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Even for those who know little about dance, Merce Cunningham is a recognizable name - an iconic figure in his field. His mid-20th century collaborations with composer John Cage (his lifelong partner) and visual artist Robert Rauschenberg were central to an era of transformation. Cunningham resisted "avant-garde" or any other label. "I don't describe it. I do it," he once said. Now, with Cunningham, we have a chance to experience what he did. Filmmaker Alla Kovgan assembles the last generation of Cunningham dancers (led by Merce Cunningham Dance Company assistant director of choreography Jennifer Goggans) to present landmark works from the Cunningham repertoire. The film concentrates on the three decades from 1942 to 1972 when Cunningham was making his reputation. Gorgeously shot in 3D, Cunningham brings us closer to these works than any audience has ever been before. Taking an inventive approach with locations, the film places dancers in evocative backdrops such as a tunnel, a ...Written by
Toronto International Film Festival
Notes from a long conversation with my girlfriend after leaving the cinema
Great to see a film about dancing! A relatively unexplored sub-genre of documentary, and Cunningham was welcome for this alone. It adds to a hole that I suppose Wenders' Pina opened.
On that note, this film should not have been shot in 3d, which added nothing but nausia. We expect the 3d was entirely for the purpose of (a) copying Pina and, relatedly, (b) getting funding. But Cunningham's dances are far less spectacular and their presentation here likewise. The 3d only distracts from the movement in all but one Warhol-involved set, especially when edited with 2d archival.
First half entertaining, second boring. The film progresses at a monotonous pace: one thing happens and then another and then another. No real conflict or tension.
Which is a problem. Because there evidently was plenty of this, but only in reality. The movie, on the other hand, brushes past unconvincingly. No one in the film is given space apart from Cunningham - everyone else speaks to convince the audience how great he is. I wanted to hear from one of his female dancers honestly, in long form, of the darkness of Cunningham. This would help to flesh out his character, give us something to chew on, and organise the film into a narrative. As is, we grew progressively distrusting and disengaged with the Greatest Hits/ Victory Lap tone, before the film ends suddenly with the news that all his dancers left.
Ultimately we were left unconvinced that Cunningham (the dancer) was all that interesting. Fashionable certainly, he's attached to the right people, and I'm sure it would be great to be dancing as him, but the just-over-half-full prime-time-at-the-festival cinema was an endless circuit of yawns.
Nevertheless we feel cultured now.
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