The other week, as part of my fiancée's birthday celebration, we went to the Film Forum in Manhattan to see Frederick Wiseman's documentary, La Danse, about the Paris Opera Ballet.
Clocking in at about three hours, this was an exhausting and beautifully shot film about the narrative of process. Given ample time in the studio space of the iconic building, viewers were treated to multiple journeys from inception to stage. Dancers ironed out the kinks under the guidance of a colourful cast of choreographers and trainers. There was comedy, tension--all the ingredients for multiple side-stories--in the way these people harangued, argued over, and danced their way to the final, ticket-able product. Old, pot-bellied choreographers burst up off their chairs to show theses lithe, beautiful young specimens how the dance was done, would-be philosophers tried to instill the dancers with a sense of the soul of a particular piece--yet the film never hooked into one story; instead opting for the long view, a picture of the whole hive.
In the same spirit, I appreciated the way the film touched down, but never fully succumbed to, its seductive visual metaphors. There was a beekeeper with an active farm up on the roof. There were Koi Fish swimming in the watery basement. Yet there was always honey to be made, a dance to perfect, and before we could truly fall for the implications and intersections surrounding these visual gems, there we were back up in the dome again, floors squeaking under the weight of a woman trying to bend a little more emotively after she lands a technically perfect turn.
Did it run on a little long? Sure. But so do the hours of work behind anything worth experiencing. I'm certain its length was a deliberate statement, and while my mind wandered a bit during the actual performance of the Nutcracker, I appreciated this attempt to tax my patience. This was a film about old masters, new blood--about being a “21st century company” performing what some might view as an antiquated art.
I left inspired (and glad my fiancée chose seeing this over going to the butterfly garden). Now if Frederick Wiseman were to turn his careful eye toward, say, a professional basketball team--well, that's just me getting selfish now, isn't it?
Nick Thran is the author of one collection of poetry, Every Inadequate Name. A second collection, Earworm, will appear in 2011 with Nightwood Editions. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. He will be posting regularly on Lemon Hound starting in January.