Friday, July 23, 2010

0 for 11

The Fox Movie Channel is showing The Turning Point this evening at 6:00 PM ET. The movie is famous for being nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and winning a big fat zero of them (a feat later duplicated by The Color Purple; back in 1948 Johnny Belinda also lost 11 nominations, but the 12th nomination, Jane Wyman for Best Actress, won). Looking at the movie a third of a century on, it's understandable why The Turning Point came up short come awards time.

Shirley MacLaine plays Deedee Rogers, a woman raising a family in Oklahoma. She used to be a ballet dancer 20 years earlier, but she got knocked up, whcih is a problem for a dancer's career. So she married the dancer who was the father of her child (Tom Skerritt), moved to Oklahoma, and now runs a dance school while raising three kids. The American Ballet Theater, with which she danced all those years ago, is in town for a performance, so the family goes to see the show and then invite members of the dance troupe over for a party afterwards. It's here that Deedee meets her old rival, Emma (Anne Bancroft), who got the part Deedee was looking for back when she got pregnant. Emma went on to bigger and better things, and that's led to some resentment on Deedee's part.

The tables, however, are about to turn. Emma is getting to that age where her body will no longer do the graceful things it once did, demoting her to lesser roles; it's a fate that befalls every dancer, but one that none of them wishes to face. Deedee, on the other hand, has an extremely talented daughter Emilia (Leslie Browne), and Emilia is good enough to get an audition with the dance company in New York. So, Deedee goes with Emilia to New York, and lives somewhat vicariously through her, hoping for her success.

If you've seen movies like 42nd Street, you'll know that success is a product of hard work: lots and lots of hard work, to be more accurate. You've got the choreographer, the producer, the dance coaches, and a whole bunch of competing dancers each trying to get their own vision of dance to come across. Probably the highlight of all this for the viewers is Mikhail Baryshnikov as a Russian member of the company, who is also after Emilia's affections. In real life, he had defected only a few years earlier and wsa probably about as good a dancer as he ever would be -- after all, age would catch up to him too.

Having said that, the story falls a bit flat ultimately. The backstage world is a tried and true plot line, but the disadvantage it has is that it can also seem old and trite, which happens to a good extent here. Other than the two female leads (MacLaine and Bancroft), the rest of the dancers are dancers first, actors second. For those who are fans of ballet, it's sure nice to see them dance, but they're not as good at acting as the ballroom dancer/actors of the 1930s. Further, The Turning Point gets bogged down about two thirds of the way in by an extended dance sequence. Again, it's nice to have all this ballet preserved on the screen for posterity, but the opening night sequence goes on much too long, and feels like an afterthought that doesn't add to the plot even more than Gene Kelly's dance with Cyd Charisse in Singin' in the Rain. If you like ballet, I think you'll really like the movie, although you'll probably have seen it already. If you're not a fan of ballet, give it a shot, but there's no shame in not liking it.

The Turning Point was released on DVD, but is apparently out of print, so you'll have to catch the Fox Movie Channel showings.

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