The Red Shoes 1948 Produced, written and directed by Michael Powell, Emerich Pressburger. THE ballet film. Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) lives to dance. When she joins the celebrated Lermontov Ballet (based on Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe), Lermontov himself (Anton Walbrook-fabulous) takes special interest in the girl aware she can bring glory to his company. Unlike the obsessive artistic director, however, Vicki hasn’t shut herself off from the world. She falls in love with talented composer Julian Kraster (Marius Goring), recently hired by the company.
For Vicky, Krastner writes The Ballet of the Red Shoes inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story. She and Julian should have the world by the tail, but Lermontov sets out to separate them. After several failures, he makes Victoria choose. Consequences are tragic. This marks the movie debut of Shearer, an established ballerina, and features three other renowned dancers as well as professionals as the corps. The Red Shoes is famous for featuring a beautiful 17-minute ballet sequence as its centerpiece. It’s ending is inspired. A classic. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Nijinsky 1980 Based on the dancer’s diaries and a biography written by his wife, Romola de Pulszky (ghosted by Lincoln Kerstein). Directed by Herbert Ross. Written by Hugh Wheeler. Visuals are great, especially recreation of Ballet Russe sets, costumes, and glimpses of dance. George De La Pena as the dancer (ripe innocence, less believable madness) with Leslie Browne playing Romola, Alan Bates as Serge Diaghilev (bring back Anton Walbrook!) and Jeremy Irons in a prissy interpretation of choreographer Michel Fokine.
A Hollywood view focusing on Nijinsky’s relationship with Diaghilev and here, rapid descent into schizophrenia. The latter erupts when feeling judged and rejected, the danseur noble marries a cloying/devoted socialite only to discover the impresario has not turned his back. This film leaves out Nikinky’s two daughters, a failed attempt to start his own company, a brief reunion tour with the Ballet Russe and one of South America – all before his ultimate breakdown. Nijinsky spent 30 years in asylums. Take it with a grain of salt. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Dirty Dancing 1987 Based on screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein’s own young adulthood (even the nickname!). Directed by Emile Ardolino. 1963. Every summer for as long as she can remember,“Baby,” a perverse nickname for Frances Houseman (Jennifer Grey), her older sister, Lisa (Jane Brucker), and parents, Dr. Jake and Marjorie Houseman (Jerry Orbach and Kelly Bishop), stay at the same Catskills resort. (Affectionate clichés are accurate.) Spending time with staff, Baby is sympathetic when dance instructor Johnny (Patrick Swayze) loses his partner who’s pregnant by a waiter.
Baby asks her father for abortion money without telling him the reason. (There’s a trick!) She then volunteers to step in for Johnny’s partner in an upcoming performance at a nearby resort. Lessons ensue and the two grow close. When the operation is botched, Baby again has no one to turn to but her dad. Dr. Houseman makes seriously wrong assumptions. Against his wishes she sneaks out to perform. Emotion combusts – but comes out in the end. Remember the finale lift? Free with Amazon Prime.
Stepping Out 1991 Based on the play by Richard Harris. Directed by Lewis Gilbert. A sweet film with good ensemble acting. Ex-Broadway dancer Mavis Turner (Liza Minnelli) teaches amateur tap class at a local church, intermittently singing with her selfish, egotistical boyfriend’s band. Her students consist of middle aged women: Carol Woods, Julie Walters, Ellen Greene, Robyn Stevan, Jane Krakowski, Sheila McCarthy, Andrea Martin and one timid male Geoffrey (Bill Irwin). Grouchy, maternal Mrs. Fraser (Shelley Winters) is at the piano.
Asked to participate in a benefit by the local posh performance center that turned Mavis down as a teacher, she’s determined to present something that will knock audience socks off. As the class bickers and struggles, we learn who they are and get involved with their lives. Characters are all credible. Things come to a head in several lives. Relationships shift. And then the show! John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote the finale number in which Minnelli’s over the top. Otherwise she’s fine. Enjoyable. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Strictly Ballroom 1993 Based on a play set up by Baz Luhrmann and fellow students at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney, Australia. Luhrmann had studied ballroom dancing as a child. His mother worked as a ballroom dance teacher. Directed by Luhrmann. Middle-aged Shirley and Doug Hastings (Scott Thompson and Barry Otto), former ballroom competition partners, run an Australian dance studio. She teaches, he handles business. Shirley holds her meek husband responsible for the end of their run and never lets him forget it.
Their talented son Scott (Paul Mercurio) is passionate about the art but persists in adding flashy steps not “strictly ballroom,” for which he’s eliminated by head judge Barry Fife (Bill Hunter). Three weeks before the next contest, Scott loses his partner. When newcomer Fran (Tara Morice) approaches him with willingness to dance his way, he agrees. Practice evokes chemistry. His parents and Fife press him instead to enter with known commodity, Tina Sparkle (Sonja Kruger) -the name says everything.
Scott sticks with Fran until Fife pollutes the situation with lies about his parents. Everything hits the fan mid competition. The truth about Fife, current and past sabotage is revealed. The “right” couple competes, as do the reunited Hastings. An understated charmer with fine dancing. Quirky characters make this more appealing, not less. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Billy Elliot 2000 NOT the musical. Adapted from Lee Hall’s play Dancer. Directed by Stephen Daldry. County Durham (UK) 1985/85. Eleven year-old Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) lives with his gruff, widowed father Jackie (Gary Lewis), brother Tony (Jamie Draven), and sweet grandmother (Jean Haywood). Jackie and Tony are activist miners currently on strike. Sent to the local gym to learn to box, Billy is drawn instead to a ballet class taught by Sandra Wilkinson (Julie Walters). The boy finds his passion and secretly continues until dad finds out. Assuming his son will be thought “gay,” Jackie forbids it.
Sandra thinks Billy is good enough to attend the Royal Ballet School and sets up an audition the boy misses. Jackie sees his son dance and realizes both the boy’s talent and the strength of his dream. Resolving to do anything he can, he crosses the picket line to secure money for a second audition. Tony stops Jackie at the protest. Fellow miners join together to help. Billy goes to London and almost messes up his chances. The film manifests local attitudes with authenticity. Jamie Bell is entirely sympathetic. Tender without being saccharine. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Billy Elliot The Musical 2014 Directed by Stephen Daldry, Brett Sullivan. I have my issues with excess here, but overall, it’s a good piece. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Shall We Dance 2004 Directed by Peter Chelsom. John Clark (Richard Gere) is a successful estate lawyer with a loving family. Mid life restlessness is stirred when, on his daily commute, John sees an attractive woman in the window of a dance studio. He impulsively signs up for ballroom lessons in hopes of meeting her, but finds himself being taught not by Paulina (Jennifer Lopez), but Miss Mitzi (Anita Gillette). Much to his surprise, the new student loves it. He decides to keep the pursuit secret, something of his own.
Wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon) gradually questions explanations for absence. Assuming John is having an affair, she hires a private detective. Meanwhile John is practicing hard for a local competition. He becomes friends with Paulina who first suspected he was only pursuing her. We also learn about various class members. Having discovered the truth about where he goes, Beverly and his daughter show up at the competition without telling him. Their presence distracts John ruining his chances.
Husband and wife argue and he quits the school. Encouraged to take up competing again, Paulina is leaving for Europe. She sends him an invitation to her going away party. The rest happily happens there. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Lacks the poignant emotion of its source, a Japanese film of the same name, which can’t, alas, be streamed on either site.
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