natural with Murphy in this number. In fact, the entire cast–Murphy, Hudson, Beyonce, Anika Noni Rose, Foxx, Hinton Battle–what material to make a dozen movies with!

Notice how the girls enter the stage compared to Kidman. The use of spatial is extraordinary with the cuts behind and in front of the supposed audience. An art director, does not a storyboard artist make! Look at the use of red from the beginning of the sequence when we see it behind Foxx, and then later with the entrance of the girls, where it is splashed all over a rather neutral set. The lighting used in the Kidman number, flattens the scene, rather than accentuates space. Much different from the wonderful somber browns in Hudson’s number previously cited. One must note that both Dreamgirls and Chicago are based upon established books, and musical material which was worth its weight in gold long ago.

It was fun to get the non-English youtube versions of both Stepping to the Bad Side and All That Jazz. The second depends on the beauty of establishing two different scenarios which run parallel. Moulin Rouge tries that and it goes flat.

Catherine Zeta Jones is terrific as the main character of the scene. The use of cutting, regrouping, musical lead in, color and camera placement and movement, are quite intelligent and dynamic. Watch Jones feet making an entrance, just as Renée Zellweger’s feet and stockings tell us reams about her character in bed in the same scene.

There is a wonderful shot at the end of the song, where Jones mugs and the reaction shot is a slight zoom into the emerging face of the arresting detective who himself has the same expression. Wonderful small details as these, make us aware of traditions in film (as in Hitchcock) where detail resonates idea and substance.

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