Movies: La Dance: The Paris Opera Ballet * * * *
Fred Wiseman is a legendary figure in American documentary film-making. His painstaking and powerful films have had a huge influence on feature films as well as documentaries, and his disturbing 1967 documentary Titicut Follies was recently cited by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio as a significant inspiration for Shutter Island. In La Dance, Wiseman turns his attention (not for the first time) to the world of ballet, and goes behind the scenes of the Paris Opera Ballet to show us what goes into mounting a major production.
A lot of mental and physical agony, if this film is anything to go by. Dispensing with the usual documentary techniques of interviews and narrative scene-setting, Wiseman simply points and shoots and lets his camera do the talking in a film that essentially documents the construction of a ballet. The magnificent, neo-Baroque splendour of Paris's Opera Garnier forms the backdrop to the action, which starts in the bowels of the great building as we watch the dancers move from early rehearsals to final preparations.
The dedication required to be a ballet dancer must be immense, and you can see the demands these young men and women place on their bodies every single day at practice. The ballet master and choreographers direct by dancing themselves, so you get moments of intriguing non-verbal communication. And when the women dance in costume, they look like ranks of Edgar Degas figurines come to life. Wiseman's film will certainly not be for everyone, but watching this ballet come together is strangely mesmerising.