No. 206 | January 12, 2011
Our theme this week
Films about ballerinas
Featured this week
(See Monday post for theme introduction)
Monday — The Red Shoes (1948)
The Turning Point made a big splash when it was released, but time is often the best judge of a film’s worth. For The Turning Point, despite a pocket of loyal fans, time has not been particularly kind. No film of the 1970s received more Academy Award nominations, but few film fans now would list it among the great films of that notable decade. More likely, it’s remembered today for receiving eleven Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture and four for acting—then failing to win a single award. (Only one other movie, The Color Purple, in 1985, matched that peculiar honor of going 0 for 11 on awards night.)
Director Herbert Ross had an active career during the 1970s and ’80s, making comedies (Play It Again, Sam, The Sunshine Boys, The Goodbye Girl) and dance-based music films (Pennies from Heaven, Footloose). For Ross and his wife, producer Nora Kaye, both former dancers with the American Ballet Theater, The Turning Point was a film close to their heart. If there’s anything the film does especially well, it’s the ballet. The dancing is spectacular, and beautifully filmed, with more than a dozen selections from the popular repertoire. Leading the effort are ballerina Leslie Browne and the incomparable Mikhail Baryshnikov, both dancers making their screen debuts and earning Oscar nominations for their supporting roles.
Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft play the leads, Deedee and Emma, two dancers who once were friends and rivals. They meet again, twenty years later, having followed very different paths. Deedee had a child, Emilia (Browne), and left the performing life to raise a family. Emma made her name as a prima ballerina, winning nineteen curtain calls for one performance, followed by years of success. Deedee remains jealous, having missed her chance, and Emma fears the end of the career for which she has sacrificed much. The resentments of the two women simmer until they boil over into a full-blown cat fight outside Lincoln Center. But it’s too too late to change the past, and the future belongs to the daughter, whose rise from teenage unknown to ballerina in a single summer is one storybook element in an otherwise reality-based drama.
The Turning Point has some virtues, but some shortcomings, too. The acting is strong in spots, but uneven (the Oscar nominations for the supporting roles seem very generous). The writing is unbalanced, with some half-drawn characters and a plotline involving Deedee’s son that’s left dangling. Perhaps the most jarring problem is the disjointed nature of the dance scenes, which don’t flow from the rest of the action so much as interrupt it.
To its credit, though, The Turning Point is a movie about women who have the power to choose for themselves, unlike the week’s other films, in which authoritarian men rule the world of ballet.
In that respect, the film may be more contemporary, though to me it feels not as vital. In The Red Shoes, a dancer must choose between love or art. In The Turning Point, the choice is family or career. The earlier film has a timeless quality; the later one feels less urgent. No one dies in this one, but then, nothing seems worth dying for.