Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday at the Movies #11 - May I Have This Dance (Movie?)

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Dance is already something special. Combine it with a compelling story, good camera work and the right cast, it can add a lot to the experience of a film.

A Chorus Line - One of my favorite Broadway shows ever, I can't give the movie quite as high of a nod, because they did stray from the tight focus on the audition and only the audition. In the stage version, we never see the male lead, only hear his voice, and while I understand that might not translate well to the screen, it still rankles. That said, the heart of the story remains; a sometimes disconcerting but ultimately inspiring look into the lives of the professional dancers showing up for yet another audition for yet another chorus line. Every dancer has a story, and we are invited into each of their worlds, from a married couple to the ticking clock an older dancer faces, individuals shaped by ethnic or sexual identity issues, and a fallen star desperate to claw her way back into the game. Ironically, she is the one dancer who wants to be seen as a number and not an individual, but her connection with the director makes that impossible. Anybody who has ever been through the audition process will appreciate the versimilitude. This is actually one movie I would like to see remade, preferably with dancers playing dancers.

Staying Alive - Normally, I don't go for sequels. I like a story complete unto itself, but once in a while, there is an execption. This is one. If Saturday Night Fever was the 70s, Staying Alive is the 80s. As the trailer says, it's five years later and the fever still burns. John Travolta brings us once again into Tony Manero's world, as Tony did indeed leave Brooklyn for Manhatten and went from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. Still, he has everything that made him great back home and is determined that will make him great on the Broadway stage as well. No longer a boy, Tony must deal with life as both a professional dancer in the city with the most professional dancers on earth, and learn how to stand on his own as a man. Suffice it to say he finds reason to repeat that iconic strut. I humbly suggest a third installment to see where Tony is now.

Shall We Dance? - Richard Gere shows us how nuance is done in his portrayal of staid big city businessman John Clarke, who takes a giant, impulsive leap out of his quietly desperate existence and into a world he never knew existed - that of ballroom dance. John learns far more than steps when he meets his instructor and fellow students, their worlds melding with his. It's rough going at first, and John is hesistant to share these new developments, even with his wife, played by Susan Sarandon, but things are going to get rockier before they smooth out. Which they eventually do, in beautifully romantic fashion. Jennifer Lopez, who started as a dancer, is in her element as John's teacher, and Stanley Tucci takes what could have been a throwaway comedic role and turns it into a powerhouse of masculine liberation. This is a remake of an Asian film, and I would love to see the original version.

Take the Lead - Based on the real life story of dancer Pierre Dulane who began teaching ballroom dance to inner city students, this film does take some liberties. Most notably, making the students teens instead of elementary school age, but for dramatic purposes, it works beautifully. Antonio Banderas' Pierre challenges the students not only to learn dance, but to respect themselves, their bodies and each other. Courtesy and chivalry are presented to young men as positive masculine qualities and Pierre makes a case for young women learning to value themselves and not let the wrong sort of boy interfere with their dreams. Two rival boys are forced to learn how to compromise and get along, and one young man must make a choice between the rough life he has always known and the promise of a new way out that Pierre's lessons provide him. Thankfully, they have a great teacher and great choreographers as well.

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