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Pamela Moberg

Margot Fonteyn portrait

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The Swedish TV has just broadcast a film on Margot Fonteyn. It is simply called "Margot" and is made by Tony Palmer who is a veteran in the field of opera and theater. It is a long film, 2 hours and 55 mins - also available on DVD. This film was made in 2005.

Has anybody seen it? It would be nice to hear your opinion!

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It does not paint a favorable portrait of Tito.

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Indeed not, nevertheless I found a lot to be true. I will of course not divulge my sources here, but I actually have some inside information.

The real problem, IMO, was that Fonteyn was treated like some kind of royalty in England, and she also behaved as such outwardly, always covering up - so I think we can conclude that this film came fairly close to the actual truth.

My own personal feeling was that I felt desperately sorry for her - she cant have had many happy hours in her life, not off stage at any rate. Then of course her taste in men was immature to say the very least. But

who am I to judge! Constant Lambert one might have views on, but consider the circumstances! She was young and on the brink of her career and here was somebody who actually composed music for her. I think I would have fallen flat if the devil himself had composed music for me.

But without a doubt, Tito was the final disaster, pity she didnt go through with her divorce. Then again, we must consider England in those days, the sixties. Divorce was not thought of as "quite nice" and the divorce laws were rather old fashioned and odd.

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I think this film is going to be released in the U.S. on June 27. I really want to see it, if it's 3 hours long. Margot was set to go through with the divorce before Tito got shot, but his paralysis killed that idea, excuse the pun. And taking care of Tito's medical problems drained Margot's finances terribly. It seems terribly unfair to Margot, all the suffering she went through for a man who was unfaithful to her to the end. (His mistress shot herself the day Tito died. This is all documented in the Daneman book.)

Reading about Margot and Tito always makes me almost as sad as reading about Tracy and Hepburn's off-screen life.

I think the only man who was truly loyal to Margot was Nureyev, despite the blowups they had.

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Margot Fonteyn can't be separated from her royal image, and I don't see why anyone would want to, since you can so clearly see how much a part of her stage presence it is when you watch the old films of her with Nureyev. I wish there were more such problems, there's certainly little enough of dignity like Fonteyn's in today's world. Footage of her in that 1991 Nureyev documentary show her in all her mature aristocratic beauty; you'd think she and Audrey Hepburn were sisters, the resemblance was so uncanny as they got older, dying within a couple of years of each other and fairly close in age. Nureyev helped her with a lot of the medical bills, as is well-known. I only saw her once in person, in 'Poeme de l'Ecstase' to Scriabine and Klimt-inspired sets.

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With all due respect to Dame Margot, her heydey was in an era when the press hadn't yet become a flock of carnivores drooling for the red meat of people's private lives. Had she been thirty years younger, we might have been as well versed in her marital troubles as we unwittingly became in Bill and Hillary's, Diana and Charles'. Maintaining a regal dignity was possible then, but I don't think it would be now.

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How are the dancing clips? Is there new stuff that we haven't seen?

And who's interviewed? di Valois? Ashton? Nureyev? Keith Money? Other Royal Ballet dancers? Although I know this film will be released on dvd in a month I am just really curious about this film.

Its like, I want to see it, NOW!!!!!!!!!!! :huh:

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How are the dancing clips? Is there new stuff that we haven't seen?

And who's interviewed? di Valois? Ashton? Nureyev? Keith Money? Other Royal Ballet dancers? Although I know this film will be released on dvd in a month I am just really curious about this film.

Its like, I want to see it, NOW!!!!!!!!!!! :huh:

You MAY see some of it now! Back in late November the whole thing was broadcast on the Ovation network and discussed under Heads Up:

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=21111

I just checked and the Ovation link given still works. You can read about the program and click on to two clips, one dancing (REALLY good!) and one about her gun-runnig for Tito.

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Thanks I saw the clips! I cringe at all of the gun running footage. I just think it was horrible for Tito to involve his wife in something like that. But it does seem like an engrossing documentary, and I can't wait to see the whole thing.

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Margot has been available from Dance Books in the UK since last year. It's 17,99 GBP plus shipping. It's all region, and although I don't see a format listed explicitly, it must be NTSC, because the DVD player that came with my TiVo doesn't play PAL.

In the first 35 minutes or so, the following people spoke: Lynn Seymour, Colette Clark (former assistant to Fonteyn), Avril Bergen, Meredith Daneman, David Scrase (director of the Fitzwilliam Museum), Phoebe Fonteyn (Fonteyn's brother's wife), Peter Wright, Hilda Hookham, Keith Money, Margot Fonteyn, Patsy Lady Jellicoe, Beryl Grey, Ninette de Valois, Pamela May, Frederick Ashton, Robert Helpman, John Tooley, Andrew Motion (Constant Lambert's biographer), and Wendy Ellis Somes. There were film clips from Swan Lake (second half of White Swan pas de deux, in color), Aurora's Act III solo (in color), short clips of: First Arabesque (1937), Act I pas de deux from Giselle (from an amateur film), a film called "Stepping to Stardom," Constant Lambert conducting, some glam montage footage of Fonteyn, Aurora's Awakening (with Somes, in black and white), Fonteyn at the barre broken into smaller clips and interspersed with voiceovers, a couple of studio clips of Fonteyn in a tutu, and two remarkable clips of Facade between which Pamela May, then an elderly woman, described how they saw German soldiers "falling from the sky," followed by a description of wartime by Fonteyn, deValois, Helpmann, Ashton, and Grey. (Those few minutes alone would have been worth the brutal exchange rate between GBP and USD.) There are also amazing photos of the child Fonteyn and the breathtakingly beautiful young Fonteyn.

But a warning: a film whose narrative begins with, "This is the story of how the most famous dancer that England has ever produced was deceived and betrayed by those closest to her," and in which former assistant Colette Clark asserts that Fonteyn, "had really bad taste in people...If you really want to know, that is rather what separated her and me. I couldn't quite face all the creeps," is not for the weak of stomach.

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Well considering how some of Fonteyn's "favorite people" included Pinochet and Imelda Marcos, I'd have to say that Clark's statement was sad but true ...

Must. Have. This. Dvd.

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I was rather surprised by it, first its length and its content as well. It was rather clear where the sympathies of the filmmaker was.

I had expected it to be more of a documentrary about her as an artist, rather than her private affairs. But the of course, perhaps many films have already been made on that subject of Fonteyn. :jawdrop:

I saw the DVD at HMV when I visited Aberdeen 6 months ago, and thought of buying it. In retrorespect, I am glad I didn't.

Funny to hear that I am not the only one who finds a striking resemblance between Fonteyn and Audrey Hepburn though :).

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“The real problem, IMO, was that Fonteyn was treated like some kind of royalty in England, and she also behaved as such outwardly, always covering up - so I think we can conclude that this film came fairly close to the actual truth.”

No, this film comes nowhere near the truth, it is poor filmmaking and in part downright scurrilous. It was first shown as a two part documentary on the South Bank Show on UK television last year and follows in the shameful British tradition of re-evaluating the lives of dead celebrities – make up what you like about them, they’re dead and can’t sue. Major achievements are brushed aside as irrelevant while any hint of scandal is magnified and blown out of proportion.

The South Bank Show purports to be an arts programme but Fonteyn’s career is glossed over in favour of unsavoury speculation supported by people with grudges. Fonteyn’s talent created jealousies that still fester with lesser artists: ever heard Nadia Nerina sounding off about her former colleague?

Margot Fonteyn never behaved like “some kind of royalty” but she always behaved with dignity and displayed true nobility in her loyalty to her crippled husband. She belonged to an age when duty and decorum were regarded as virtues, not as character flaws.

Buy it for the dancing clips, but take almost everything that is said with a very large pinch of salt.

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I understand how beloved Margot Fonteyn is, but I don't think that ignoring anything remotely negative in her personal life is going to her any favors. In fact, it made me admire Fonteyn more, to know that she wasn't just this prim and proper prig, but in fact went through hardship and heartbreak just like everyone else.

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I understand how beloved Margot Fonteyn is, but I don't think that ignoring anything remotely negative in her personal life is going to her any favors.

No perhaps not, but why do we need to know all those "juicy details"?? Does that make her a greater artist? Does that change the way she danced? Why does her personal life have to become exposed to us after all these years? No matter if those things said in the film were true or not.

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No perhaps not, but why do we need to know all those "juicy details"?? Does that make her a greater artist? Does that change the way she danced? Why does her personal life have to become exposed to us after all these years? No matter if those things said in the film were true or not.

Well personally I've always believed that if you live a public life, and enjoy all the perks that come along with being a public figure, it's naive to say, "Ok, we can only talk about my career." It doesn't happen this way, and I don't see why Margot should be exempt.

FDR painstakingly tried to create the image that he wasn't paralyzed, to the point where many Americans were unaware that he was wheel-chair bound. But is it even right for a biographer to skim over the fact that FDR had polio and it took all the strength in the world for him to even stand up for a split second? JFK also painstakingly created the image that he was the all-American, athletic picture of health. With those carefully timed "touch football" videos. In fact, he was in excruciating pain from back injuries suffered during WW2, and also had a bunch of other health problems that were hidden from the public as well. There's the case of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Again, I don't think less of him. But I do understand him more.

Getting into the movie business, Kate Hepburn, the iconic image of the independent, sharp-tongued woman, was for years slavishly devoted to a self-destructive alchoholic who could be cruel and abusive to Hepburn when on his drinking binges. Hepburn admitted as much in her interviews later in life.

And learning about all this stuff does not make me think less of them at all. It just makes me understand them better.

I guess I'm in the camp that I don't want to learn "juicy details" for shock value's sake. I do like to learn about the person behind the persona, though.

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Well personally I've always believed that if you live a public life, and enjoy all the perks that come along with being a public figure, it's naive to say, "Ok, we can only talk about my career." It doesn't happen this way, and I don't see why Margot should be exempt.

No she shouldn't be an exception. Seriously, I don't care about Katharine Hepburns personal love affairs. Either you like her as an actress or not. Of course it would be interesting to know her story briefly, but not the details. Why do we have to dig ourselves in other people's misery? THAT is what has made paparazzi so lucrative. So IMHO it all begins with ourselves, as long as we, the public, don't show an interest, then it wouldn't be lucrative. Personally I don't think that will add anything to ballet history at all unless the person in question chooses to tell her story herself (as with Gelsey Kirkland). This portrait was mostly about how evil Ms Fonteyns husband was, told by a third party. I seriously don't have any interest in knowing HOW evil he was. It is quite sufficient to know that the marriage might not have been the ideal one.

(It is like the difference between a serious newspaper and tabloids)

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I have not seen this film, but I found the experience of reading the recent Fonteyn biography to be bittersweet. I read her autobiography at a young age and was transfixed by the eloquence of her writing. Its tone and voice is still the richest to me of the dancer autobiographies I have read, though Allegra Kent's and Lynn Seymour's also provide an intimate view of those dancers and the way they think and feel. The added details about Fonteyn's personal life in the biography depressed me and led me to believe that she showed the most beautiful part of herself onstage. As a performer, she had the right, and even duty, to craft a special image of herself for the public. I am not judging her in any way or denying that she could be a real person instead of an idealized image, I simply find what she revealed onstage to be more interesting than a litany of loving the wrong men and manipulating or being manipulated by colleagues, acquaintances, or hangers-on.

Now a story I would be interested in is the part Ninette de Valois played in shaping or thwarting the careers of Royal Ballet dancers, since that is inextricably tied up in her legacy of building the company. No doubt there are books and films for that I have not read or seen. But if the result hadn't been so glorious, no one would have cared about the back story anyway.

Basically, I see the merit in canbelto's view, but in this particular case, I found the results of the glimpse behind the mask saddening rather than edifying. I suppose one thing I do understand better is the bond between Fonteyn and Nureyev. Neither lived to what I consider a ripe old age—though I am aware of the medical issues of both, my fancy tells me they were such creatures of the stage they couldn't live fully off of it.

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I guess I'm in the camp that I don't want to learn "juicy details" for shock value's sake. I do like to learn about the person behind the persona, though.

I'm in the same camp, but I think government officials making decisions that effect us all can rightly be treated differently than artists whose work we can take or leave as we please. Hepburn chose to speak of her self-abasement. Simone de Beauvior is fair game even though she didn't, in my opinion, because the life she advocated is not entirely what she lived. Fonteyn had no such public intentions.

My two cents.

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Hepburn chose to speak of her self-abasement. Simone de Beauvior is fair game even though she didn't, in my opinion, because the life she advocated is not entirely what she lived. Fonteyn had no such public intentions.
Fonteyn wrote her memoirs and spoke publicly. I think that makes her intention public and subject to scrutiny and contradiction.

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Fonteyn wrote her memoirs and spoke publicly. I think that makes her intention public and subject to scrutiny and contradiction.

Yes Fonteyn chose to portray her husband as the man of the people, a wonderful leader, and a great man. Personally, I think if she hadn't made her biography so hagiographic about Tito, the documentaries wouldn't be so harsh on him. As it is, she made him out to be a saint, and he clearly was not.

Now a story I would be interested in is the part Ninette de Valois played in shaping or thwarting the careers of Royal Ballet dancers, since that is inextricably tied up in her legacy of building the company. No doubt there are books and films for that I have not read or seen.

There's a new book that touches upon this subject. Ashton's biography also goes into rather more detail about the chicanery behind of the scenes of the Royal Ballet. (Ashton being just as influential and manipulative, if not more so, than di Valois.)

OT: And about Hepburn, she didn't choose to speak about her abasement. She chose to speak about her devotion to a man she admitted was difficult and an alcoholic. It wasn't until she passed that we got the full story of just how much she had endure for the sake of Tracy. I can't watch their films together, knowing what their life was like offscreen.

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though I am aware of the medical issues of both, my fancy tells me they were such creatures of the stage they couldn't live fully off of it.

I definitely had the impression Nureyev was living quite fully on and off the stage--unless a bit 'too fully' is a form of not living fully.

Susanne--it may be legitimate to feel that way about what should be publicized or not, but naive to think that there will be any change. Actually, I don't agree that, if the facts are true, it's the same thing as if they were not. (There was a piece along these lines in the late 70's by Croce that said this exact same thing, the quote was close to this: 'It doesn't matter if the gossip is true or not, but that it is just gossip.' ) I think you do find out a great deal about an artist's art by knowing about the personal life, but that doesn't mean I want to always know about it. You can even find out about the work by the way an autobiography (especially) is written. Now, Tab Hunter is not considered one of the great screen artists, but he describes both personal and professional matters with extraordinary attention to detail--things like dates and places, which I really dig. Books by Lawrence Olivier and Jean-Louis Barrault are about great artists (themselves) and they tell some personal things too (at least Olivier's does. I doubt Barrault was much involved with anything that wasn't mostly pristine, but that's probably wishful.) Ann-Margret may be no Sarah Bernhardt, but her autobiography didn't even describe her best movies, some of which are incredibly good like 'Joseph Andrews'. It's as though she'd forgotten her achievements. I don't think she even mentions 'The Outside Man' with Trintignant. Tab Hunter made not a single picture as good as either of these, and yet every single one is incredibly well-documented, and even made interesting thereby (including his brief tryst with Nureyev; perhaps some didn't want to know about that, but Hunter doesn't seem to mind, and I sincerely doubt he was 'betraying Rudy' in any serious sense.)

So there are lots of issues about biographies and autobiographies, but it isn't realistic to expect that people are going to en masse stop reading gossippy things in order to protect a single person's privacy, living or dead. Of course, this is a part of the massive vulgarity that has become all-pervasive, but it's just a fact.

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Helene, I disagree. Fonteyn put herself before the public as an artist, and only incidental to that did her marriage come under scrutiny, and only in that context, I'll wager, did she try to put a good face on the relationship, just as private citizens usually do in their more limited circles. To tell the story herself in this case, knowing that others will tell it their way, would essentially be an attempt to maintain a degree of privacy by way of control. It would be to say, "this is mine." The press has no ethical right to pry and expose a private citizen, and in her marriage, that's what Fonteyn was. She didn't need to write about Tito for publicity. She probably wrote about him for damage control.

On the other hand, coming at things from the other side of the marriage, I have no trouble with the press exposing Tito, a supposed public servant, as the shady operator and even as the faithless husband he was. Unlike Fonteyn, he exercised political power, so his character, in my opinion, is rightly open to inspection.

canbelto, thank you for correcting me about Hepburn. I meant no disrespect to that admirable woman.

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On the other hand, coming at things from the other side of the marriage, I have no trouble with the press exposing Tito, a supposed public servant, as the shady operator and even as the faithless husband he was. Unlike Fonteyn, he exercised political power, so his character, in my opinion, is rightly open to inspection.

Well see this is sort of a circular argument, because the fact is, Tito was married to Fonteyn, and he chose to expose her to shady characters (the dictator jetsetting club like Marcos and Pinochet), and dangerous situations (like the gunrunning/coup). So one can't really talk about Fonteyn while completely skipping over her husband, and his character. And it's hard to talk about Fonteyn without also talking about Tito, and even the way he affected her career. The inevitable truth is that he prolonged it because of his astronomical medical bills, and extravagant lifestyle. Fonteyn had to go out and dance every night, often in much pain, so Tito could live the good life. He caused bad publicity for the Royal Ballet, which is why in 1959 di Valois named Fonteyn "guest dancer" without even notifying Fonteyn of the news.

Now where I think biographers might have gone too far is emphasis, not facts. For instance, the Daneman biography goes on for pages and pages of speculation about whether Fonteyn and Nureyev ever consummated the relationship, but she falls back on cliches when describing what made their partnership so special. To me, it's not so important whether they ever consummated the relationship. The overall arc of their relationship was that of magic onstage and an unconventional but very deep devotion offstage. So I agree, I dont really need to hear about every women Tito ever slept with. But it is important to know that he was a faithless and irresponsible playboy husband who caused his wife much pain and exposed her to dangerous situations and awful people.

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