Back Beat

June 6, 2015 at 12:15 am | Posted in DVD Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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I watched the DVD (2007) of this [1994] film the other night and it really added to my understanding of the origins of the Beatles.

The film revolves around John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Astrid Kirchherr. Sutcliffe is Lennon’s best friend; Sutcliffe was also a member of the band that would go onto become known as the Beatles. In all, there have been six musicians who at one time were in the band – Sutcliffe left and Pete Best also ‘left’. Ringo was the ‘latecomer’.

Much of the film takes place in Hamburg; this is where the film really lets one know how formative Hamburg and Astrid for the Beatles.

Hamburg in the early 60’s, compared to Liverpool, was a cosmopolitan centre of new ideas – fashion, artistic, social, etc. Astrid a photographer was woed by Stuart; and inevitably they became lovers. It was she, who gave the Band their haircuts, and influenced their choice of clothing. After their second stint in Hamburg, the Band was recogisable as the Fab Four, and the jeans/blue-shirts/leather-jackets were gone.

At the time, Stuart was John’s best friend, and Astrid came between them. John is portrayed as ‘an angry young man’ – though preferred to think of himself as ‘desperate’. He did not like Astrid taking Sutcliffie, a very talented painter, away from music, the band and him, into the arts world.

The three leads are played by Ian Hart, Stephen Dorff, and Sheryl Lee. Gary Bakewell chips in as Paul McCartney.

Things I never knew: the Beatles started out as a cover band; their first recording work was as a backing band for Tony Sheridan; the 5th Beatle was actually Sutcliffe; and Ring was the 6th.

Worth watching for the history and the times.

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A Life for Ballet

January 3, 2014 at 11:21 pm | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, DVD Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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The original title is Une vie de ballets; the film is in French, but it doesn’t matter – most of the important stuff is the ballet sequences.

The film is centred around Pierre Lacotte (dancer, choreographer and living repertoire repository for romantic ballet) and Ghislaine Thesmar (ballerina, his wife and muse). The two chat about their lives, the choreographers and dancers they have worked with. Of course, there is footage of famous dancers and ballets.

Being a French, we see a more Euro-centric recent history of ballet.

This DVD/film is a must see for balletomanes.

The Company

January 2, 2014 at 8:00 am | Posted in Ballet Review, DVD Review | Leave a comment
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I watched the DVD of The Company and I enjoyed it.

This Robert Altman film is about a ballet ‘company’, not the CIA.

In the film, Neve Campbell (playing dancer Loretta ‘Ry’ Ryan) joins the Joffrey Ballet (playing itself), and the audience is given a view of a top professional company – at rehearsal, performing, and the lives of the dancers. It is like watching a smoothly scripted version of La Danse.

The dance – classical ballet and neo-classical ballet – sequences are great.

Campbell trained until she was 15 at the National Ballet School of Canada, before switching to acting. She fits into the Company fairly smoothly, and it is through her character that we see the Company at work, and at play. [Apparently she trained for months – daily private lessons and six weeks with the Joffrey Company – to prepare for the role.]

Campbell also co-wrote and produced.

Malcolm McDowell and James Franco – in non-dancing roles – provide support.

A must see for balletomanes.

Funny Face

December 11, 2013 at 6:40 am | Posted in Dance Review, DVD Review, Film Review | 1 Comment
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I saw this on DVD the other day.

Audrey Hepburn plays Jo Stockton, a book worm thrust somewhat unwillingly into the world of haute couture – in Paris no less. Fred Astaire plays Dick Avery, a fashion photographer who discovers Jo. Kay Thompson plays Maggie Prescott, the editor-in-chief of Quality magazine.

It is clearly the inspiration for some of the scenes in “The Devil Wears Prada”: Prescott’s offices and ante-chambers are clearly a 50’s version of Miranda Priestly’s offices.

Hepburn, Astaire, and Thompson are accomplished dancers: Hepburn was lyrical, Thompson was more in the broadway dancer mold, and Astaire was just Astaire.

The story is along the lines of ‘caterpillar to butterfly’ – Jo, the book worm, discovers fashion, beauty, and love. It is done with a particular 50’s sense of panache and naivety.

Worth watching to see three excellent dancers, Astaire’s choreographical genius, Paris in the 50’s, and the clothes of course!

Mrs Henderson Presents

November 23, 2013 at 1:05 am | Posted in DVD Review, Film Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I watched the DVD of Mrs Henderson Presents the other day and was surprised at how modern things were during the late 30’s.

The story is based on the real Mrs Henderson, who really did buy a un-used theatre and put on nude revues, starting before World War II, going all the way through WWII, and beyond. In the period covered by the film, the girls – ‘all of good character’ – were not allowed to move! still: art; movement: lurid! Oh and Mrs Henderson funded what became the Royal Ballet! as her theatre needed dancers!! (I suspect she saw it and the revue as a way to channel her considerable wealth into a neglected segment of society when money was short and times were hard for women.)

Dame Judy Dench is Mrs Henderson, and Bob Hoskins is Vivian Van Damm – the much put upon theatre manager she hires. Kelly Reilly is Maureen – the first of the girls hired by Vivian. The three have some nice chemistry and the film progresses smoothly from there.

There is quite a bit of nudity: but it is mainly art !

It is a nice period piece that give a reasonably accurate view of life in the 30’s and 40’s. Worth getting the DVD out.

The Turning Point

November 22, 2013 at 11:48 pm | Posted in Dance Review, DVD Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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I finally got to see this on DVD the other day and was blown away.

The movie has a strong plot and some really good ballet.

Two women meet up again after many years apart when a ballet company comes to town. Both were friends and dancers in the ‘corp’, one went onto become a principal dancer, the other opted to have children and teach in her own ballet school. Now the latter’s daughter is at an age and skill level where she could turn ‘pro’. The company offers her a tryout. The rest of the story is the rough introduction into the life of a professional dancer, and her mother and god-mother working out some of their un-resolved issues.

Interspersed is some great ballet; practically everyone who has a dancing role was a professional dancer. Only the god-mother (and principal dancer) is played by a non-dancer: Anne Bancroft. The mother is played by Shirley McClaine. And the daughter is played by Leslie Browne.The featured dancers are a list of who’s who of North American based dancers; ‘the rest’ (my apologies but that is how they are credited) of the dancers come from the American Ballet Theatre.

The movie, made in 1977, is now a ballet historical artefact. The Madame Danilova character is Alexandra Danilova (Russian Imperial Ballet School & Ballet Russe) – playing herself. There is priceless footage of Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing the solo from Le Cosaire. Other dancers featured: Lucette Aldous (a Kiwi!), Fernando Bujones, Richard Cragun, Suzanne Farrell, Marcia Haydée, Peter Martins, Marianna Tcherkassky, Clark Tippet, and Martine Van Hame.

The film clearly influence the more recent Centre Stage.

A must see if you are interested in ballet and dance.

Giselle: Mats Ek’s

January 10, 2013 at 9:25 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, DVD Review | 1 Comment
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I watched Mats Ek’s Giselle on DVD the other day, and I was impressed his re-interpretation of the original story.

The peasants are dressed in grey and are much drabber than the tradition cheerful peasants. Giselle – Ana Laguna – is the only one in her community to were colour: she is treated as an eccentric – she is routinely tied up. It is no wonder she eventually ends up at an institution.

Myrth – Lena Wennergren – is recast as the matron at the asylum.

Albrecht – Luc Bouy – the prince turns Giselle’s head and she can no longer fit into the drab routine of village life. Giselle has a mental breakdown and awakens in the asylum. The dance of the wills is transformed into a dance macabre of mad women.

Hilarion – Yvan Auzely – remains on the other side of the love-triangle.

Both Hilarion and Albrecht visit Giselle – but to no avail. Giselle stays in the safety of the asylum – rather than re-enter a world that has no place for her.

Ek has completely reversed this romantic ballet into a much more realistic tragedy.

The Cullberg Ballet did a marvelous job of the blend of neo-classic and contemporary ballet choreography – there is no pointe work (as it presumably go counter to the anti-romantic paradigm). Lena Wennergren, Luc Bout, and Yvan Auzely do a fantastic job of their characterisations and dancing. Ms Wennegren has a particularly grueling role – mimw and challenging choreography.

What really surprised me was that this was a 1987 recording – originally for TV.

La Bayadere

September 11, 2012 at 9:01 am | Posted in Ballet Review, DVD Review | Leave a comment
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I just watched the Opus Arte DVD of The Royal Ballet’s 2009 production of La Bayadere: The Temple Dancer. Really good ! The Shades in the Act 2 (Scene 2) is a hidden gem.

The official billing is choreography by Natalia Makarova after Marius Petipa; though I notice that revival staging is accredited to Olga Evreinoff, and principal coaching is accredited to the latter and Alexander Agadzhanov. Anyway the choreography was great. I did have a little problem with the costumes in combination with the lush scenery – a switch to more dessert and sand might have worked better.

The story is pretty and easily followed: two women love the same man and one women poisons the other. There is some rich emotion to be mined and it is an opportunity for some excellent choreography and dancing. Carlos Acosta dances the part of Solor the ‘love object’ – he is a brave warrior (and hunter of tigers). Tamara Rojo dances the part of Nikiya – a temple dancer: the Bayadere. Marianela Nunez dances the part of Gamzatti – the Rajah’s daughter and the other women.

The Shades in scene 2 is very reminiscent of the mass swan scenes in Swan Lake, but with a much more dramatic entrance. The interview with Leanne Cope and Francesca Filpi on the ‘Extras’ really add some wonderful context to this scene. Incidentally, the ‘Extras’ segment on this DVD are really good; as is the accompanying booklet.

A DVD worth watching.

Crazy Horse

July 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Posted in Dance Review, DVD Review, Film Review, Musical Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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The 41st Wellington Film Festival is on; I went to Federick Wiseman’s Crazy Horse – a film about the Paris nightclub of the same name.

The film is made in the same style as Wiseman’s La danse: fly-on-the-wall over a few days, apparently without much editing.

This particular screening was very fly-on-th-wall: there were no sub-titles! The audience got to experience the French, a tiny bit of Russian (at least one of the dancers is Russian), and a short burst of English, unassisted. The disconnect created by not understanding the dialogue made for a surreal experience; the slow bleed of people leaving the film and the staff announcements about ‘technical difficulties’ added a performance art nuance.

The dancers are technically very proficient – though the sway back, bottom accentuating posture must make their former ballet teachers grind their teeth. And of course the dancers are very good looking. There is lots of nudity; the dancers are clearly comfortable with their bodies and being unclothed, the practical needs of quick costume changes means that they wonder around backstage without much on.

The Crazy Horse nightclub visual esthetic is not at all raunchy – the naked body is so clinically presented and adorned that the naked aspect of the performance is not the focal point. (Or maybe there was so much nudity I became accustomed to it!)

Most of the film is of the dancers on stage or of dancers rehearsing or new sequences being put together – so no aural comprehension is required. There are meetings of the back office staff; by the body language, especially the hand waving its not all plain sailing at the nightclub – we just don’t know what the disturbance are about.

So even without sub-titles it is a good watch. If you are watching in a theatre that serves drinks, order champagne – it will be just like being in Paris at the club!

Mozart’s Sister

May 26, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Posted in DVD Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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I got Mozart’s Sister out of the library the other day.

Marie Feret plays Maria-Anna (‘Nannerl’) Mozart – the older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. She like her famous younger brother was also a musical prodigy – she played the piano, the violin; sang, and composed. Though she ran into difficulties with the latter.

The children’s father toured the children around the courts of Europe hoping for fame and fortune. It appears that if you had musically talented children that’s what you did. The financial rewards must have been quite good if you caught the ear of someone wealthy. The Mozarts encounter an English boy violinist.

It is while touring that Nannerl encounters three french princesses in a convent – they have been sent there by Cardinal [Richelieu] to keep them out of intrigues at Court. Nannerl develops a friendship with Maria Louise (played extremely well by Lisa Feret). Nannerl ends up taking letters from Louise to friends-and-family at the French Court – at Versailles.

Nannerl ends catches the eye of the heir to the French throne – Louis, Le Dauphin. The latter has sworn off women and will only deal with men – so Nannerl has to dress as a man to deliver her letter! The plot requires Nannerl to dress as a man quite a bit – and when dressed as such looks like the surviving representations of Mozart (her brother). The Dauphin is captivated by the nannerl’s music. Even when she confesses to being a women, the Dauphin is not upset. For a while things go well.

The music, as you would expect, is wonderful and the costumes are beautiful. The cinematography is tight and well composed.

The Film fills in the spaces between the recorded historical facts. So eventually, things resolve themselves – not always for the good of all. The film is tinged with sadness: at what might have been – had two extremely able women been born men or in a different time. We are shown glimpses of the strength of character and unfulfilled potential of the two Marias.

The film looses nothing for being in french – it just adds to the historical authenticity.

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