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The Company

07 Apr

The Company –– directed by Robert Altman. Docudrama. The backstage and onstage life of the dancers of Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. 112 Minutes Color 2004.

★★★★★

A hybrid tea rose. Gorgeously filmed by Pierre Mignot, who took many of Altman’s later films.

This is Altman’s penultimate work, a small masterpiece, which offers the current of a story not spelled out but floating along in the stream of the life of the dancers in which Neve Campbell, the actress who wrote it, produced it, and does (unlike that other young woman who won an Oscar) actually dance it.

She was trained in ballet long before going into acting, and she worked for three years with another writer to grant the Joffrey their story. And then, as no professional athlete could train, for months she trained to get back into ballet condition.

Nothing is filmed in documentary style; everything is filmed in dramatic film style. All of this is quite fascinating if one can step back and realize that only five actors are actually used and only three of them have principal roles, and only one of them says much. The dancers are beautiful actors, doing what they would do anyhow, which is dancing and being humans preparing to dance. All the more interesting if one knows that The Joffrey is a ballet company without stars: anyone may dance major roles. This gives the film narrative a level playing field.

And it also means that all of the relationships are worked out as pas de deux, or pas de trois, or pas de howevermany. And so we get a view of how the dancers actually live. On the stage they are accoutered gorgeously and lit like angels. Off stage they waiter in saloons to make ends meet and sleep on friends’ floors because they are not paid a living wage.

But that is not so much of what we get as it is that we see the ambiance versus the mechanics of a great dance company in counterpoint. Malcolm Macdowell is devastating as the domineering head of the Joffrey, and Neve Campbell and James Franco sweetly play the young lovers, two youths separated and united by their skills. We see the business arrangements and we see the dance arrangements, and we see that, like the lovers, the two arrangements do not meet except in hiding. For what see on stage is glorious is its riches.

We witness about six astonishing ballets of the Joffrey, with the full company engaged in them and preparing for them by their choreographers and dance masters.

Will you sit back in delight as I did to watch these highly entertaining dances? Will you send out for this film better than sending out for a pizza and far more digestible, you may be sure? Will you remember me and thank me that you read this and acted, as the saying goes, accordingly? Will you enjoy yourself so deliciously?

I hope so.

What gifts Altman had to give when his heart was in his work!

 
 
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