Bad Dance, Good Cinema, and Why It’s All Better Than Boring

Staying Alive - small.JPG

John Travolta in Staying Alive

Kriota Willberg’s program, “The Worst of the Best” for Kinetic Cinema Monday night was extremely entertaining. She proved beyond a doubt that examining truly bad dance film is fun, inspiring, and highly effective at eliciting an emotional response from the crowd.

For all of you who thought about or responded to Kriota’s earlier online poll “What’s the Worse Dance Film Ever” you may be interested to see what made the cut in the end. Here is the list of the films she discussed Monday night and a short summary of why they were chosen:


The Mothering Heart
(1913), Dir: DW Griffith
Reason: MADE BAD AND STRANGE BY HISTORY


Spectre of the Rose
(1946), Dir: Ben Hecht, Dancer: Ivan Kirov, Chor: Tamara Geva
Reason: MADE WORSE BY THE BACKSTORY
 


Torch Song
(1953), Dir: Charles Walters, Dancer: Joan Crawford and ensemble, Chor: Charles Walters
Reason: OFFENSIVE = BAD (Cast was in black face in 1953!!)


Staying Alive
(1983), Dir: Sylvester Stallone, Dancers: John Travolta, Finola Hughes, Cynthia Rhodes, Chors:  Dennan and Sayhber Rawles
Reason: DRAMA!!!!

Center Stage (2000), Dir: Nicholas Hytner, Dancers: Amanda Schull, Sascha Radetsky, Ethan Stiefel, and ensemble, Chor: Susan Strohman
Reason: THE SAFE CHOICES AREN’T ALWAYS THE BEST CHOICES


Showgirls
(1995), Dir: Paul Verhoeven, Dancers: Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon and ensemble, Chor: Marguerite Pomerhn-Derricks
Reason: DRAMATIC! OFFENSIVE!  MADE WORSE BY BACKSTORY!

Preceding the bad dance films, Kriota also discussed the difference between BAD and BORING and illustrated it with a montage of boring dance film and video clips she culled from the web (actually her poor assistant, Gretchen culled them from the web!). The interesting thing about the difference between bad and boring is that it often comes down to money. Apparently the “have nots” aren’t really capable of making truly bad art, only dull art. As Kriota explained, when a filmmaker has over a million dollars to make a dance movie, and it turns out to be boring, then we are outraged, “Is that all that you could do?” and that automatically bumps it into the bad category. Whereas when a low budget video of, say, a naked man flapping around on the floor in a puddle goes on and on, it’s just dull and we feel like we are wasting our time.

I’d never thought of this difference before, but in terms of my emotional response it’s true, I’m more outraged by a squandering of resources and opportunities than watching a boring video on YouTube. I guess jealousy has a big role to play in what makes something bad or just boring, which is also proof positive of the irrationality behind all demarcations of good and bad. Who can really judge these things beyond a reasonable doubt? No one, but at least Kriota has taken a stab at defining her standards for judgment, something all of us curators, presenters, and critics should do!

Amy Greenfield, a cine- and videodance pioneer, was also in attendance Monday night and had some interesting insights to share…

Thoughts on Monday. Great premise btw  – most thought-provoking program so far. That’s GREAT.  BAD ISN’T BORING!

It
was also so enjoyable because except for the boring tapes,
cinematically this “bad” filmdance was the best cinema of the season –
Hollywood films! I love the contradiction and feel it needs to be
recognized. Also realized Monday that “dance people” and “laypeople”
looking at them will have very different reactions cause most people
look at the film as film first, and in context with the rest of the film
as they were features. Yeats asked ‘How do you tell the dancer from
the dance?’ Monday night’s
delightful, insightful show made me ask ‘How do you tell the cinema
from the dance?’

Some of my own thoughts on Monday PM: 
I’ve
seen The Mothering Heart and it’s an important silent film by the great
film pioneer, DW Griffith. I love the film and never noticed the dance
moment screened. The actress in the foreground is Lilian Gish, one of
the great silent film actresses. Notice her restraint vs the dance.
Lilian and her sister Dorothy were sent by Griffith to study dance at
Denishawn. The ACTING in these films was good filmdance.
(What’s good filmdance and
whats good dance put on film is there a difference?)
Griffith used Denishawn dancers including Martha Graham in his masterpiece, Intolerance.

Ben
Hecht who made Specter of the Rose was one of the great Hollywood
screenwriters who obviously didn’t know anything about dance. The dance
in Spectre massacred influences from Deren’s Study In Choreography For
Camera
and more especially Cocteau’s Blood Of The Poet. The two ‘good film
good dance’ moments had to do with real action, and the film actor’s
dictum – don’t act, re-act: when the dancer lays down the knife at the
sleeping woman’s neck, and when he lept out the window, shattering the
glass and going into non-existence as Nijinsky did on stage. That last
moment was GREAT and worth all the previous BAD dancing.

Staying
Alive
was REALLY good cinema and I didn’t think it was bad dance either
though I just couldn’t separate the film from the dance until the unfortunately stupid climax which went over the top – and tellingly,
was the only part not shot close-up, fast cuts, and wasn’t such
excellent cinema.

The
Stroman [Center Stage] was bad dance and bad cinema. Interesting how bad cinema can ruin
good dance by
Amanda Schull.

Amy

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4 Responses to Bad Dance, Good Cinema, and Why It’s All Better Than Boring

  1. Jaki Levy says:

    Hi Anna,

    This is fantastic! What a nice and fresh perspective….

    I was wondering if you’re familiar with peter sparling :
    http://www.dancegalleryfoundation.org/sparling/index.php

    he used to be a graham dancer, and now he’s actually teaching dance for video in university of michigan – i think the two of you would have nice conversations.

  2. Anna Brady Nuse says:

    Thanks Jaki!
    Yes, I’ve met Peter before at the Dance On Camera Festival. I actually interviewed him about his video from 2006 “Babel.” He’s a very nice man and quite eloquent! Thanks for this weblink, I’ll check out what he’s up to now.

  3. A Review of the ‘Worse of the Best’ at Kinetic Cinema

    Before taking a hiatus for the summer, Kinetic Cinema, the dance films screening series curated by Anna Brady Nuse, went out with a bang! “The Worst of the Best,” a night of “bad” dance film, as selected by guest curator Kriota Willberg, featured an ar…

  4. Marilyn says:

    I’m so glad this amazing-sounding evening was such a success; I really wish I could have been there to see it. Any chance that it will tour to Chicago???

    (Also pleased to see my suggestion made the cut.)

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