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Robert Altman's "The Company"

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I saw “The Company” at a film festival tonight, and it was a big disappointment. On the plus side, the film was made with – or made on, if you will -- The Joffrey Ballet, and it does give us lots and lots of dancing, wonderfully shot. It did renew my great admiration for ballet dancers. We do briefly see Lar Lubovitch teaching a pas de deux. Suzanne Lopez and John Gluckman, dancers/cast members who took part in a question and answer session afterward, did call it an accurate depiction of company life. The opening scenes are of Alwin Nikolais’ “Tensile Involvement,” and we also see, in performance or in rehearsal, excerpts from La Vivandiere, Trinity, Light Rain, and plenty more I can’t remember. The producer had originally planned to include The Green Table. (I wish he would have).

I wasn’t especially taken with some of the choreography, but most of it was real Joffrey rep. To my mind, the big problem with the film is that it has no dramatic heart. In fact it has no drama. We see Neve Campbell’s character become involved with a sous chef, and he’s a likeable guy. They’re a likeable couple. But nothing much happens to them. We follow them throughout the rest of the film, but we don’t see their relationship grow, come to any conflict . . . nothing. In the same way, we see a dancer face off with a ballet master, the company director argue with a choreographer and with a dancer, a dancer lose a role shortly before the piece premieres, and another one blow out her Achilles tendon in rehearsal. Naturally, every thing here happened to someone in the company. Every situation is drawn from Joffrey life. But none are developed. They don’t lead anywhere. This film is like a faux documentary with bad dialogue and stock characters. Campbell and a male dancer have a pas de deux to “My Funny Valentine” (Lubovitch’s piece) before an invited audience at the Grant Park Bandshell, and it begins to rain, and we expect – or at least I expected – that someone would slip and be injured. No such luck for either dancers or audience – again the tiny bit of built-up tension just dissipates.

As “Mr. A,” which is apparently how Joffrey dancers refer to Gerald Arpino, Malcolm McDowell is vain, dictatorial, and overbearing to the point of silliness. He refers to the dancers collectively as “babies.” They mock him and spoof the Alwin ballet in one of the film’s best and least clichéd scenes. Our two real live dancers told us that while Mr. A is a fictional character, there’s a lot of Arpino in the guy. Perhaps so, but he’s a tiresome cliché. I didn’t just dislike the character, I disliked the performance.

In the film’s final set piece, Neve Campbell’s character is injured onstage during a performance (shot in Chicago’s beautiful Auditorium Theatre) of a long time-waster called “The Blue Snake.” If I understood correctly, this is an actual ballet which someone – Campbell, I believe – was taken with when she was ten. Children will love it, I suppose. As for the rest of us, well, it’s a kitschy spectacle in which all the dancers are costumed like bizarre creatures and some are eaten by a huge mechanical, smoke-breathing monster. Are we supposed to snort in derision here? I think so. Are we supposed to be entertained? I can scarcely imagine. Why why why displace a good ballet with this dull thing? Some people will no doubt like this film, perhaps very much. If anyone asked me for a backstage-at-the-ballet film, though, I’d loan them my copy of Frederick Wiseman’s ABT documentary. It’s real. It’s dramatic.

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Thank you kfw, I'll probably still go see it if I have the opportunity, but I do appreciate your review. I know there was another long thread on here about the movie, but I sort of lost track of it. So thanks for bringing it up again.

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Oh my, that does sound disappointing! There's lots of excitement in our household about this movie (plans have already been made to go see it Christmas day, when it opens), but your review certainly tempers my expectations. My kiddos will be happy just to see "their" dancers up on screen, but one would like this movie to appeal to a wider audience.

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I just hope that this movie will be playing locally and not just in NYC. Fortunately Altman is a well respected film maker, but sadly the majority of movies shown in the suburbs of Manhattan are your run of the mill sorts. :)

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Treefrog, having been thrilled by a film last week that I had high hopes and low expectations for, that was my intention here, to temper expectations so that everyone just loves "The Company" when they finally see it. B) Seriously, don't make too much of what I wrote, I was probably too hard on it. When I spoke of bad dialogue and stock characters I guess I was mostly thinking of McDowell as company director. And the blurb on the festival's web site reminds me that there is some drama over Campbell's place in the company. It scarcely registered with me, but young viewers will probably have a different reaction. The film has a cast full of ballet dancers too -- lots of good-looking people!

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Thanks for your review kfw. We can't wait for the release of The Company -- I think my DD has worn out her tape of Center Stage, so any new ballet movie will be a treat. Other than Turning Point, does anyone have suggestions for ballet/dance related movies?

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There is that tearjerker movie about a girl with an illness - cancer? I don't remember - whose dream is to dance professionally. The girl is about 13, I think. The actress/ballet dancer's name escapes me right now. She is a very lovely dancer, clearly evident at her young age, and she went on to a professional ballet career. Despite all the pathos, I remember thinking that it was a very nice movie for a young ballet dancer because the actress herself was such a talented dancer. One had no trouble at all believing that she was a committed ballet dancer.

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Knowing that Altman is not everyone's cup of tea, I wondered what others are saying about this film. A friend clued me in to the website Rotten Tomatoes. The reviews in this link are from a more cintematographic perspective -- there's lots of reference to camera angles and such -- but they consistently appreciate and recommend the movie.

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There is that tearjerker movie about a girl with an illness - cancer? I don't  remember - whose dream is to dance professionally. The girl  is about 13, I  think.  The actress/ballet dancer's name  escapes me right now.  She is a very lovely dancer,  clearly evident at her young age, and she went on to a professional ballet career. Despite all the pathos, I remember thinking that it was a very nice movie for a young ballet dancer because the actress herself was such a talented dancer. One had no trouble at all believing that she was a committed ballet dancer.

The movie was called "Six Weeks," and it starred Katherine Healy, who has appeared in recent years with Ice Theater of New York.

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Thanks, Hockeyfan228. I knew someone would come up with that name and title :ermm:

Regarding "The Company", I'd heard that it's somewhere between documentary and drama but distinctly NOT a docudrama. I actually LIKE the idea of it not being a fictional story with the requisite plot.

I am sorry to hear, though, that Arpino's character is a cliche. I'd much rather have seen him as more of a real person.

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kfw, don't you realize ALL movie artistic directors and impresarios have to be vain, egotistical, and overbearing? Otherwise, there's no story. Imagine The Red Shoes with a Boris Lermontov who says,"What, Vicky, you want to marry this young man instead of letting me dominate you out of existence? I understand completely! You have my blessing!" Some drama. :)

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Last night I went to watch a video I'd rented, only to discover that the wrong video was in the box. It also wasn't rewound, so I watched some of it to see how it was, without knowing who was in the movie. One female character in shorts, I noticed, had great legs. It turned out to be Neve Campbell.

(The movie is called "Wild Things" and appears to be somewhat cheesy.)

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Well, I went to check out the movie listings and see where we might go to see "The Company." While I was not surprised to find that it was not playing in my small community, I was surprised to find it was not playing in my county or in the two counties to the north. In addition to the local paper we get the paper from the nearby "big city" and I cannot find it playing anywhere even in the large and populous county to the south of us. :devil:

Has any one else checked their local listings? Is it opening only in limited release? :FIREdevil:

Edited to add:

I searched online and it is not even playing in Miami or Orlando, or anywhere in Florida best as I can tell. Just for fun I searched major cities in the East and it appears to be playing only in NYC. Not even playing in Boston or DC.

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I just came back from seeing "The Company". It opened here in Chicago today (along with NYC & LA). Fun to see so many faces that I know... I'm not sure of the minimum age for young dancers to see the film however; a few references that families may or may not be comfortable with (a tad bit more explicit than Center Stage). Teens should be fine. Always interesting to see how a non-dancer views 'our' world. Ms. Campbell holds her own, in my opinion. And though she is not 'professional', her early training at National Ballet of Canada certainly made it possible to take on the training for this film.

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nlkflint, and others.

It is not opening in the Houston area until January 16th. We'll be doing our whirlwind State of Texas tour that weekend for SI auditions. I'm hoping it opens in Dallas, also, and we can take it in that evening.

Regardless of the early reviews, we are looking forward to seeing it!



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I must say, I loved "The Company". Yes, I do think it had several flaws, but I really did enjoy it. It was really cool being able to see all my favorite dancers on screen, and know that yes, that really is what they are like, or NO, that's not at ALL what they are like. I recognized so many of the places, including the studios, where I rehearsed for Nutcracker with them, way back in '98. I liked seeing so much of their repertoire, especially "Light Rain" which I absolutely adore. However, I disliked "The Blue Snake" quite a lot. It seemed like "Lion King on Broadway" gone horribly wrong. I also disliked Mr. A's character. It didn't seem at all like Mr. Arpino to me, from when I have met him, or seen him on TV, or anything like that. I also felt that the story was a little bit patchy. In my improv club, we're always being told to pick up on clues to bring back later and make the scene grow. It seemed like that would be good advice for this movie. There were a lot of scenes which led nowhere. I don't mean like the performance in the rain where nobody got hurt. I think that the rain just added to the mood of "My Funny Valentine". I mean like the scene where Pierre Lockett gets into an argument with Mr. A (I can't even remember what he is called in the movie) about the dance he is teaching to one of the company members. This could have been brought back later, but it never was.

Really, though, it certainly lived up to my expectations, and I've definitely built up a lot, having been waiting for a good year and a half for this movie. It is definitely worth seeing! Congratulations to the Joffrey on a job well done!

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I really enjoyed it too. I'll confess, though, that I was riveted by watching the "home team" on the big screen. I wonder how others will receive it?

I was not so bothered by the dropped "plot lines". That's the way life is -- there isn't a plot. We're just used to stories being told in a linear fashion. This movie just jumps in and out of the life of the company, in an almost random fashion. You have to get over the feeling that everything foreshadows something to come.

As for age-appropriateness -- I didn't think there was anything inappropriate for any child old enough to otherwise appreciate the movie. There is a fair amount of partial nudity -- locker room scenes include bare breasts -- and the words "penis" and "condom" flash by. No sex, explicit or otherwise; the closest hint is that Ry's new boyfriend is viewed (fully clothed) after he wakes up at her apartment. (I don't know about my daughter, but I will say that it made ME slightly uncomfortable to see my favorite dancers unclothed. I don't want to see THAT much of people I admire, especially ones I might encounter in an elevator or conducting a master class for my daughters. But this reaction is particular to my situation -- the nudity wouldn't bother me a bit if the dancers were completely unknown to me.)

Gotta add -- I loved the way "White Widow" was filmed (it's the ballet on the trapeze). I HATED "Blue Snake". It was much more Cirque du Soleil than Joffrey.

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Hi everyone

Yesterday I saw on BBC news film coverage some shots from "The Company". I got caught by something Robert Altman said: that he had always admired dancers for they give up so much for so little, but that "for them it is not so little. or they would not do it. I thought it was a good summary of a question we dancers face very often.

Also, there was a shot of a girl dancing a variation to a well known music, which I thought it was "La Fille", but could not hear it in the music of my Ashton's RB version. The girl in question is wearing a long tutu, she is dancing it on stage, apparently at an audition or a rehearsal, with someone commenting on her performance. Does anyone know what ballet that is? It could also be some Bournonville.


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It might be the Fanny Cerrito variation from the "La Vivandiere" Pas de Six.

Anne Hutchinson Guest set the pas de six on Joffrey II in 1976 and it went in to the main Joffrey company's repertoire soon after. Kevin Mackenzie danced the role of Arthur Saint-Leon.

Because A. H. Guest had not yet finished all of her research at the time she staged the ballet for Joffrey, it was performed and to this day is performed in a white tutu similar to the costume for "Konservatoriet.

In "The Company" Suzanne Lopez Prisco and Julianne Kepley perform the Fanny Cerrito Variation

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Went to see The Company in Chicago yesterday (had to go into the city since I'm sure it won't be playing in northwest Indiana any time soon if ever). My daughter was disappointed and felt it was like watching "one long rehearsal". Nice shots of the Joffrey (it was fun to see pieces - and people - on film that we have seen in person) and Chicago but we felt that there was not much of a plot or anything that would really have you identify with the characters.

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Well I must said that if one wants to see this movie one has to want to see it badly. Even in L.A. it takes a train, a subway, and a bus ride to get to the theater that is showing it. From the reviews that I had read so far the major part of what tripped up the critics was the fact that this movie has no plot what-so-ever. But I think otherwise because this film doesn't needs a plot to tell a story; the dancing and the dancers are the plot of The Company. Although I must admit at some part of the movie I was confused about what was going on. This movie is different from the last ballet movie, Center Stage. In that movie it showed the life of a ballet student whereas in The Company it showed the life of a ballerina.

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Guest gkimbrough

If anyone out there was wondering what life as a dancer is like, and

wondering just how fake _Center_Stage_ was, the answer is to be found

in Robert Altman's _The_Company_. Altman absolutely nails it. There

is no overall plot. Just constant rehearsal. No beginnings, but lots of endings.

You can't even tell the players apart half the time. Chaos and beauty.

Yes, this is life in the big ballet world.

One issue that most of the reviews I've read dance around concerns the final ballet,

"The Blue Snake." Nobody is willing to say how bad it was, but I think that was

part of the point: the work going into it is the same whether it turns out to be

trash or treasure, and only opening night can really decide. It was a

laughably dreadful ballet. Intentionally Bad, IMHO. C'mon, "Dancing Monkeys?"


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Hello GKimbrough -- great to read you again, and thanks for posting this. Everyone I know who's seen the movie (admittedly not that many yet!) has made similar comments. This one "gets it." I like your comments about the Blue Snake, too. You're right. Sometimes everyone (except, perhaps, the choreographer) knows a new work is a stinker from the first day, but you have to go on with it.

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