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The Company (Robert Altman)

The Company

The Company (2003, Robert Altman)

The first lines spoken in Robert Altman and Neve Campbell’s ballet film The Company are about drama. A male dancer advises Ry (Campbell) that whatever it was they were discussing is “too much drama. Not worth the time.” Nothing could be further from an accurate description of the film, but the line sets up the film perfectly. We never do find out what was too much drama, and it’s refreshing to find that we don’t care.

Altman and the mostly-improvised script tease with scenes that seem like they’re setting up the conflict that most writing teachers would insist you must have, but no conflict erupts. Instead, Campbell and the dancers of Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet give us an inside glimpse at life as a member of an elite ballet company, complete with injuries, financial worries, and intercompany romance and breakups.

Sure, there’s a love story–don’t all movies have to have one? But James Franco as Ry’s love interest, Josh, serves as just another dancer in the metaphoric ballet that is this film. Each scene focuses on the movement of the characters. Even interaction between non-dancer Josh and Ry center on movement–he prepares a meal, she shoots a game of pool. Ry is refreshingly different from the stereotypical ballerina. She works at a nightclub in chunky platform shoes and a wig, and drinks beer by herself at a local dive.

Altman is a master of ensemble drama and of breaking the rules, and he does both so well here, breaking the rules of dramatic narrative, and using both skilled actors (particularly Malcom McDowell as the overbearing head of the company) and non-actors from the Joffrey company to weave a film as lovely as any ballet. Like a dance performance, it requires patience, but The Company proves that intimate details and everyday problems can be just as interesting as major conflicts.

Now playing at Chez Artiste –


AileenAileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003, Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill)

After seeing Monster, and witness Charlize Theron’s transformation into Aileen Wuornos, I was even more intrigued at the idea of seeing the real Wuornos. This documentary, Nick Broomfield’s second on Wuornos, focuses on her appeals and ultimate execution, and raises questions about the rightness of executing a woman who possibly was mentally ill.

Aileen was a rarity in this world: a female serial killer. She did have something in common with most people on death row, however. She was poor and had no family to support her. Broomfield details the often-horrifying story of Aileen’s life before she took up killing, as well as illustrating the incompetence of her original lawyer, the betrayal of the only woman she loved, and her deteriorating mental state while on death row.

Broomfield’s original documentary, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, focused more on the first trials of Aileen, and the willingness of everyone around her to sell her story to the highest bidder, and Aileen seems to have clung to that idea and repeats it quite often in her growing conspiracy theories. Perhaps the two movies would be better seen in tandem, as this one doesn’t offer much in the way of the trials or the stories of the killings, and thus weakens its argument somewhat–it’s hard to decide what to believe when the only version of the events we get is Aileen’s changing story. Broomfield boldly states that the death penalty has been proven to be absolutely no deterrent, but doesn’t back that up with any evidence. He does successfully make the point, though, that Aileen’s mental health was questionable at best, and that she was executed anyway. As a condemnation of that fact, and a plea for sympathy for Aileen, the film is very effective. As a condemnation of the legal system and the death penalty itself, it is less effective.

Now playing at Starz –


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