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"Pina"A documentary on Bausch by Wim Wenders


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#16 sandik

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Posted 19 January 2012 - 01:52 PM

I saw this in 3D last week and agree with Kathleen -- it's some of the most deft use of 3D techniques I've seen. (as good as the Herzog film of the French cave paintings) I know there's been some commentary about the dance excerpts, but I felt Wenders did an excellent job of "placing" the work. I felt that I knew where the dancers were, in relationship to the space and to each other -- considering what a theatrical coup Bausch's work was, the film was able to give an approximation of that transformation. Because of that, I especially appreciated the sections that were clearly in a theatrical space.

For me, the "silent" interview footage wasn't quite as successful as it might have been -- after the first few dancers, I began to long for something different -- the obedience to the structure got a bit tedious. But I can understand the need to let everyone have their say.

I'm the most grateful for the excerpts of the main works, especially of Cafe Muller and Sacre -- I wish there had been time for more of the incessant repetition that she used to such great affect, but then you'd have to trade something else out, and I'm not sure I would want to make that decision.

#17 Amy Reusch

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Posted 19 January 2012 - 07:08 PM

I was wondering a little about how the editing decisions changed our concept of the dance beyond the usual "point of view" filters... I never had the pleasure of seeing Bausch's work in the theater... If Wenders is excerpting the bits he found most interesting... What sense do we have of the piece's overall structure... Without the context of the piece run through in it's entirety, how distorted is our experience of it?

#18 sandik

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Posted 19 January 2012 - 08:21 PM

Without the context of the piece run through in it's emtirety, how distorted is our experience of it?


Well, that's certainly the $64,000 question! For many, probably most of the people in the audience, this will be what they know of Bausch's work -- as a filmmaker, Wenders will draw an audience because it's his work, not because it's about her work. People won't be able to say that they've seen Sacre, or Cafe Muller, or either of the other pieces that he draws extensive excerpts from, but I do think they'll be able to say they've seen a part of what Bausch was as a dance maker. But we all know that repetition gives the opportunity for further depth -- whatever the actual content. We still learn new things about Swan Lake, even if we've seen it multiple times with many different casts. I think, if you needed to make a Cliff Notes guide to Pina Bausch's style, this film wouldn't be far off. And perhaps that's the best we can ask of it, at least on that level.

#19 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 11:55 AM

I saw this in 3D last week and agree with Kathleen -- it's some of the most deft use of 3D techniques I've seen. (as good as the Herzog film of the French cave paintings) I know there's been some commentary about the dance excerpts, but I felt Wenders did an excellent job of "placing" the work. I felt that I knew where the dancers were, in relationship to the space and to each other -- considering what a theatrical coup Bausch's work was, the film was able to give an approximation of that transformation. Because of that, I especially appreciated the sections that were clearly in a theatrical space.

For me, the "silent" interview footage wasn't quite as successful as it might have been -- after the first few dancers, I began to long for something different -- the obedience to the structure got a bit tedious. But I can understand the need to let everyone have their say.

I'm the most grateful for the excerpts of the main works, especially of Cafe Muller and Sacre -- I wish there had been time for more of the incessant repetition that she used to such great affect, but then you'd have to trade something else out, and I'm not sure I would want to make that decision.


First off -- I love that Herzog film ("Cave of Forgotten Dreams")! I've even deluded myself that I get the albino alligators. Herzog claims to have wanted to use 3D to make the most of the paintings themselves, which use the natural contours of the cave's walls to add dimensionality to the animals depicted there. But ... there's a hilarious scene in which an endearlingly goofy scientist studying the cave demonstrates how to use a paleolithic spear thrower -- and of course Herzog shoots the scene so that the spear comes hurtling at you head on. I half suspect that spear thrower clinched the 3D deal for him.

I too would have preferred less of the commentary and more of the dancing. It was hard for me to make much of an assessment of the film's overall pacing, however. The showing I attended was interrupted several times by an errant fire alarm. The soundtrack shut itself off during the first false alarm (standard safety practice, I gather), but the film itself did not stop as it was apparently supposed to. The projectionist attempted to rewind to where we were before the alarm went off, and it took several tries to find the right place. As a result I saw some episodes three times, both with and without sound and completely out of sequence and there was a fair amount of down time to boot while the firemen investigated the scene. Then the alarm--a loud bell and flashing strobes--went off a couple more times after the film started up again. So I couldn't tell if my sense that the film lost focus at around the 2/3 point had any basis in reality or not. Similarly, while I definitely enjoyed getting a second look at the dance sequences, I didn't much enjoy sitting through the commentaries twice -- so, again, it was hard for me to tell if the commentaries were a problem or if the way I saw the film was.

Anyway, I think it's a tribute to Wenders' skill and Bausch's art that I walked out on a cloud despite the less-than-ideal viewing conditions.

#20 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 12:20 PM


Without the context of the piece run through in it's emtirety, how distorted is our experience of it?


Well, that's certainly the $64,000 question! For many, probably most of the people in the audience, this will be what they know of Bausch's work -- as a filmmaker, Wenders will draw an audience because it's his work, not because it's about her work. People won't be able to say that they've seen Sacre, or Cafe Muller, or either of the other pieces that he draws extensive excerpts from, but I do think they'll be able to say they've seen a part of what Bausch was as a dance maker. But we all know that repetition gives the opportunity for further depth -- whatever the actual content. We still learn new things about Swan Lake, even if we've seen it multiple times with many different casts. I think, if you needed to make a Cliff Notes guide to Pina Bausch's style, this film wouldn't be far off. And perhaps that's the best we can ask of it, at least on that level.


Sandik -- I think you nailed it here. If you want to know what Bausch's work looks like and where she is on the dance spectrum, "Pina" is a decent (and very well-crafted) place to start. Wenders loved and admired Bausch's work: per his own telling, he--not much of a dance fan at the time--got dragged to a performance of "Cafe Müller," cried his eyes out, and became a convert. I think he wants the audience to have a conversion experience, too. I don't know if that passion makes him a reliable guide, though--I suspect he selected and staged the episodes the way he did in order to make a good film, not to produce a sober assessment or even accurate rendition of Bausch's art. Scant attention may have been paid to her use of repetition, for example, because however powerful it might be live in a theater it might be a dispiriting dud onscreen. I think Wenders wants you to run, not walk, to the theater to see Bausch live, and to that end has taken pains to make her work look as good on screen as he possibly can -- which may mean he's being less "true" to the works in their entirety than exisitng fans might like.

But the film can't be a substitute for seeing the works live in their entirety in a theater.

I do hope he captured the dances in their entirety and that he'll make them available once his initial round of proselytizing is done.

#21 sandik

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 03:20 PM

... Wenders loved and admired Bausch's work: per his own telling, he--not much of a dance fan at the time--got dragged to a performance of "Cafe Müller," cried his eyes out, and became a convert. I think he wants the audience to have a conversion experience, too. I don't know if that passion makes him a reliable guide, though--I suspect he selected and staged the episodes the way he did in order to make a good film, not to produce a sober assessment or even accurate rendition of Bausch's art....


You bring up an interesting distinction, and one that we've chewed over at Ballet Alert before, in reference to the Frederick Wiseman's films about ABT and POB -- established filmmakers like Wiseman and Wenders are as interested in making a good film (as they know it) as they are in making an archive record of choreography or of a company. I'm always thrilled when concert level dance is part of a general-audience film, and there are certainly different kinds of use involved (I think that Wenders use of Bausch's work is miles away from Aronovsky's use of Swan Lake in you-know-what), but there are multiple concerns in play with this kind of work, and though dance may be among the important elements, it is not the only one.

#22 Amy Reusch

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 09:10 PM

Well.... I've only seen the film and thought she used *a lot* of repetition... but whether this added depth as it might have in the theater... I don't know. Repetition plays on our sense of time and theater time is very very different from film time. I think we are more impatient when it comes to film, the pace having been set by 15 second blipverts...excuse me, "television commercials". It takes a while to break past that, and 3D helps change the precepts, but cuts are cuts, 3D or not, and they don't happen in the theater. There was plenty of repetition. Whether it had Pina's moment to it is less clear. Because this film worked so well, it is more interesting to dissect than a film that was just lame. I do imagine it caught Pina's ability to surprise.....

#23 puppytreats

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 07:30 AM

The film is comprised of extracts from "Le sacre du printemps," "Café Müller," "Kontakthof," and "Vollmond" interspersed with commentary from Bausch's dancers. ....There's one genuine "coup de camera" -- Wenders shoots two of Bausch's dancers looking into a diorama of the "Cafe Müller" set, which magically comes to life as an actual performance of "Cafe Müller" while they talk. (The diorama is set up outdoors in a green and sunny park.)


Other than "Cafe", can you identify which dance is which? I saw this yesterday.

Also, how were the dances generally staged or presented? Outdoors? On film? As performance art?

#24 Helene

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 09:44 AM

Thinking it might be months before "Pina" made it to Vancouver, I ordered the DVD of "Pina", which I had shipped to a friend's house in Seattle, where I picked it up this weekend. There was a rattle in the box, and I thought that they might be 3D vision glasses, but alas, it was just the disk shifting around.

As the bus passed the Park Theatre on Cambie Street, I saw the sign for the movie opening this Friday. I'll see it in the theater and compare it to the DVD.

#25 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 02:48 PM


The film is comprised of extracts from "Le sacre du printemps," "Café Müller," "Kontakthof," and "Vollmond" interspersed with commentary from Bausch's dancers. ....There's one genuine "coup de camera" -- Wenders shoots two of Bausch's dancers looking into a diorama of the "Cafe Müller" set, which magically comes to life as an actual performance of "Cafe Müller" while they talk. (The diorama is set up outdoors in a green and sunny park.)


Other than "Cafe", can you identify which dance is which? I saw this yesterday.

Also, how were the dances generally staged or presented? Outdoors? On film? As performance art?


"Sacre" is the one with the dirt on the stage; "Vollmond" is the one with the rock, the rain, and the big puddle; "Kontakthof" is the one with the old people.

#26 dirac

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 12:24 PM

I saw this yesterday and liked it very much. The movie is not preaching to the choir, as Kathleen notes, but looking to draw in people who may not know anything about Bausch (whose work I know more from reading about it than seeing it). I'd certainly recommend it as general interest viewing; you don't need to be a dance maven to enjoy this film. I had mixed feelings about the 3D; there were some magical effects but also distancing ones, as if one was looking at a diorama.

The talking heads didn’t bother me, even if some of the dancers came up with little more than bromides, and although they disturbed one’s sense of the length and shape of the works some of the commentary did illuminate what we were watching. The use of repetition was sufficient for this viewer to get the idea, but again my acquaintance with Bausch is limited. Loved the dancers’ improvisations alfresco.

I didn’t care for the voiceover approach, where we get to watch the dancers as their eyebrows twitch, but it’s characteristic of Wenders.

Message to all filmmakers making documentaries about dance troupes: WE WANT TO KNOW WHO THESE PEOPLE ARE. Dancers are anonymous enough as it is. Group credits at the end are unhelpful. At the very least the dancers who were interviewed should have been identified.

-I suspect he selected and staged the episodes the way he did in order to make a good film, not to produce a sober assessment or even accurate rendition of Bausch's art.


Wenders might say that in making good cinema he is rendering Bausch's art accurately, more so than if he engaged in a plain vanilla archival performance effort. Certainly Pina isn't a sober assessment and it doesn't want to be; it's both a celebration and an elegy, hail and farewell.

#27 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 09:23 AM

I saw "Pina" again yesterday, this time without any fire alarms. Some quick thoughts on a second viewing:

1) Now that I've seen it without any interruptions I can definitely say that it is too long.

2) The dancer commentaries didn't wear well the second time through. It started to feel like someone recounting one of their dreams: it's information so personal that its meaning vanishes the moment the words hit the air. SInce we don't get any other information about Bausch -- her history, her influences, her working methods, etc -- there's nothing to hang the comments onto other than the dancers' obvious commitment to Bausch. But since we see that in the dancing, we don't need to hear their words, or at least not so many of them.

3) The film lost focus somewhere around the transition from the "Kontakthof" to the "Vollmond" episodes. I think "Vollmond" itself may be the problem. Even if you don't know the overall trajectory of "Cafe Müller" and "Sacre" you can still glean the basic dramatic thrust of those works from the episodes presented. If someone asked you who these peope were and what they were up to--psychically, if not in terms of an actual plot--you could comeup with something. "Vollmond" (which I haven't seen) looks more diffuse, at least as Wenders presents it. There's no community there, and no obvious dramatic idea, just a bunch of people in pretty clothes dancing around a big honking rock and a dark puddle. The choreography looks like noodling; the vocabulary is limited and it's repetitive in a way that suggests a lack of inspiration rather than repetition serving as an expressive device. I wasn't taking notes, but it's my impression that most of the material restaged outdoors is from "Vollmond." No wonder: the rock, the rain, and the puddle may work on a stage, but the camera doesn't love them the way it loves the onstage dirt in "Sacre." However impressive it may be in the theater, the "Vollmond" stage picture just looks inert on film. You can see how shallow that dark puddle really is; the rock looks like a "Star Trek" rock. I'd be tempted to move outside too.

4) The 3D feels like a third way of looking at something, not like a more accurate emulation of reality. The opening shot of (I think) the plaza around the theater looks like a diorama or a tilt shift photo. That's fine with me.

5) The film is nonetheless well worth seeing. What I'd really like to see is "Sacre" and "Cafe Müller" shot by Wenders in their entirety. I thought that his camera work in "Sacre" was especially effective -- the visceral energy of the massed groups especially whomps you right in the chest.

#28 dirac

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 11:36 AM

My attention wandered occasionally but I didn't find it too long,

For me the dancers' comments too personal but on occasion far too generic - the kinds of admiring things dancers tend to say about charismatic leaders.

I had read that the bits outdoors had been partially improvised, but perhaps not:

We developed this whole catalog of answers in the rehearsal room and then I started to envision how to film them. Because we didn’t have a stage or set at our disposal for these answers, I started to think of shooting these outdoors in the city of Wuppertal and I tried to find places for each and every one of these answers where the response of the dancing could be brought out in the best possible way.

Review by Joan Acocella.

Furthermore, these skits, the main ingredient in Bausch’s mature work, take second—or third or fourth—place in “Pina.” The stress in the film is on dancing, which, by the eighties, was actually little more than a decoration on Bausch’s stage. Some of the dance footage is good to have: the long clips of her gutsy “Rite of Spring” (1975) and of “Café Müller” (1978), in which she herself performs. But notice the dates. Though well trained in dance, Bausch got tired of it early. Unfortunately, she went back to it in her late work, where we see a lot of whirling, whipping, apparently tortured (by what? what’s the problem?) solos. These are much the same from piece to piece, and a big bore. If I am not mistaken, most of them were improvised.

#29 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 05 February 2012 - 06:40 AM

Dirac, thanks for the links! I hadn't come across either of these pieces before (how did I miss Acocella's?) -- very enlighening. I had a little trouble deciphering Wenders' comments about the outdoor scenes, but it sounds like they're "micro-extracts" from works in each of the dancers' repertoire that they worked on closely with Bausch. So we can scratch my speculation that they were from "Vollmond" and were shot outside to get around the limitations of the set, which Wenders' apparently doesn't think was so limited anyway. I've read a couple of reviews now where the critic didn't like the outdoor stagings; I did, but then I've only seen a handful of the dances in Bausch's 40-work catalogue (and the dancier ones at that), so I might have minded more if I'd experienced them in a theater and then had to confront them performed on a traffic island with a monorail gliding by overhead.

I love Wenders for this quote:

When I’m sitting, watching Pina’s work, I feel it in my own body. My body understands it and goes with it and my brain lags behind some and eventually follows.



#30 dirac

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 12:18 PM

You're very welcome. :) Many of the outdoor dances did look as if they could be excerpts, so your speculation made sense.

I also liked the conga line (I'm sure it's properly called something else) that occurs toward the end of the film. Reminded me a bit of Fellini.


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