Impression: I went to see this because as I was writing my review of the The Laundromat I remembered I owned a book of interviews of filmmakers (and some actors and critics) about political film making. I just happened to re-read the Jane Fonda chapter and she was specifically asked about this movie.* I also happened to have volunteered to help promote a screening of this film at a local film theater. Too many coincidences not too go see it. Plus it’s one of these classics I’ve always meant to see.
It’s a depressing one for sure. All the characters are desperate, the ones in the dance competition and ones putting it on. They put their bodies and brains through torture for weeks on end, dancing night and day with very short rest periods. Some of them drop out of exhaustion, some of them lose their mind and start hallucinating; One of them has a heart attack, one is pregnant while doing all this. It’s insanity. In a way it’s kind of torture to watch as well. There is not much plot: they dance, they rest, there is some internal fights between the contestants. And that’s the whole movie.
The main couple are Gloria (who is super sarcastic and annoyed by everything) and Richard (who really doesn’t have much to say). Some of the other couples are fleshed out a bit too: an older sailor who pretends to be in his 30s, an actress in fancy dresses desperate for a role in the movies, a young couple with a baby on the way, but most are anonymous. The plot is scant. I guess where it really succeeds is in its portrayal of desperation: some of the contestants showcase a talent and the audience throws pennies at them, the close ups during the derbies where the contestants try to push each other, exhausted bodies falling over. It’s all quite a spectacle.
Knowing that the premise is based on actual competitions from the 1920’s and 1930’s makes it even crazier. It’s one of these films that I am glad I saw but would not want to see again.
* Jane Fonda says of this movie: “definitely an analogy with American society: the tragedy of all those people killing each other for a prize that doesn’t exist at the behest of one man they could replace if they were conscious of what was being done to them.”
Facts: Plot follows a few couples during weeks long exhaustion dance contest in 1930s USA.
My Buddhist reading: Ah, finally one ripe for a Buddhist reading. Other than Buddhists not being fans of suicide (it’s not too nice to decide not to take full advantage of your rare human rebirth for your own and benefit of all), this one can be pretty easily fit into a Buddhist world view. The dance competition is kind of like samsara: there is no escape, you can do some things to make a bit more money, or to make people like you, or to relieve your boredom, but at the end you are all just stuck there. After you take your short break, it’s back to the same all drudgery over again. And then, towards the end, we find out that it’s all even more pointless than it seemed at first.