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After my 26th time watching The Turning Point I stopped counting my
viewings. Some viewers might say it's not a tightly-written drama, and
I don't care. For anyone who's ever enjoyed a dance performance, this
is a must-see...or must-OWN. Mikhail Baryshnikov, recently-defected and
at the absolute peak of his extrahuman abilities, is nothing short of
breathtaking in this film. The first time he's shown dancing in the
rehearsal studio invariably takes away my ability to breathe.
I also admit that I like the stories which provide the framework for the dance performances. When The Turning Point was originally released, I was about to turn 30. Now bumping my head on 60, I've seen the decisions, transitions, and forks in life's road which face all the film's characters, and have a much greater appreciation for the truth of the film. Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, Tom Skerrit, and Anthony Zerbe are, as we'd expect, excellent. The 18-year-old Leslie Browne is lovely, and a fine dancer. I'm particularly fond of Alexandra Danilova, one of ballet's immortals, as the matriarchal Madame Dhakarova. In the scene where she's coaching a much-younger woman on the Don Quixote pas de deux, she performs the role not only more correctly, but also more playfully and flirtatiously than her student. It's a treat to see.
I love dance (see review of All That Jazz), and I admit my bias freely. In addition to spectacular dance performances, there are good, human stories behind the 70's clothing and hair styles, so watch this film at least once and decide for yourself whether you'll see it again.
Ballet has never really been user friendly subject matter for movie box office potential but 1977's THE TURNING POINT was remarkable exception to that school of thought. Not only did this film preserve on screen some of the most beautiful ballet dancing ever scene forever, but it brought two Hollywood icons together for the first time who both turned in the Oscar-nominated performances of their careers. As a matter of fact, this is one of two films in Oscar history (THE COLOR PURPLE being the other) that was nominated for 11 Oscars but didn't win a single award. Nonetheless, it is still a compelling and riveting melodrama which uses ballet as its backdrop. The film focuses on two women, Emma Jacklin (Anne Bancroft) and Deedee Rodgers (Shirley MacLaine) who were both in the same ballet company many, many years ago and were competing for the lead in a new ballet when Deedee became pregnant and Emma got the role and this is way their relationship forked and their lives went separate ways. Deedee got married to a dancer in the company (Tom Skerritt) had three children and runs a dance studio now, but part of her still yearns to be a prima ballerina. Emma became the prima ballerina that Deedee wanted to be; however, Emma's life is all about work now...she takes class, she dances, and she goes home to her dogs. When Emma's dance company comes to Deedee's town, they are reunited and both begin to quietly choices that they made. Thrown into the mix is Amelia (real life prima ballerina Leslie Browne), Deedee's daughter who may be a better dancer than her mother ever was and Emma begins to groom and pulls strings to get her in the company which causes further resentment from Deedee. This movie is about choices, regrets, crushed dreams, and dreams fulfilled. Bancroft and MacLaine turn in grand performances and the dancing of ballet superstar Mikhail Barysnakov and Leslie Browne is outstanding (even though every time Browne opens her mouth you want to stuff a sock in it.) A beautiful melodrama anchored by supreme performances by two of the best actresses in the business.
Winner Best Picture and Director Golden Globe and 11 Academy Award nominations is a tip. From a real-life story of primary star Leslie Browne (longtime of the ABT) the film follows Emilia's adoption into the company of ballet stars from a family of dancers who retired to have her. Shirley Maclaine's Best movie. Anne Bancroft is unbelievable as a ballet dancer not ready to give up the limelight but ready to steal her friend's thunder as the enabler of a great ballet career for Emilia. This a great movie. Watch for some great choreography by all the big names, plus the great plus Alvin Ailey, and a shop window of ballet greats. Baryshnikov in his prime, Martins and Merrill on the side, Great editing, cinematography, the whole shebang.
Emma and Didi shine in this memorable film looking at the world of
ballet. Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook et al of "The Red Shoes" of 1948
would have certainly been proud of it.
The ballet sequences are marvelously staged and beautifully realized by the cast.
Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine received best actress nominations in their respective roles. It is when Leslie Browne, who was nominated for best supporting actress, becomes a ballerina, that her mother (MacLaine) looks back at the career she gave up for marriage and family. She meets her old friend and rival-Bancroft-who pursued her career at the expense of never marrying.
Mikhail Baryshnikov, the great Russian ballet dancer, is fabulous here and was even nominated for best supporting actor.
"The Turning Point" received 11 Oscar nominations. It walked away with no awards. Was Hollywood's lack of culture shown here?
I had no knowledge or interest in ballet before viewing The Turning
Point on HBO about a year after it was first released to theaters. The
HBO promotions department concentrated more on the cat fight between
Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft and less on the numerous ballet
dances. I thought it was going to be an unintentional laugh riot. Boy,
was I wrong.
MacLaine and Bancroft as former dance rivals do a great job separately and together. You sense the history of both characters and the issues that have colored the decisions they made. MacLaine's character, Deedee, getting pregnant and leaving the ballet company, while with Bancroft's character, Emma, the veteran prima ballerina who never married and struggles to stay a ballerina not knowing when or how to gracefully end her career.
Director Herbert Ross and screenwriter Arthur Laurents conceived an interesting, albeit thin, story within the backdrop of ballet. The lead actresses and the supporting cast, including James Mitchell, Anthony Zerbe, Tom Skerritt as MacLaine's husband and especially Martha Scott as the blunt, money-minded owner of the ballet company, do a very good job and, in some ways, improve on the material given to them.
As far as the ballet dancers in acting roles, well they are great dancers. To be fair, hiring anyone with little or no acting experience and expect them to act in a major movie for the first time would be a challenge for anyone. Leslie Browne, as Emilia, Deedee's oldest who is in the process of becoming the next prima ballerina, had a very tough task and, when it came to the dialog, I thought she did as good a job as she could. But when she was in her element, namely in the dance studio and on stage, she was wonderful. (It's a shame that actress/former ballerina Neve Campbell was only four years old when The Turning Point was first released. Acting-wise, Campbell would have been a more convincing Emilia. But I digress.)
Mikhail Baryshnikov fared much better as the main male ballet dancer/Lothario. He oozed charisma on screen and his jumps on stage are breathtaking. Years after The Turning Point, he has done some decent work in White Nights on screen and Sex and the City on television.
Interestingly, out of all of the non-professional actors, I thought Alexandra Danilova, who played Emilia's ballet teacher, gave the most natural and less stilted performance. She seemed very comfortable essentially playing herself. I have a feeling that it has a lot to do with her real ballet experience of over 50 years when the film was released in 1977.
The last time I viewed The Turning Point was in 2005. The material is still pretty thin but I do believe that if it wasn't for the strong performances (acting and dancing) the film would not hold up after all these years.
As ballet movies go, this is one of the better ones. It really captures the essence of a company: the rising star, the oversexed male dancer, diva choreographers, budget-conscious artistic directors, and the unique sadness that is the aging ballerina. MacClain and Bancroft deliver their contrived dialog with expertise (even though it appears they did a lot of ADR because the dialog seems to be dubbed) and they handle their relative roles with ease. Bancroft plays the aging diva with perfect grandness and MacClaine is great as the regretful mother. I can overlook the fact that a summer-study student, no matter how brilliant she is (and the young lady here is a highly talented dancer) WOULD NOT get a lead, let alone a solo number in her first year, but the plot is a bit thin, yet it makes it's point: the grass is not always greener on the other side of the stage. The best part of this movie is the dancing, of course. Misha is poetry in tights, always exhilarating and breathtaking. Though the movie was made in the 70s, it still rings true today in the world of ballet.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I absolutely love this movie! There are some slow parts, but the
decision to dance or to have a "normal" life is such a difficult one,
and does take its toll on those who face it.
Seeing a very young Baryshnikov is a thrill - and Leslie Browne is lovely as Amelia (not the best actress, but very good at portraying a vulnerable young lady and is an excellent dancer). My favorite part is the "dancing drunk" section... very funny...! MacLaine and Bancroft make this a real treat, too - especially the final slapping scene on the terrace of Lincoln Center...
If you love ballet, or even the stage, and have ever faced the "fork in the road", you'll love this movie. Even if you haven't, it's a very entertaining ride featuring some of the greatest ballet stars of the time (the 70s).
The Turning Point is still an enjoyable film almost 30 years after it
was first released. The actors are all outstanding, as are the dancers,
but the movie is stolen by ballet dancer Lesile Browne. Browne is only
19 in the film, but her dance skills are remarkable. Limited as an
actress, yet she had a screen presence which made her enjoyable to
She looked stunning dancing in the studio, as her leg-warmers slid down her shapely legs, she is a vision of pure beauty. Amazing that Browne was not cast as a dancer in the movie FAME.
The dance numbers are enjoyable, but unless you're a big fan of classical ballet, it may be somewhat boring. The male dancers all come across as very girlish, and the principal female stars very strong, a typical theme of some of the early 80s films.
So, put on your on tights, yank your leg-warmers to your thigh, pop on your ballet slippers, and enjoy The Turning Point.
This is a wonderful film for anyone who enjoys ballet. The dance parts and practices are really breath taking, especially those of Baryshnikov. The story is not bad either; you can see how a ballerina feels when her life on the stage ends at the age of about 35, or one who sacrifices that life to have children but regrets that all her life. I think the film is really great, especially the ballet.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What a movie! It's got it all -- drama, beauty, intrigue, comedy,
romance...and even a bit of violence (of the feline persuasion, in the
infamous cat fight between Shirley McLaine and Anne Bancroft).
It is Hollywood legend that Ms. Bancroft improvised the famous drink-in-the-face of the unsuspecting Ms. McLaine -- and of course our Shirley, professional that she is -- did not break the scene and just incorporated it into celluloid. I don't know if this is urban legend but it is fun to imagine.
They certainly don't make 'em like this anymore, that's for sure. I recently added this one to my DVD collection and couldn't wait to share it with my adolescent nieces who are enthusiastic ballet students. They had never seen nor heard of Mikhail Barishnikov -- what a pleasure to be the one to introduce Misha to another generation. We had a big estro-fest, with my mother, my sisters, and my nieces -- 3 generations -- all sitting enraptured and then finally wet with tears together at the final scene of lovely Amelia just dancing -- hair flying in an act of ultimate joy and freedom -- at the end. Beautiful!
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