Yes I have used the same pun from the title of my ballet blog which is yet to be kicked into motion, but it's the only relevant semi-intelligent title I could come up with for this post, so deal with it.
The trailer for Darren Aronofsky's latest, Black Swan was released yesterday evening. Since hearing about the upcoming release, I have already been brushing up on my ballet films, but thanks to the trailer, I can now bore you all with reasons why you should or should not see the following films.
I have something of a love/hate relationship with this film. I love the soundtrack. I love the boy who plays Billy's gay friend, Michael. I love Julie Walters in it. The plot of the film (namely young working class boy caught up in the strife of Thatcher's north-east England struggles against his father's bigotism to convince the world ballet is a manly passtime and finally makes it) should be loveable, but unfortunately, because Jamie Bell was so horribly bad at dancing, it becomes almost wholly unbelievable that Billy would have been trying to be a dancer at all. Yes as a "dancer" myself I am going to be far more critical of this aspect than the average viewer, but a simple instruction to Jamie: "point your fucking toe" would have raised his level of dancing at least 50%. I can point blank guarantee that the Royal Ballet School would not accept a potential candidate if they couldn't even point their toe. Soz. Another gross inaccuracy which only those who give a shit about ballet itself would have noticed and been aggrieved by is the ending. Billy's father and big brother make their way to to the Royal Opera House (something which is highlighted frequently through shots of the famous building) to watch Billy in his first leading role. Except his first leading role appears to be lead swan in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Which has never been performed by the Royal Ballet in that Matthew Bourne has his own company of dancers, and when he does employ other artists, he uses the English National Ballet. The reason why this particular production was chosen to feature in the film, I'm guessing, is because the actor who played Billy all grown up was Adam Cooper, the star of Matthew Bourne's production. Ah well at least they used a real dancer for that role.
The Red Shoes
This 1948 classic is one of my all time favourite films. Moira Shearer (an actual dancer) plays Victoria Page in this adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. The film to me, possibly because it's one of the first films I ever really fell in love with, is a perfect example of classic cinema at its best. There are lovely extended dancing scenes featuring excerpts from Swan Lake and Giselle as well as the ballet, The Red Shoes itself. Moira is pure perfection in the film, and even though she starred in other films, and danced many other roles, she was always remembered as Vicky.
This 2003 film about the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago is sheer modern dance-film excellence. Shot in almost a cinema-verité style, the film follows Neve Campbell among other real members of the company, with a lovely romantic subplot between Campbell and verified amazingness James Franco. Don't worry, Franco doesn't dance. Campbell herself trained with at the National Ballet School of Canada, and in this film gets to put her at times exquisite dancing skillz to use in the extended scenes of contemporary ballet. The film offers a funny, touching and informative insight into the lives of those within a major company. Basically The Company is the holy trinity of a good dance film: well written, well acted and well danced.
The Turning Point
Another film which has managed to capture my heart, The Turning Point is pure 1970s cinema. Depicting the growing conflict between aging ballerina Emma Jacklin and ex-member of the company and best friend, Deedee Rodgers. Emma is fictitious lead principal of the American Ballet Company and begins mentoring Deedee's daughter, Emilia who herself becomes a prominent member of the company. The young dancer falls for Yuri, played excellently by Mikhail Baryshnikov, who in case you didn't know, is one of the greatest ballet dancers ever (and also went on to star as Aleksander Petrovsky in Sex and the City...) The emotional conflict between Emma (Anne Bancroft, who received an Oscar nomination for the role) and Deedee (Shirley Maclaine) is believable and heartfelt, and the dancing, which features heavily but not enough to impose on the narrative, is both spectacularly choreographed by the créme-de-la-créme of history's choreographers and danced by some of the world's greatest dancers of the time including Antoinette Sibley, Leslie Browne and of course Baryshnikov. Baryshnikov is in fact, in my opinion at least, the highlight of the film. When he takes to the stage in his solos, your jaw will literally hang open and I guarantee you will both well up and feel aroused - (maybe don't hold me to that...) Sometimes the dialogue is a bit dodgy, but the sheer splendour of it all, and the laborious efforts made to keep it realistic and yet enthralling make this one of the greatest dance films ever made. Watch. It.