Well, here’s another film that I wish I liked better than I actually did. (See Meek’s Cutoff for a prior refrain of this.) I first became aware of the German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch (1940-2009) after seeing fragments of her work in Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her (2002). I was intrigued. So when I heard about this Wim Wenders film about Bausch, I was curious. The trailer left me with mixed feelings. Mostly it was funny and weird and compelling, but I confess the shot of the woman carrying a fetally-curled man on her back with another woman carrying a sapling in the background made me think of the avant-garde-parody Mr Plow commercial in The Simpsons. Still, the reviews I saw were really good, and my regular movie-going friend, Luke, expressed interest, so yesterday we hied ourselves to the Cinerama to watch it in 3D.
It looked and sounded great, of course. I liked the settings, and the way they shifted between the stage and the outdoors and various urban and industrial sites. I liked a lot of the music. I liked the sense of humor. I liked some of the 3D effects (the best 3D special effect was the leaf blower, and it’s probably the best use I’ve ever seen a leaf blower put to), although I also found some of it unimpressive. I liked some of the dancing, but my main problem with the film is that there was a lot of dancing that left me totally unengaged. I got bored at times.
Probably the biggest reason for this is that I know diddly-squat about ballet and modern dance. I had no context for understanding a lot of the choreography. Luke also pointed out that we only get fragments of individual dance pieces, and sometimes he wished he could see the whole thing. I certainly felt that way about the Rite of Spring choreography, which was one of my favorite parts, perhaps because I love the music so much. Sometimes the fragmentariness of the dancing worked fine for me, as in the little tidbits such as the guy sitting on the floor moving his legs (and thus his body) around with his hands. Other times even when we got longer stretches of dancing, I just didn’t find the movements appealing.
As a documentary, I also found it uninformative. We get a little bit of Bausch’s history and biography, but mostly what we get is members of her dance troupe talking about what it was like to dance for her. Which is fine (and some of it was very moving), but as someone ignorant about dance I could’ve used more commentary about what place her choreography had in the history of dance. What were her inspirations, what was she reacting against, who has she influenced?
Not that I’m really asking that the film conform to my needs. Clearly this has worked just fine as it is for a lot of people. We saw it with a good crowd last night, and while they didn’t quite burst into applause at the end (there was brief ripple of almost-applause), the young, hip audience seemed pretty upbeat after the show. The lobby was full of people buzzing about what they’d just seen. So I conclude that this was simply not a film for me, although I still appreciated the glimpse into an unfamiliar world.