Veteran documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman turns his rigorous gaze on the cultural institution of classical dance in Ballet, an epic account of days and nights with the premier US national company, American Ballet Theater.
From early on in this fascinating piece of observational cinema we know we’re in for the whole warts’n’all Wisemanic thing since much of Ballet is devoted to the sweaty struggle and strain of rehearsal, that laborious and very necessary procedure which only eventually results in the glorious spectacle of perfectly polished performance.
To see legendary personalities such as Agnes De Mille (dispensing advice from a wheelchair), the British Royal Ballet’s Michael Somes. Natalia Makarova, Ulysses Dove and Irina Koplokova actively involved in the vital ritual of handing on the mantle to the young, talented danseurs and ballerinas of tomorrow is a delight in itself. But add to this Wiseman’s customary glimpses of the ballet world’s organisational infrastructure (watch out for Oz ballet’s own Ross Stretton) plus the extra cherry-on-cake bonus of seeing whole stretches of Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet, exquisitely rendered in full costume, and you have a balletomane’s treasure trove.
What Wiseman characteristically offers here is a refreshing and stimulating emphasis on process over product, on what’s behind the scenes of our conventionally perceived images, on what truly goes into that which we so easily take for granted: the chasm between the professional and the private performing person and the literal pain of the dancer’s craft. Completely without commentary or editorialising, Bullet leaves the viewer to take the trip and read between the (chorus) lines. (PH) —Melbourne International Film Festival
Documentarian Frederick Wiseman has been noted for his ability to capture the nuances of life in American institutions such as prisons, hospitals, welfare offices, and high schools. He started out in 1963 by producing a fictional feature film, The Cool World, an examination of the lives of Harlem teenagers. In the beginning, Wiseman was a staunch social reformist, and his films were calls for change. Titicut Follies, his first documentary, is an exposé of life in a prison for the criminally insane in Bridgewater, MA. It was controversial and left Wiseman with the reputation of being a muckraker. His four subsequent documentaries were all exposés of other tax-supported institutions designed to show the ineffectiveness of the bureaucracy that not only threatens to destroy them, but also dehumanizes the people they were meant to serve. Wiseman toned down his message and began focusing more on American culture to point out the symbolism of daily activities in his film Primate (1974). In… read more