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Mao's Last Dancer


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#31 EvilNinjaX

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 10:45 AM



I think it may have been Ben Stevenson's Three Preludes but I'm not 100% certain as choreography for the film is attributed to Graeme Murphy.

I would be surprised if the dance scenes were CGI (apart from using computers to slomo the action) - Chi really is that spectacular!


Chi's legs in the Don Q solos were slightly unnatural, too choppy. The costume he wore was a giveaway, the white neckline makes it easy to play with the head and neck. When the DVD comes out, you will be able to tell.

I think all the dancing was Chi's but they may have cuts bits and pieces from different individual performances. Movie editors do that.

I liked seeing a ballet movie about Heterosexual men, it's about time!


For frame of reference,



-goro-

#32 4mrdncr

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 08:36 PM

Interesting that others had problems with the DonQ too. I didn't think of CGI when I noticed a problem... I just saw the film in a theater 2 days ago (thank you Amherst Cinema), and the editing in this pdd was driving me nuts. (Other sequences too, but that's another story) I estimated each cut was off by about 4 frames, possibly more. Each time it happened I felt like someone had just pushed me off a cliff. First came the shock, then the OMG what just happened, and then my brain started to analyze. Result: I was now disconnected from the action, a bad reaction you don't want to happen to an audience viewing a feature film.

I think a lot of the problem was because they were cutting in the middle of a movement. This is a normal/easy enough edit if the motion is basic-everyday, but tricky if you are not familiar with the mechanics/nuance of a movement such as ballet. My problem was not the cuts to slo-mo, jarring though they were, but rather the cuts that were to a shot at the same speed, but not exactly at the correct point to CONTINUE THE ACTION/MOTION/MOVEMENT/STEP. So I would feel like I was running along with everything and then suddenly fell off a cliff. Even the change in angle from straight WS to low angle was odd.**

As already mentioned, the cuts to slo-mo were also a bit distracting, but didn't shock me because then I'd start watching more closely during the slo-mo, and sort of forget the jump into it. (I used the BT explanation about "the need to educate non-dancers who don't see or understand the technique/athleticism of a movement" to explain the use of slo-mo to my mom. Once I did, she was glad they used it.)

Sorry, I don't know if I'm making any sense to anyone, but the dance editing really bothered me, so that I started to wince a bit during most of those sequences. I thought the rest of the movie succeeded.

**PS. I'll admit, I used similar cuts "on the action" and changes in angles in my trailer, but I do think the movement flow is MUCH better IMHO.

#33 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 07:33 PM

I just came from the movie theater. I found the film engaging, easy to follow, good-(not impressive)- in its balletic segments and yes, sort of melodramatic if you may, particularly for those who can't really relate with the whole defection/exile business. It does sound like an ancient idea, but remember that this kind of situation still happens, if perhaps without the intensity of the cold war years. I'm not ashamed to say I did shed a tear during those final moments when Li's parents are brought onstage. It is hard to imagine for those who haven't experienced this, but having the uncertainty of not knowing when you will be seeing your family again due to politics is definitely an awful experience. When I left Cuba I never knew that I wasn't going to be able to go back in time for my grandmother's funeral, but that was the reality of events, so I did feel the power of that sequence. The film wasn't too long, nor too short, and it gave me a general idea of Li's story while touching some sensible cords. I liked it-(waaaay more than Chanel/Stravinsky)-but I won't predict any Oscar this time.

Rate:

1- :clapping:
2- :thumbsup:
3-:tomato: (X)
4- :pinch:
5- :yucky:

Edited to add:
In one of the movie scenes Li, talking to his Houston sponsor Ben, says "My father works hard and earns $50 in one year and you spend $500 in one day". When I first went to NYC to meet my strange cousins-(whom I only knew by pics, having the three of them left when they were very little with their parents, my uncle and aunt, in the beginning of the revolution)-one of them took me to 5th Ave., and eager to impress me, dropped $200 in a pair of shoes. I was shocked. Later on when I spoke with my mother on the phone I told her that I couldn't believe he had done that while in 40 years none of them had ever had the curiosity to even inquire if their granny in Cuba, who idolized them, was even eating well,or if she ever needed any money to eat, for which with $50 a month she could have had a luxurious life...(not that she needed it, as we all took care of her during her lifetime there, and I made sure she had EVERYTHING she needed, even a wheelchair we sent, as soon as I earned my first paycheck in US). But yes...that image in 5th Ave. is still a shocker, even after 10 years living here, and Li's thought process really "got" me...

#34 bart

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 06:19 AM

Thank you, Cristian, for sharing with us your personal response to this film. A friend of our, a former professional dancer still engaged in the ballet world, also had an emotional reaction to the film, based on areas with which he identified. Identification, even ambivalent identification, can give value to a film that the rest of us do not always experience.

Coincidentally, I finally got around to seeing the film just a couple of days ago. I wish I could say that I found it personally engaging or that it touched something real inside me.

The China scenes were the best for me, each of which were full of what seemed like real people and which seemed based on what really took place. The Chinese and Chinese-American actors -- especially those playing the dancer's parents, his first classical ballet teacher, and the gentlest of the Chinese diplomats in Houston -- created the actors who engaged me the most.

The American side of the story was standard tv soap opera, as far as I am concerned. (The kind of soap opera that tries to legitimize itself by dealing with "big" social and philosophical themes.) I felt that there was an attempt to manipulate me and did not enjoy that. Houston and its ballet world (filmed mostly in Australia) seemed cartoonish (i.e. sketchy and cliched) and false.

The dancing sequences were more than false. They were bizarre --

-- a garishly designed student Giselle which is the stand-in for "classical ballet" rejected by Mme Mao with the funniest line in the film: "Where are the guns?"

-- a version of the Red Brigade ballet (guns, sharp points, acrobatics), which is the stand-in for the "bad" ballet the protagonists wishes to escape

-- a clumsy, poorly danced, and quite ugly Swan Lake (to a simplified score based loosely on Tchaikovsky)

-- and, worst of all, a Las Vegas circus routine posing as the Rite of Spring (with Li as a glitter-covered male Chosen One).

This Rite was especially jaw-dropping, given that it is the final performance of the movie and, one assumes, the of Li's career, one assumes. Li's parents, finally able to travel from China to be reunited with their son after many years, are in the audience. Mrs. Li (an actress with a glorious face that, miraculously, never ages despite decades of hard peasant labor) is puzzled by the choreography. The rest of the Houston audience are over-the-top ecstatic.

I notice that Graeme Murphy is credited as the choreographer. (On IMDB.com Murphy's name appears WAY down the long lost of technical and creative people, which may say something about the value that the producers gave to choreography.)

To present Murphy's profoundly pedestrian choreography as the work of Ben Stevenson's is an insult to the real Ben Stevenson.

Is THIS the kind of work that Li left China in order to be free to perform? :unsure:


#35 Helene

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 06:57 AM

Li danced with the Australian Ballet, which he joined in 1995 and left in 1999. (For the last two years, he was training as a stockbroker while he danced.) Murphy took over what became Sydney Dance Theatre 16 years earlier, although he was resident choreographer for a few years, and the company has performed his work. I don't know how much influence he had while Li danced there. I saw the company seven years later, and they performed a wide range of work.

Those "Red Brigade" ballets were the reality of the period of the Cultural Revolution. Madame Mao and Stalin had a lot in common in shaping ideological forms of art.

Mrs. Li (Niang) is Joan Chen, whom I found riveting in the movie. I also love the diplomat, but I didn't remember the character's name and couldn't catch it in the credits.

#36 bart

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 07:35 AM

Li danced with the Australian Ballet, which he joined in 1995 and left in 1999. (For the last two years, he was training as a stockbroker while he danced.) Murphy took over what became Sydney Dance Theatre 16 years earlier, although he was resident choreographer for a few years, and the company has performed his work. I don't know how much influence he had while Li danced there.

Thanks for that clarification, Helene.

Re-reading my last paragraph, I realize that I expressed myself badly.

For the REAL-LIFE Li, it was Stevenson's choreography -- including his well-crafted versions of the classics -- that provided the artistic revelation. For the MOVIE Li, it is Murphy's inferior choreography that (under the name of Stevenson) does this.

My rhetorical question applied to the "movie" Li and, by extension, the aesthetic values of this film.

For the record, I think that there is always a real social value to films which feature ballet in a positive light, even if I don't like them. I've told a couple of non-dance friends that Mao's Last Dancer has "lovely dancing" and that it is definitely "worth seeing."

#37 Helene

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 07:44 AM

Unless rights were denied, I don't understand why they didn't use Stevenson's work. Even if rights were denied, finding other classical choreography that resembled Stevenson's shouldn't have been too hard.

My cynical cap appears to be super-glued to my scalp, and I can only think that using Murphy's work was an attempt to "popularize" ballet among the wider movie-going audience and to use a well-known, Australian-based choreographer.

I'd love to see Murphy's "Swan Lake" because I think it would be a hoot, but that's in the context of having seen "Swan Lake", not as a novice or non-balletgoer. Ironically, Australian Ballet performs the Peter Wright "Nutcracker", which is likely the single production an average film-goer from Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane is likely to have seen, not a "So You Think You Can Dance" production number.

#38 bart

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 08:50 AM

My cynical cap appears to be super-glued to my scalp, and I can only think that using Murphy's work was an attempt to "popularize" ballet among the wider movie-going audience and to use a well-known, Australian-based choreographer.

We share the cynicism, Helene. It also makes the film more "Australian" and allows for filming in on Australian stages and to provide work for Australian dancers.

Questions to those who know more about this than I do: IS Murphy "well-known" outside Australia? Is he appreciated in the larger world?

I realize that the works in this film may not be typical of what he usually does. It may also be an effort to capture some of the less fortunate dance trends of the 1980s.

#39 JMcN

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 11:51 AM

Just a couple of bits and bobs:

The Rite of Spring bit shows Li in a leap, which is used (with the real Li) on the back cover of my copy of the book (hardback British edition from when I got the book on first publication here). I believe it may be a seminal image of Li.

In the book, the first time his parents saw him in America was in a production of the Nutcracker.

#40 Helene

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 03:20 PM

In the book, the first time his parents saw him in America was in a production of the Nutcracker.

Thank you, JMcN -- I thought I remembered that they saw him in a classical ballet. (The book, like the rest of my life, seems to be in a box right now.)

#41 dirac

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 04:53 PM

I saw the movie last weekend. (I have not read the book.) It isn't bad at all but it didn't leave much of an impression on me bland, very bland.The dramatic high point, the defection, doesn't get high enough. We don't learn enough about Li as an individual to make him interesting and key points, such as Li's and Liz's mutually ambiguous motives for marriage, are addressed in a rather perfunctory manner. The Chinese characters are roughly divided into a) warmhearted proles or b) yammering apparatchiks, not a terribly nuanced view.

The scenes I liked best were the early ones in China, and the three actors playing Li were all great to watch in their different ways.

The performances are generally solid if not dazzling, with the only really weak link being Kyle MacLachlan's high powered lawyer. Chi Cao is gorgeous to look upon and his acting is respectable and only occasionally awkward. Madeleine Eastoe as Lori was a standout.

As for the dancing, I was not bothered by the slo-mo and I appreciate the time it gives you to look at a leap or a turn as much as the non-dance fans do. I was bothered by the jagged unmusical cutting and the plethora of reaction shots the dancers hardly finish a pirouette before we cut to somebody in the audience or at home smiling, frowning, cheering, etc. I did expect better of Beresford.

Is THIS the kind of work that Li left China in order to be free to perform?



I sure hope not. One sympathizes with the puzzlement of Li's parents on viewing their beglittered, half naked son in the awful finale. However, the non-ballet fan I saw the movie with didn't have that reaction and was pleased enough by the dance sequences.



#42 Amy Reusch

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Posted 27 November 2010 - 10:46 PM

What I'd really like to know is what Ben Stevenson thought of this film... or rather of the portrayal of his personality & choreography. Was the only piece of choreography that was Stevenson's the one on the ballet barre? I don't know it well enough to know if it is exactly his.. but it was similar. Is this defamation of character or did he get paid something for the use of his name? It's a strange situation. He's a public figure. I don't remember how portrayal of a public figures works in the international intellectual property laws...

I wasn't crazy about the special effects, the slow mo seemed a little forced.

Best were the China scenes.

And I'm sure my eyes deceived me, but did they misspell "Sacre du Printemps" in the credits? I think it must have been a motion trick of the eye, but I could have sworn it was spelled "Printempts" on screen...

What was Li's comment to his parents on stage "Let's not talk about that now"? Would love the exact quote...

#43 dirac

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 02:38 PM

Apparently the movie is still running in a few theaters, a big accomplishment for a small art house picture. The word of mouth has been good even if the critics mostly sniffed, so cheers for "Mao's Last Dancer" ! :)

#44 volcanohunter

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 08:45 PM

The DVD, already on sale in Canada, will be selling in the U.S. as of March 29. Amazon is taking orders.

#45 sidwich

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 05:26 PM

What I'd really like to know is what Ben Stevenson thought of this film... or rather of the portrayal of his personality & choreography. Was the only piece of choreography that was Stevenson's the one on the ballet barre? I don't know it well enough to know if it is exactly his.. but it was similar. Is this defamation of character or did he get paid something for the use of his name? It's a strange situation. He's a public figure. I don't remember how portrayal of a public figures works in the international intellectual property laws...


For something to be defamation, it actually must be defamatory, and I don't think there's anything in the film that actually defames Ben Stevenson. The film is actually very sympathetic to Stevenson. It's extremely difficult for a public figure to win any kind of defamation case in the U.S. (Americans love their First Amendment so! Even when they have no idea what it actually says!), but I would be very surprised if the filmmakers did not receive permission from Stevenson to use his name in the film.

Actually, I was actually quite shocked at how much of a narcissist Li was portrayed as in the film. For a son to abandon his family to fate very likely to include execution, hard labor and/or prison, especially coming off of the heels of the Cultural Revolution, is something that I can only consider the height of selfishness and disloyalty to the family.


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