VELMA AND ROXIE: In case you shake apart and want a brand new start to do… that… jazz!
These aren't just catchy song lyrics; they have a point. And the point is, in order to become famous, you have to "shake apart and want a brand new start." It's almost like fame is an addiction. You have to hit rock bottom before you can climb your way to the top.
ROXIE: I was there that night you got arrested.
VELMA: Yeah, you and half of Chicago.
Roxie is telling the truth here, but Velma's response reveals that everyone wants to say they were at the Onyx when Velma Kelly shot her sister and husband. Fame by proxy is better for some than no fame at all.
MAMA: The folks atop the ladder are the ones the world adores, so boost me up my ladder, kid, and I'll boost you up yours!
ROXIE: I sure would appreciate some advice. I mean, especially from someone I admire as much as you.
Roxie really does admire Velma… before she gets to know her! Once Velma reveals her true personality, Roxie isn't that much of a fan anymore.
BILLY: They'll buy everything she's ever touched. Everything. Your shoes, your dresses, your perfume, your underwear.
If eBay were around in the 1920s, it would blow up with Roxie Hart merchandise.
NEWSMAN: Move over, Al Capone. The windy city has taken a new criminal to its heart. The name on everybody's lips is Roxie Hart. The sweetest little lady ever to be accused of murder in Chicago. Women want to look like her. Fellas want to go out with her. Some little girls even want to take her home. Don't get any ideas, little lady.
Roxie Hart is a sensation to the national public—men, women, and children alike, and each group admires her for a different reason.
ROXIE: I'm gonna be a celebrity. That means somebody everyone knows. They're gonna recognize my eyes, my hair, my teeth, my boobs, my nose.
This is so simple, it's profound. You might not be able to identify all the U.S. Presidents, but many people can ID the top movie stars, YouTubers, and musicians by face alone.
ROXIE: I'm a star, and the audience loves me, and I love them, they love me for loving them, and I love them for loving me. And we love each other. And that's 'cause none of us got enough love in our childhoods. And that's showbiz, kid.
Is Roxie right here? Is searching for fame and admiration a way to find love? And if so, is that why it sometimes feels hollow to achieve it? Because it's conditional?
ROXIE: Believe us! We could have never done it without you!
This is the most incriminating line of the movie. If anyone wants to demean Roxie for seeking attention and for reaching stardom after a tragedy, then they really need to blame other people. She wouldn't be famous if society didn't make her famous.
ROXIE: Don't you think it's about time that I met your friend down at the Onyx?
Fred later mentions that he was only telling Roxie he could hook her up with a manager in order to hook up with her… but what if we turned the tables? Is Roxie interested in Fred for himself, or because he might be able to make her famous? Who's more manipulative in this situation?
ROXIE: And, you know, it occurred to me the other day that all the really, really knockout acts have, you know, something a little different goin' on, you know? Like, um, a signature bit. […] And I thought that my thing could be aloof, you know. Give 'em just enough to get 'em good an hungry, but always leave 'em wantin' more.
This is Roxie's key to showbiz and, really, to life. It's a way of manipulating a crowd even if the crowd is the general public and not an audience watching her on stage.
MAMA: I love them all and all of them love me, because the system works, the system called reciprocity! […] Got a little motto, always seen me through, when you're good to mama, mama's good to you.
Mama is a master manipulator, and she knows how to game the system, but in order to play the game, prisoners have to convince Mama that they're worth it.
MAMA: Baby, you couldn't buy that kind of publicity.
This is ironic on Mama's part, because if there's anything Mama knows, it's that the best way to manipulate someone is with cold, hard cash.
MAMA: The truth? […] That's a one-way ticket to the death house.
Mama makes a good point here. The truth is boring. The public—and the courts of Chicago—want a show. They want to be entertained.
VELMA: I can't remember a thing. Only that I didn't do it.
Velma is very good at manipulating reporters and maintaining her innocence. She has to walk the line between fame in the papers and not incriminating herself in the courtroom.
BILLY: You know, you're a remarkable man. […] Your wife two-times you, plugs the guy, then tries to pin it on you. Most men would let a dame like that swing. But, no, you're sticking by her. Makes you a hero in my eyes.
Manipulating Amos is like convincing Jessica Simpson that Chicken of the Sea is chicken, but Billy doesn't only pick easy targets. He knows how to work everyone.
BILLY: Nobody's gonna care a lick what your defense is unless they care about you. First thing we gotta do is work up some sympathy from the press. [...]But here's one thing they can never resist, and that is a reformed sinner.
Continuing from the last quote, we see that Amos was just the warm-up act. Billy's target is the judge, the jury, the press, the public. Basically everyone.
CLUB OWNER: You're killing me here!
Chicago is full of cute double entendres, and this is the first. When the club owner tells Velma that she's killing him, he of course means it figuratively. He doesn't yet realize that Velma literally just killed her sister and her husband.
ROXIE: That was the night Velma Kelly plugged her husband and her sister.
Scandalous acts of violence become ways to tell time. In the world of Chicago, everyone knows where they were when Velma Kelly committed double homicide.
AMOS: I'm telling ya, it's the God's honest truth, my wife had nothing to do with it. She wouldn't hurt a worm—not even a worm.
Poor Amos doesn't realize—or want to realize—that his wife would kill a worm. Because if Fred Casely was anything, he was a human worm.
ROXIE: Yeah, I killed him! And I would kill him again!
Roxie has no reservations about violence. We're not sure if this outburst is because she's still angry at Fred's betrayal or because she knows it's the first step on her road to fame.
VELMA: Look at this Mama: an editorial denouncing me in Redbook magazine. "Not in memory do we recall so fiendish and horrible a double homicide."
Glossy magazines can paint a glossy picture of murder. They pretend to condemn Velma Kelly, but they know an article on her will sell more issues because the public is as drawn to violence as it is repelled by it.
LIZ: So I said to him, I said, "You pop that gum one more time…" And he did. So I took the shotgun off the wall and I fired two warning shots… into his head. […]
ANNIE: You know, some guys just can't hold their arsenic. […]
JUNE: Then he ran into my knife. He ran into my knife ten times.
In the "Cell Block Tango," one way the merry murderesses get you to empathize with them is by making a joke out of their crime. Adding humor waters down the violence and makes it more acceptable.
MAMA: In this town, murder's a form of entertainment.
Mama says this as though it's a criticism, but she has to know that she is implicit in it. She treats her violent criminals as though they're performance artists.
ROXIE: Who says that murder's not an art?
This line from "Roxie" is spot on, and it proves Roxie Hart isn't just a murderess; she's an artist.
BANDLEADER: Ladies and gentleman, the Onyx club is proud to present Chicago's hottest dancing duo: two jazz babes moving as one.
This is one of the first lines in the movie, introducing Velma and Veronica Kelly. Even without them being murderers, the crowd is drawn to them because they're hot women. Two jazz dudes wouldn't draw the same crowd as two women capitalizing on their sex appeal.
VELMA: Oh, she's gonna shimmy till her garters break.
This lyric from "All That Jazz" is juxtaposed with a visual of Fred Casely removing Roxie's garters in a fit of lust. It illustrates how Roxie is using her sexuality in the hopes of achieving fame.
COP: From what I hear, he's been burgling you three times a week for the last month.
We just included this line because it's so funny.
PHOTOGRAPHER: It's a shame to hide such a beautiful face!
As Roxie is led into the paddy wagon, this is her first clue that she can use her beauty as an asset… even in prison.
TANGO: He took a flower in its prime, and then he used it, and he abused it. It was a murder but not a crime!
This lyric from the "Cell Block Tango" can be seen as a little "lady doth protest too much." If a woman wants to use her sexuality and be an independent sexual being, can she then claim to be an innocent "flower"? Can she have it both ways? Is that what is happening here, objectively?
VELMA: Flash 'em a bit of thigh, huh? Whatta ya think?
Roxie isn't the only one using sex appeal. This is Velma's strategy to seduce the jury, a 1920s version of Sharon Stone crossing her legs in Basic Instinct. And Roxie steals the idea and uses it with great success.
ROXIE: He liked to take me out and show me off. Ugly guys like to do that.
This is a timeless quote about how men love to show off women as trophies. That might never change.
VELMA: Come on babe, why don't we paint the town. And all that jazz.
The 1920s is an era with society obsessed with partying, drinking, and jazz music, and the first line of the movie's opening song inducts you into this not-so-secret society. Get ready to party… and to face the consequences.
MISS SUNSHINE: Do you have any advice for young girls seeking to avoid a life of jazz and drink? […]
BILLY: Stay away from jazz and liquor, and the men who play for fun.
Miss Sunshine's paper has a way of reporting things that the public secretly loves—jazz, liquor, murder—but in a way that seems to moralize or critique it. Is Miss Sunshine concerned with correcting society's downward spiral in addition to selling papers? Or is she only concerned with sales?
ROXIE: There's men everywhere, jazz everywhere, booze everywhere, life everywhere, joy everywhere, nowadays.
"Nowadays" emphasizes how the Jazz Age is a new age. Society wasn't always like that, and it's shocking to some people. But there's no going back.
ROXIE: You can like the life you're living, you can live the life you like. You can even marry Harry and mess around with Ike. And that's good. Isn't it grand? Isn't it great? Isn't it swell? Isn't it fun? But nothing stays.
The Jazz Age society brings with it a new freedom, but at what cost?
BANDLEADER: Let's make the parties longer, let's make the skirts shorter. Let's all go to hell in a fast car and keep it hot!
This is one of the final lines in the movie, and it proves society isn't going to change. It didn't learn any lessons from the Roxie Hart murder trial, and it's going to keep going full-speed ahead.