Moira Shearer in Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 “The Red Shoes.” (1948). Courtesy MGM
By Harris Green
Copyright 2008, 2016 Harris Green
Originally published on December 18, 2008. Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary profiles the New York neighborhood of Jackson Heights.
NEW YORK — Those New Yorkers who immodestly presume they live in the Dance Capital of the World had, for a few weeks this fall at least, good reason to believe they were living in the Dance Movie Capital of the World. On November 4, the ever-reliable SoHo triplex Film Forum broke the long drought of motion pictures about ballet by presenting the U.S. theatrical premiere of Frederick Wiseman’s 2-hour, 38-minute documentary, “La Danse: The Paris Opéra Ballet,” then showing two days later a gloriously re-mastered print of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s beloved 1948 high-camp classic, “The Red Shoes.” New Yorkers had been subsisting on such parched fare as Robert Altman’s “The Company” (2003), which even Altman seemed to have lost interest in before it was finished, and Nicholas Hytner’s “Center Stage” (2000), which sank under the dead weight of clichés. (Eight years passed before anyone risked a sequel, “Center Stage: Turn It Up,” and that one went direct to DVD.) Stephen Daldry’s “Billy Elliot” (2000) shouldn’t count because it painted a truer picture of Mrs. Thatcher’s England than it did of a dance class. Not surprisingly, Film Forum found itself besieged by capacity crowds for both ‘Shoes,’ which ended its scheduled two-week run on November 19, and “La Danse,” which is in its sixth week as this report is filed, and has since opened in Los Angeles and Chicago.
Our ballet-challenged film reviewers spent much of their space hailing Wiseman for his 40-year career as an objective observer who never editorializes and scrupulously exercises his considerable power as film editor. He was duly hailed for these qualities in “La Danse,” his 35th documentary (there have been two fiction films), but no movie reviewer I read prepared balletgoers for what Wiseman captures as his camera roams the corridors, stairwells, studios and stages of the Palais Garnier for 12 weeks (in the fall of 2007). Some of the world’s most gifted and beautiful dancers are shown stuck in a predominantly Eurochic repertory that debases their artistry as heedlessly as it wastes their energy, yet the ever-objective Wiseman doesn’t seem either bothered by or aware of it.
For a New Yorker, a year of POB’s assiduously advanced, flavor-of-the-month fare would be as enervating as attending a City Ballet season devoted almost entirely to Diamond Project commissions.
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