January 09, 2004

The Company

Director Robert Altman never ceases to amaze me. His films aren't always great, but you can't help but watch them intently before you come to that conclusion. His latest film, THE COMPANY, is perplexing for a couple reasons. Giving a slice of life look at Chicago's Joffrey Ballet Company, the film is not exactly a documentary because there are actors playing characters among real members of the company. Chief among them is Malcolm McDowell as the exaggerated Alberto Antonelli, the head of the top-notch company. He's never seen without a white scarf around his neck, and he can't leave a room with throwing its occupants into total chaos. Among his legions of incredible dancers is Ry, played by Neve Campbell, whom I have a newfound respect for as an actress and especially as a trained dancer after seeing this film. There is absolutely no difference between Campbell's dancing and the performances of the rest of the troop. She fits right in.

Despite the presence of actors in THE COMPANY, the film isn't exactly a straight drama either. Certainly, fiction films set backstage are nothing new, but Altman approach is unique. We see emotion behind the scenes, there are little moments of soap opera-ish behavior, but he never really sees any of these storylines to their natural conclusion. They are just flashes in time. What's most important to him (and us, believe me) is the dancing. I haven't been to a dance performance of any kind since college and know nothing about the intricacies of ballet, but I know what looks good and takes my breath away, and the dance numbers in THE COMPANY do exactly that. There's a particularly dramatic moment when Campbell and her dance partner perform in Grant Park during the opening moments of a violent thunder storm. It sounds dorky, I know, but it's really cool. The film deals with everyday studio issues like injuries, fickle choreographers, and inter-company romances, but really THE COMPANY deals with...nothing. There's honestly no story. We see certain dance performances from conception to execution, but we've given no sense of timelines and huge portions of the process are left out. But it doesn't matter. The end result is still extremely entertaining and educational. Altman is smart enough to stay away from the cliched storylines about artists and stick to showing us the art, the final product. In the end that's the stuff we care about, and it's what makes us forgive the lack of narrative structure.

Posted by sprokopy at January 9, 2004 02:59 PM