I saw the film yesterday at the Opera Plaza in San Francisco, shown in a tiny screening room where it seems to be enjoying a long run.
I liked seeing it on the whole, saw lots of footage I would never have seen otherwise, and I think having it projected on a screen at some distance seems to make for a more engaging experience than watching it at home.
Tanaquil Le Clercq, however, was not the only person to have gotten polio, many children and young adults did in the fifties (including two friends of mine) – and, just as Kafka's art is not solely defined by the fact that he died so young from TB, Le Clercq's should not be so always so linked to the pathos of that fact. Illness is not the only means of accounting for a life.
I found the most effective parts of the film were just of Tanny dancing (in B&W especially) and the lovely films and photographs (the picture with her hair over her face) in the country at ease with friends. There could have be a lot more of that, without voice-over ...
Also the letter writing – and lack of it – between Le Clercq and Jerome Robbins was very moving and had a nice hypnotic back and forth to it, that's when you lost yourself in the film. I did have to fill in the blanks about Robbins' character, his fickleness and acts of bad faith, which were much more explicitly dealt with in the recent PBS biography.
And Barbara Horgan aside, I do object to the use of so many talking heads in documentaries. They're supposed to replace the "voice of god" invisible narrator of the old days, but they're just as bad. They're like troublesome docents in an art museum getting between you and the art – or it's as if all the busts of noble Greeks and Romans in the Metropolitan Museum begin talking out loud to you as you passed by, pleading their cases. Jacques d'Amboise's part could have been cut substantially (and reserved for another documentary). Whenever he'd appear, I felt the center of gravity of the film shifting from Le Clercq to him.
The real bombshell for me was the revelation by LeClercq's long time friend (not in any list of credits I can find) that in the end she really didn't care for any of Robbins' ballets (the friend said he hoped she never told him that) and that Le Clercq thought Balanchine's work was supreme.
A little more on the working relationship between Balanchine and Le Clercq would have nicely filled out the portrait.