Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 23. September 24, 1969
Guerrilla and Dancer
Guerrilla and Dancer
Rumours are afoot that since Kerridge's takeover of Universal in New Zealand, a great backlog of good films is about to stream through Embassy now that Funny Girl departs. We have already seen What's 'Isname and Secret Ceremony pass through town, but that still leaves one of last year's top three films. Charlie Bubbles, not to mention Oedipus the King, Boom, Birds in Peru, Work is a Four Letter Word, The Bofors Gun, Night of the Following Day, Madigan, Heronymus Merkin ..., and The Jokers, all from Universal, all as yet un-released in Wellington.
Leading the bunch is Isadora (Universal) featuring Vanessa Redgrave in the Karel (Morgan) Reisz film of the life of Isadora Duncan, which has already done the rounds in the South Island and opens in Wellington on Friday.
Isadora begins with Isadora at the end of her life dictating her memoirs while living in a hotel on the Riviera. Her sight of a young handsome man dressed in leather with a classy Bugatti sports car conjures up vivid memories of her past life. Through these flashbacks the story of Isadora is enigmatically and complicately unfolded. We apparently are seeing Isadora's life as she sees it (structurally sneaking) though the film's telling is decidedly, often brutally, objective. Whether Reisz and his writer Melvyn Bragg, assisted by Clive Exton and Margaret Drabble, intended this hurdle to be surmounted without protest is not clear.
There is no doubt that Isadora Duncan was an extraordinary, and revolutionary, dancer, but it seems that it has been her private life which survived most with her name. In the context of today's dancing forms nothing appears greatly misplaced, though we are assured that the forms Isadora introduced more than wowed them in the twenties. We pick up with Isadora as she moves with her brother and sisters across to Europe for Art and Culture. Here she causes something of a sensation. In Berlin she meets the young designer Cordon Craig (James Fox) with whom she has her first affair. Their first night of love (to put it nicely) is spent in his barely-furnished attic studio. This is intercut with a beautiful geometric dance sequence which idealises all that Isadora belives in. Craig not only awakens her to her sexual feelings but also extends her artistic horizons with the designs he has made specifically for her free-form dancing. But before their child is born Craig leaves for Russia and we don't hear any more of him.
Later in the film one gets used to the idea that people come and disappear with great rapidity and little explanation as to what happened to them. Isadora's next lover is the 'mountainously" rich Paris Singer (Jason Robards) of the sewing machine family. He gives her wealth, which she spends on dancing schools, and security of a kind, but soon his possessiveness and their life of isolation away from the top social circles makes Isadora restless.
Caught up with revolutionary ideas of her time she is drawn toward the happenings in Russia. "Russia, Russia, only Russia! My years in Russia, with all their sufferings, were worth everything in my life taken together," Isadora said about her years there. Invited by the Soviet Government she set up a School for Workers' Children in Moscow which sought to put into practice all her artistic ideals of living and dancing. She believed that body, gesture and movement could express all that was necessary of human emotion and experience. Nothing, especially clothes, should restrict in any way the natural movement of the body.
In Russia Isadora married, contrary to her previously expressed principles, the poet Sergei Essenin (Ivan Tchenko). Her reason was to enable both him and her to go to America to spread the word of the revolution in Russia. But it was this trip which was to bring her the greatest disappointment and disillusionment of her life. Back in Europe they separated. Essenin to return to Russia where he committed suicide and Isadora to the Riviera to live out the rest of her short life.
Reisz and photographer Larry Pizer have created several memorable moments but only sporadically. The films bogs down and seldom lifts, except for the rousing Boston concert in which disaster is mixed with triumph of a sort, and a few set pieces. Too much of the film is elusive. Isadora was close to her children despite her primary allegiance to dancing, but the accidental drowning of the children is told obliquely, almost inconsequentially. Similarly her own death which comes as she is taken for a ride by the young man who appears at the beginning in his Bugatti—the sudden sensational strangling by her long scarf in the wheels of the car—appears contrived.
As Isadora Vanessa Redgrave is an overwhelming presence but only occasionally inspiring. In one or two scenes she excels, especially when as she is travelling in an open car through a tunnel she has a premonition of death and her face changes dramatically in the one continuous sequence. In some parts her appearance has to be seen to be believed. Isadora, especially at the end of her life, is a tragic figure whose life has been exhausted before middle age. But these unflattering images are not guaranted to make the film a box-office success that Funny Girl, a far worse film, has been. Perhaps Reisz and friends have tried too hard, and in vain, to present a significant biography only to find that the scope and length are not suited. But with this said it cannot justify what Universal has done with the film in the States—out from 132 minutes (New Zealand has the full version) down to about 90 and released as The Loves of Isadora—have a look at the doctored posters.
Few films are unqualified successes and Isadora must rate as a major disappointment. James Fox, Jason Robards and Ivan Tehenko are all excellent, and on recollection the film has many virtues, but somehow when seen nothing sparkles to give it the life that Reisz injected into that great little film Morgan.