Shame me once, shame me twice…I deserve it

29 Aug

Yesterday morning I went to see Mao’s Last Dancer with Karena.  Now I have to preface by saying with great humility that I have not read the book.  Normally, I’m one of those people that look at younglings, resist the urge to poke them with a stick and say “read the book, sonny boy!” (or for that matter, read A book…ANY book).  Back in Ohio I had gotten it from the library and added it to my fortress of borrowed items, but as any bookworm will tell you, we often bite off more than we can chew when it comes to library materials.  In the end, I never got around to it and had to return it before even getting the chance to open it.  Like any addiction it’s a rather vicious cycle but I honestly blame my parents—they were always reluctant to buy toys for me growing up but books were educational and thus limitless.  In essence, I’m not sure I know how to live a life that isn’t surrounded by books that I assume I’ll read someday…they offer a certain sense of security for the future that nothing else can.  But I digress.  The point is, no I haven’t read it and yes I consider that to be an embarrassing fact.

While it is true that I wear the scarlet letter of failing to read a book before its release as a film, I think it can be said that generally, biographical films tend to fail just a little bit because inevitably they will always lack nuances and important details.  There’s simply too much content in one person’s life to cram into a couple of hours, especially when the producers of the film are trying to include the whole spectrum of formative years as a child through to adulthood.  Many a twitterer have made this observation and I trust that they are right…a lot of the movie felt rushed and quite frankly didn’t really paint a complete picture of Li Cunxin.  I liked the movie but it did seem awfully rosy for the first hour or so, basically until his defection from China.  The problem with glazing over much of his developmental years is that it’s difficult to ascertain a sense of why he is the way he is as a grown man (besides the fact that he was jumping up staircases with a surplus of weights tied to his body, which really just made me cringe.  I’m not entirely convinced such a thing would work either, but I’m a big proponent of learning to manipulate the body you have when it comes to developing technique).

I think that’s why Billy Elliot probably remains (in my humble opinion) the most successful ballet movie within the past decade.  In Billy Elliot the story focuses only on his beginnings in ballet, extracting just the short time period in which he discovers ballet to his acceptance into the Royal Ballet School.  The other genius (and annoying) thing about Billy Elliot is the omission of any professional dance scenes—it forces the audience to focus only on the story and the amateur dancing Billy does throughout develops a stronger sense of his character.  Dance scenes would have ruined Billy Elliot but as a dance junkie I was glad there were snippets in Mao’s Last Dancer, especially because I think current generations are losing touch with classical arts and the film was a more appropriate forum to show them rather than certain television shows I dislike so very much.  Occasionally the editing weirded me out only because I knew too much (like how they chopped up the Don Quixote grand pas de deux) and while the slow motion leaps had Karena and I in giggles, she made the observation that it kind of takes away from the spectacularity of a bravura jump.  It almost makes you think it’s a trick of the camera when he really is jumping that high and really is achieving a certain position in the air.  I forget where I saw it, but I do remember seeing videos of a dancer leaping, as captured by a high speed camera, kind of like how during Shark Week on the Discovery Channel they use high speed cameras to film great white sharks jumping out of the water to eat seals…from a scientific perspective, getting the opportunity to be clued in to the process is incredibly fascinating.  Speaking of high speed cameras and nature, in a study that filmed frogs jumping in super slow-motion, the champion jumper was the Cuban tree frog, which leads me to believe that there is indeed something in the water that must make the Cubans the jumpers that they are—be they frogs or ballet dancers.

Speaking of other dance scenes though, I had to laugh when there were the obligatory fouettés in DonQ, because apparently a ballet movie can’t impress audiences without them (hell, even that long ass movie Benjamin Button had a fouetté moment).  That’s all I really have to say about that…it’s just funny how the move is so iconic of ballet and yet they’re hardly a part of daily training.  Then again, maybe that’s because I take adult classes and we’re too old for that crap (though I don’t doubt many people go into an adult class hoping to learn them!).

Meanwhile, I enjoyed the movie and was perhaps aided by not having read the book and yes, my sappy ass cried at the end when Li was finally reunited with his parents after that awesome performance of Rite of Spring (anyone know if that is indeed Graeme Murphy’s choreography?).  Also, lovely to see Amanda Schull again and I was impressed with the casting in general.  In other news, a woman asked us after the movie who the actor playing Stevenson was and what else he appeared in and I found myself in the awkward position of having to keep quiet in saying that I knew Bruce Greenwood was the president in the National Treasure sequel (“it’s a cipher!”) as well as a jerk CEO in Dinner for Schmucks.  Even worse than admitting I haven’t read Mao’s Last Dancer is having to admit that I know a Nicholas Cage movie so well.

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4 Responses to “Shame me once, shame me twice…I deserve it”

  1. Fleegull August 29, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    I would have to keep especially quiet because I know Bruce Greenwood back when he was on the now defunct UPN’s “Nowhere Man” as well as kicking ass in the newest “Star Trek” movie with Zoe Saldana of “Center Stage” fame. Yup, I’m the rare balletomane/tv geek/fashionista.

    • youdancefunny August 29, 2010 at 11:15 am #

      There’s a word for that…”ballegeekionista”

  2. Craig September 4, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    I really loved the movie. I love ballet and any kind of dance really.

    • youdancefunny September 5, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

      Glad to see others enjoyed the movie too! Thanks for your comment! 🙂

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