Tag Archives: dance films

Black True Swan Grit

The Coen Brothers’ take on True Grit (2010)  made me wish I could order up some closed captioning in the movie theatre and Darren Aronofsky’s The Black Swan (2010) had me drumming with ecstasy over the cinematographic representation of dance.  The majority of the shots of Natalie Portman’s dancing is over her upper body.  There are only a handful of long shots where she and other dancers are in the middle of the frame and the audience get’s to see her entire body move through space as a dancer.  And yet, those upper body shots so depict with precision the frenzied and sometimes disorienting act of dancing.
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True Grit I enjoyed, especially Matt Damon‘s performance, but there were a few scenes that prompted the inner voice to wonder why ten to twenty seconds weren’t cut here and there.  I’ve seen a number of Darren Aronofsky’s films and The Black Swan is consistent with his artistic and thematic tendencies.  Jose Teodoro of Film Comment ponders about the film much better than I ever could, so get thee to the aforembedded link.

I really like what he articulates in the third paragraph:

Like The Wrestler, Black Swan is grounded in athleticism, studies the limits of the body, and considers the ways it inevitably betrays us. It takes pains to render almost palpable the sensation of flesh and bone being pushed and punished.

Click here for more True Grit images and here for The Black Swan images.

Click here for information on the camera(s) used for The Black Swan.

How She Move in Canada

Wail. Today is Justin Timberlake’s 27th birthday—and mine was on Tuesday.  Ha! Oui.  I take pride in being forty-eight hours older.

I know the following assessment of How She Move (Ian Iqbal Rashid, 2007) is not as thorough as I indicated it would be, but if I waited until my corporeality stopped misbehaving and acquiesced to the will of the mental facilities, it could be three weeks before this entry is posted.  Alors, I decided to just go with what is below.  Et encore. Ne personne me dit qu’il/elle voudrait les autre choses.

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Goal-oriented Raya (Rutina Wesley) has to move back to the projects and attend public school after the death of her sister Pam (who had squandered away Raya’s tuition money on drugs).  Raya has one week to prepare for an exam that will determine if she can obtain a scholarship to go back to Seaton Academy.  Her schedule becomes significantly busier after she starts hanging out and stepping with her childhood friend Bishop (Dwain Murphy) and his crew.  Narrative conflict consists of convincing and proving to Bishop she is good enough and serious about being a part of his crew (to win the big bucks at the annual Step Monster competition) as well as dealing with personality issues with Michelle (Tre Armstrong), another friend from the neighborhood.

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I was right.  It isn’t fair to compare How She Move with Stomp the Yard.  Both films utilize stepping ways to fuel the conflict in the plot and for the protagonists to reclaim an amount of control over their lives, but the details aren’t the same.  For Raya, stepping is the means for her to return to the life she’d been living for three years–private school to college to med school to out-of-the-projects.  For DJ (Columbus Short), though, it possesses more redemptive powers (forgiving himself for not looking out for his little brother and caring about something other than himself).

I feel like I got to know DJ better as a character and I liked him more–he seemed more sympathetic, which is probably because of his more pronounced slacker, carefree tendencies.  On the other hand, Raya is focused to the point of being self-absorbed, unaware that she can’t have what she wants and that she can’t achieve her goals without accommodating the will of others by helping them out from time to time (the film directly articulates this point).

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Visually, Stomp the Yard is silken sunshine and How She Move is grainy cyan (actually a nice touch I thought).  I prefer the filmed danced aesthetic of the latter.  The making-of featurette of Stomp the Yard suggests that capturing the energy and the awe-inspiring movements of the dancers necessitated frenetic cutting and slow-motion.  How She Move, though, concentrates on a different aspect of stepping as spectacle and as dance (not quite sure how to explain it right now).  The recital aesthetic is incorporated in conjunction with low-angle shots, high-angle shots, and minimal slow-motion.  It reminded me of the music video for Busta Rhymes’s song “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” (directed by Hype Williams)–except much less use of fisheye lens.

 

How She Move trailer:

 

Stomp the Yard trailer:

Product Placement in How She Move: Nike, Pepsi, Dunlop, Aquafina

~Q~Q~Q~Q~

I dreamed a yesterday morning that I was talking to Peyton Manning about salsa/nacho chips.

Ah, yes. The Game Plan and The Comebacks are both out on DVD now. Go Netflix, Blockbuster, Amazon, or Best Buy them today! I’m going to pick up both films in the near future; I can finally get that in-depth probe of The Comebacks vis-a-vis Not Another Teen Movie.

It’s Just the Way She Moves…

…to be prim and proper.

Edit: Click here for my entry on the film.

Or, How She Move. Directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid and written by Annmarie Morais, this dance film can be most conveniently described as a gender-reversal of Stomp the Yard, minus the near exclusive focus on stepping. Mais, je crois que cette pensee est trop…facile? sans l’inspiration.

Sorry. There I go thinking out loud en Francais again.

….I believe this idea is too easy, uninspired. How She Move surely can’t be summed up so neatly as “the female version of Stomp the Yard” not just because the plot details aren’t that similar, but also because I imagine aside from the ideologically significant role that dancing plays in the characters’ lives, other issues are at play. In fact, maybe it’s the film’s visual design and lighting scheme, but something about the trailer makes me think of Girlfight (Karyn Kusama, 2000)—probably on account of the de-feminizing of dancing in the one film complements the manipulated masculinity of the other.

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I’ll know with more certainty after I watch How She Move later today. The poster makes me think of Blaxploitation promotional pieces in the scent of Pam Grier.

Here’s the trailer for How She Move.

Here’s the trailer for Girlfight.

Save the Last Center Stomp Yard Stage Dance Company 2

Today’s post is brought to you by 3.5 dance films. It’s not quite four because one of them is structured a lot like a sports film.

 


Save the Last Dance 2 (David Petrarca, 2006)


Stomp the Yard (Sylvain White, 2007)

 


Center Stage (Nicholas Hytner, 2000)

 

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The Company (Robert Altman, 2003)

Technique and passion.  Ambition and execution.  Discipline and ingenuity.  Sacrifice and competition.  These themes pervade through these four films.  They have different narrative concerns and the dance sequences serve subtly different purposes (and are filmed differently too), but the characters all have to contend with perfecting themselves and proving some sort of naysayer wrong.

Save the Last Dance 2 is the sequel to Thomas Carter‘s 2001 film Save the Last Dance.  I didn’t watch the first one–though I’ve seen most of the film on TBS–and the reason I decided to watch the second one was for Columbus Short.

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He is the main character in Stomp the Yard and one of the featurettes indicated that he was a trained dancer but stepping was something knew to him.  I went on IMDB to look up his filmography and saw that he was in Save the Last Dance 2.  I rented it assuming he would be a dancer–he’s actually a composer and DJ in the film.  It picks up where the first one left off–Sara Johnson (played by Julia Stiles in the original and Izabella Miko in the second) has arrived at Julliard and over the course of many months must prove that she is good enough to stay.  Her toughest critic is also her idol, Monique Delacroix (Jacqueline Bissett).

A love story between Sara and Miles (Columbus Short), her “Hip-Hop Theory” instructor, is incorporated into the plot.  It becomes an ephemeral point of tension because even though we all know that Sara loves hip-hop as much as ballet, she can only be a prima ballerina in one of those dance forms.

Originally from Poland, Izabella Miko looks the part of a ballet dancer (and she is a trained ballet dancer), but her dancing was a bit awkward in the film. Her hip-hop was even less amazing to behold.  I blame it on the cinematography and the editing.

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The majority of the dance sequences (and practices) are filmed from a high or a low angle.  The high angle is standard across the board in any film because it serves practical–as well as ideological–purposes.  The high angle long shot, to be exact, allows the viewer to get a sense of the space of the scene, where the characters are in relation to each other. When filming a dance sequence (on or off stage), a high angle shot can provide more visual information on sagital movement–going from downstage to up stage, or moving from the bottom of the stage to the top.

Unfortunately, frequent cutting and a lot of low angle shots not only fragment the imagery, but they also downplay any athleticism and aestheticism inherent in the dance number.  After a while, the dancing itself becomes obligatory.  The film’s end suggests that she’d choose a love life over a dance life.  It just so happens that her love allows her to see that pointe shoes and leotards are not the sole components of her dreams.  She’s gotta have the baggy pants and beats too.

Center Stage, on the other hand, features a group of dancers who (with the exception of one character) wants nothing more than to be ballet dancers.

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The main character in this film is Jody Sawyer (Amanda Schull, sitting first row in the picture).  All she has ever wanted was to be a ballerina and after passing auditions, receives a scholarship to study at the American Ballet Academy (a fictionalized version of the American Ballet Theatre) in New York City.  Shortly after arriving and starting classes, she realizes that her technique is not as good as it needs to be to make it to the company.  But she has such passion and she tries so hard to improve, spending hours in the studio until her toes bleed (which is actually an occupational hazard for ballerinas).

The supporting cast of characters includes Eva Rodriguez (Zoe Saldana), who has great technique and a lousy attitude speaks her mind and would stick it to the man before comprising; Maureen Cummings (Susan May Pratt), who has the skills but not the artistry; Charlie Sims (Sascha Radetsky, a real American Ballet Theatre member); Sergei (Olympic gold-medalist figure skater Illia Kulik); and Erik Jones (Shakiem Evans).

Peter Gallagher plays company director Johnathan Reeves; Donna Murphy plays Juliette Simone, an instructor; Ethan Stiefel (also a member of the American Ballet Theatre) plays company dancer Cooper Nielson; and Julie Kent (an American Ballet Theatre member too) is company dancer Kathleen Donahue.

Amanda Schull had to have had ballet experience before filming because her dance sequences are filmed with more long shots and long takes than Susan May Pratt and Zoe Saldana, who learned how to move and pose like a ballerina from the waist up. Take a look at this clip.

Center Stage succeeds much more as a ballet film than Save the Last Dance 2.  The picture composition, particularly during the rehearsals, is much more aesthetically pleasing and the dancing is never adulterated by an attempt to be visually dynamic. This image is a screen shot from one of the practices:

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Jody and Eva look on as Maureen demonstrates an exercise.  The shot begins more or less at this medium shot. Within seconds, the camera tracks towards screen right and re-orients itself on to a closer shot of Jody and Eva.  While one could argue that medium shots and medium close-ups allow the filmmaker to avoid having to make an actor look convincing as a dancer, in this case, the medium shot serves a narrative purpose.  The point of this scene is not to showcase Maureen’s excellent arm positions; instead, it is to focus on Jody’s mental block. She can’t improve her “game” if she keeps obsessing about someone else’s. And, Zoe Saldana’s expressions are great.  One wouldn’t be able to see them very well if the shot was filmed farther away.

The match-on-action edits were very seamless as well.  Observe.

Rapid cutting, as is the case with Save the Last Dance 2, does not make a dance appear any more exciting than disorienting hand-held camerawork makes a combat scene more exciting.  Behold.

In fact, it’s quite possible to adhere to the “recital aesthetic” (usually stationary camera with an occasional pan or tilt or zoom in) and be refreshing just by manipulating light and color. Example: Robert Altman’s film The Company.

The film does not have a plot per se; it’s more like a season-in-the-life-of-a-ballet-company.  In this case, it’s a fictionalized version of the Joffrey Ballet (whose dancers are featured in the film, including a former Atlanta Ballet dancer Julianne Kepley ^&^ I’ve seen her dance many times over the years).  Malcom McDowell plays Alberto Antonelli, artistic director of a Chicago ballet company.  Neve Campbell is Ry, a company dancer who is given the opportunity to become a principal dancer in the troupe.  Filmed in HD-DV and reminiscent of a 70s visual style, The Company takes the viewer into the pre-production and production phases of running a dance company and preparing for performances.

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Decisions have to be made that aren’t so dissimilar from managing a sports team. Dancers who get injured are replaced by understudies.  Players that are injured have to sit out and backups are put in the game.  Aspects of the dancers’ lives are also presented, such as maintaining physical prowess and struggling with near-poverty.

There are many dance numbers in this film, both in practice and in performance. Altman, known for his multi-track audio and ensemble cast narratives, handles the multi-layered components of the movie sufficiently well.  Andrew Dunn, the cinematographer, has a diverse filmography, and likely works in collaboration with rather than under his director.  The most common shot scale of the performances is the medium long shot:

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I think the word “shimmering” is the most accurate descriptor for what the dance numbers look like.

Click here for the trailer.

According to the making-of featurette, Neve Campbell had danced all her life and had always wanted to make a ballet film.  She also wanted Robert Altman above anyone else to direct the film.  Oh yes, James Franco plays Neve Campbell’s love interest…the reason he agreed to be in the film was so he could work with Altman.

Even though The Company lacks a conventional narrative, the glimpse it offers into the mechanics of managing a dance company is fascinating.  The dancers are constantly being told to improve their technique and are pushing themselves to do better.  Their progress is the product of collaboration.  Their goal is not to advance a ball from point A to point B, but they have to work together to convey an emotion and an idea to an audience.

Sports movies, particularly those that are about team sports, emphasize the importance of teamwork in winning games.  In this respect, Stomp the Yard is more of a sports movie than a dance film.  Produced by Rainforest Films, the same company behind a handful of films set and filmed in Atlanta, Stomp the Yard follows DJ (Columbus Short) and his journey to redemption following the death of his younger brother.  The means to this redemption is a second chance at a new life in Atlanta, GA as a college student at the fictional Truth University.  A series of coincidental events pulls DJ into the world of fraternities and stepping.

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Although DJ is an expert b-boy and freestyle hip-hopper, he is a stranger to the order and discipline that is the foundation in the world of stepping.  Stomp the Yard is also less of a dance film because the rivalry between Mu Gamma Xi and Theta Nu Theta propels the story.  There may not be a clock or number to beat, but there is an external antagonist.  DJ isn’t just trying to put his past behind him; he is trying to become a better person.  In order to do so, he has to learn to work with his fraternity brothers, even if he ends up leading them.

Given the love subplot involving the girlfriend (Meagan Good) of a Gamma Xi, the dynamic between DJ and the other characters, as well as the role that stepping plays in the lives of the fraternity brothers, Stomp the Yard is ideologically more similar to The Gridiron Gang (Phil Joanou, 2006) and The Replacements (Howard Deutch, 2000) than it is to You Got Served (Chris Stokes, 2004). Thus, filming the dancing is more than recording visual information. It isn’t just a matter of “getting it on tape. ” Stylization, innovation, and frame-rate manipulation is necessary.

See one See Another.

I saw Stomp the Yard in the movie theatre and although I enjoyed it, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the way the dance sequences were filmed.  I found the visual style of the breaking scenes a bit distracting.  I thought it was too stylized.  Upon repeat viewings, though, it made more sense to me.

Major League (David S. Ward, 1989), archival baseball footage, and some early baseball films are on the menu for the next update.

pix creds: google image search, yahoo movies, amazon.com