PLAYBILL PICKS: The Five Greatest Movies About the Theatre

By Robert Simonson
02 Aug 2012

Roy Scheider in "All That Jazz."
© 1979 20th Century Fox.

ALL THAT JAZZ: "It's showtime, folks!" The most recent film on this list, it was released in 1979. It was director-choreographer Bob Fosse's second-to-last film (though, considering what "Star 80" became, many wish it had been his final cinematic gesture), and it is largely autobiographical, with Roy Scheider standing in as an overworked, over-extended, medicated and dying director-chroegrapher who is pulled in several directions by a movie stuck in the editing room (a thinly veiled "Lenny"), a new musical running off the rails (Chicago), and the needs of the many women in his life (including Jessica Lange, as the Angel of Death). The razzle-dazzle found in Fosse's stage musicals is all here, with the stand-out musical numbers almost too many to count. And while the story is told with almost zero sentimentality, there is nonetheless a lot of theatre-love on display.

"Fosse was a genius," said Goodman, "and his ferocious self-destruction is riveting. The use of the camera to express dance is also astonishing." Mayer said that the movie "is the best rendering of the creative process as it relates to the (relatively) contemporary theatre. It's the movie that mercilessly explores where true creativity meets self-destruction; psychology meets imagination; and the terrifying place where art meets commerce…. Brilliant filmmaking. And then there are the theatrical elements which betray the reach of his ambitions. But, man, is he reaching! And that's ultimately the most moving thing about the film." A few commenters agreed with Beane — "Fosse does Fellini" — that the film showed the clear influence of Federico Fellini's "8 1/2," while Cashill pointed out the movie's influence on other flicks, like the recent "Synecdoche, New York." "A portrait of the artist hooked on an art that is killing him day by day," summarized Cashill. But, then, that could arguably be said of every film on this list. The theatre, she is a cruel mistress. The film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. (The DVD of "All That Jazz" is among films available at