In honor of the Year of the Month (1979) and this weekend's announcement of the Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, Glenn looks at Bob Fosse's All That Jazz.
All That Jazz is my favourite Palme d'Or winner, awarded 35 years ago. Not only that, it's my favourite film from 1979. Actually, if you really want to know, Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical musical fantasy is my favourite film of any year, period, and it's remarkable how easily I can come to that decision whenever anybody asks what my favourite movie is considering I have the Libra mentality of terrible indecisiveness.
Looking over the list of subsequent Cannes winners and it’s a remarkably odd choice. Even when juries have given the top prize to an American film, it has never been one quite so big. It's not only a relatively big-budget America studio film, but it had already been a hit with Oscar voters several months earlier than the 1980 Cannes festival at which it won (tying with Kurosawa’s Kagemusha). Unlike No Country for Old Men – directed by this year’s Cannes jury presidents the Coen Brothers – which was apparently the victim of a jury belief that it did not need the prestige of a Palme d’Or, Kirk Douglas’ jury apparently had no qualms with awarding a four-time Oscar and two-time BAFTA winner with the most prestigious prize in international festival cinema. In a strange coincidence, Fosse’s 1979 Oscar Best Picture competitor, Apocalypse Now, had won the Palme d’Or a year earlier. It was the sort of occurrence that would never happen these days and even crazier to imagine something so razzling and dazzling taking the top prize from a competition that included names like Hal Ashby, Samuel Fuller, Bruce Beresford, Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Walter Hill and the aforementioned Kurosawa.
Mr. Bob Fosse sent me this telegram. I am very happy and proud to share the Golden Palm with Mr. Kurosawa. I thank Roy Scheider for his collaboration in the film. And I regret not having been able to return myself, to express my joy and my emotion."
I hope I got the translation right!
Maybe I’m not giving Cannes juries enough credit. Maybe I'm not giving Hollywood's studios enough credit. Yet while I do highly doubt anything of its sort could come out via the major studios today, the way the film plays today doesn’t sound all that radical. Its structure of diegetic musical sequences, fantasy moments, and jukebox dance numbers fits right at home with the genre’s moldability - I don’t think audiences today necessarily have a true, unwavering concept of what the movie musical is. There was a long enough gap between ‘traditional’ genre hits that musicals were allowed to shapeshift into anything from Footloose, to The Bodyguard, to Moulin Rouge!, to Ray, to Pitch Perfect.