01 June 2009

The Decade List: The Company (2003)

The Company - dir. Robert Altman

Though Gosford Park and A Prairie Home Companion, with the director's recognizable flare for multiple character storylines with esteemed actors, received most of the praise during the last stages of Robert Altman's career, I've always preferred The Company, his documentary-style portrait of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet company. Altman teases us with a narrative that surrounds a dancer named Ry (Neve Campbell, who finally delivers on the promise Hollywood gave her in the 90s), whose career looks to be on the rise, but character and convention are really of little concern in appropriately titled The Company.

This comparison may need some closer analysis, but The Company reminded me a lot of a Maysles brothers film. The camera only appears to capture what it's invited to see, from selected moments in the forming of a relationship between Ry and Josh (James Franco), who's not a member of the troupe, the head of the company Alberto Antonelli's (Malcolm McDowell) bittersweet acceptance of an award from the people who had once criticized his decision to become a dancer, the shattering of the Achilles heel of one of the top performers and the uncertain futures of a new recruit and one who isn't meeting his potential. While these character glimpses in The Company are placed between lovely dance performances, everything in the film is draped with its own resolute history. As in Grey Gardens, the entire company is affected by what has come before it. Though the devastating toll AIDS took on the dance community during the 1980s and 1990s is alluded to (though never actually named), other things, not least of which the tightness of the company's money and the aging of their star dancer, suggest a declining future for these individuals' craft.

Altman makes brilliant use of depth and foreground within the frame. While this may be similar to Gosford Park, especially in terms of trailing conversations, his framing is put to better use here. The scene where Ry performs her big number, Altman shifts from multiple perspectives (the audience, the performer, the stage-hands, the musicians), shedding light on what it is he's trying to do with The Company. The film isn't about the world of dance or the characters within it, but instead, it's a remarkable window into the process of creating and replicating art and the variable of its success.

With: Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell, James Franco, Barbara Robertson, William Dick, Susie Cusack, Marilyn Dodds Frank, John Lordan, John Gluckman, Davis Robertson, David Gombert
Screenplay: Barbara Turner, story by Neve Campbell, Turner
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
Music: Van Dyke Parks
Country of Origin: USA/Germany
US Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Premiere: 8 September 2003 (Toronto International Film Festival)
US Premiere: 10 September 2003 (Boston Film Festival)

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