Thursday, March 18, 2004

Two left feet

Movie: The Company

Posted on Thu, Mar 18, 2004 at 4:00 AM

*1/2
Our Rating: 1.50

For everyone who carped that Baz Luhrmann's dance sequences in "Moulin Rouge!" were too hyperactively spazzed out, here's a chance to see dance filmed in an entirely different wrong way. Co-written and financed by the ever-puckering Neve Campbell, "The Company" is a numbingly nothing vanity project directed by the oft-brilliant Robert Altman -- whose impressive CV will no doubt soon relegate this filmic gaffe to the "whoops!" column.

Ms. Campbell plays Ry, a young dancer about whom we'll learn ... nothing. Malcolm McDowell is Alberto Antonelli, the headstrong head of a small Chicago dance company; the Joffrey Ballet stars as its dancers. Campbell, an actual ballerina in her pre-"Scream" days, acquits herself fairly well in the dance set pieces that provide partial relief from the pretty vacancy that is the rest of the film. But the girl has serious balls going toe-to-toe with the Joffrey, who, to put it nicely, blow her off the stage.

Would that this were "The Company's" only problem. It's so bereft of reason that a synopsis is impossible, so we'll just list some of the more interesting blunders.

The movie opens with a Meredith Monk-y bit of dance modernity scored to the electronic bleep-zorps of what sounds like Autechre. Antonelli is a serious trailblazer who refers to his troupe as "babies" and repeatedly states his distaste for old-school, "phony dancing." So of course he stages most of the subsequent dances as traditional pieces, often accompanied by versions of "My Funny Valentine."

In the same apropos-of-nothing spirit, Antonelli gives his understandably baffled babies a speech about those great sex-drugs-and-rock-&-roll days of the '60s. (The film has nothing to do with the '60s.) Soon after, we see Ry don a black bob wig for a night out at the Goth club where she works. (What debt does the movie owe to the Gothic subculture? None.) In the next shot, she's dressed in Urban Outfitters casual and hooks up with a chef played by James Franco. (The relationship is left unexamined.) Providing information in a manner that makes narrative sense isn't one of the film's priorities, but perhaps it's some sort of accomplishment that "The Company" carries on this way for one hour and 55 meaningless minutes.

Altman's dance sequences are all shot exactly alike: from long shot to moving camera to dancing-foot close-up to medium shot. Then repeat a little faster. In only one instance (a slowly elegant close-up blur of a blue-lit leg with trailing, fog-like fabric) does he show the honest relationship of cinema and dance -- that the one, of necessity, abstracts the other into something else entirely. In "Moulin Rouge!," Luhrmann at least admitted the impossibility of simple documentation -- as well as respecting our need to have something happen, oh, every hour or so.

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