1. "To be on the wire is life; the rest is waiting." This is the philosophy of Joe Gideon (Roy Schneider), a successful theatre and film director who is finishing up his latest movie (The Stand-up) and mounting a new Broadway musical (N.Y./L.A.). Joe is a compulsive worker whose days begins with a tape of Vivaldi, a shower, Alka Seltzer for the stomach, Visine for the eyes, and Dexedrine tablets for energy. The intoxication of creativity and the spur of new projects give his life a frantic quality which sets him apart from everyone else. Huba! Huba! Huba!
2. "I am nothing and should be everything," Karl Marx once lamented and that goes for Joe Gideon as well. The flip side of his personality reveals a self-destructive tendency and a feeling that he doesn't quite measure up to his own expectations. A friend pinpoints the problem "What's underneath is this dreadful fear that you're ordinary, not special."
3. A perfectionist, Joe is hard on himself but can be tolerant of others. In one scene he tells a member of the N.Y./L.A. cast: "Look, I can't make you a great dancer. But if you stick with it and don't give up, I can make you a better dancer." Joe Gideon is less appreciative of the business types who put up the money for the show. He has nothing but scorn for celebrities who feign love for showbiz.
4. We all have our personal freedom projects. Joe's is sex. He has difficulty being faithful to any one woman. There is Audrey (Leland Palmer), his former wife and the star of N.Y./L.A. who is an unusual blend of sarcasm and flinty warmth; Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi), his teenage daughter who communicates in one of the film's most touching scenes with her father through the body language of dance; Katie (Ann Renking), his long-suffering mistress who desperately wants Joe for herself; and Victoria (Deborah Geffner), a dancer who has a dream she'll never fulfill.
5. Joe has a dream too an ongoing series of encounters with a seductive angel of death (Jessica Lange). She draws out stories of his childhood and his innermost fears, hopes, and fantasies. This aspect of the movie brings to mind Fellini's 8 ½.
6. "Death is largely what we make it emotionally, what we abstract from our lives and project upon this blankest of blank screens" (Ernest Becker). Joe Gideon suffers a heart attack from all the work, the booze, the drugs, the smoking, and the womanizing. Although there is an autobiographical basis for this dimension of the movie (Fosse nearly died of a heart attack in 1975), the hospital sequences here, which are at once gruesome and surreal, serve to universalize the ambivalent human response to impending death. The intimations of mortality in All That Jazz aroused within us a string of very strong emotions.