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Image Entertainment presents
"I remember ...Christmas. Yes. I remember Marseilles, the dream, the cream, thepresents...."
DVD ReviewWhen one trots an old warhorse like The Nutcracker out, it's often advisable to give it a few coats of paint in order to make it seem somewhat new and different. Choreographer Maurice Bejart takes that advice and truly runs with it in this highly novel and disorienting version of Tchaikovsky's charming ballet. Instead of little Clara and the Nutcracker who becomes Prince Charming, we instead get the story of a boy and a catalogue of perversions, obsessions and delusions.
We begin at the same place as the familiar version based on E.T.A. Hoffman's fairy tale, with a Christmas tree. But matters immediately depart from there into a semi-autobiographical essay with highly disturbing imagery and distressing subtext. The hero, young Bim (Damaas Thijs), is bereft of his mother at his seventh Christmas. This leads us into a series of dances which tie together the dual threads of an unresolved Oedipal fixation and a desire to return to the womb. Bim's mother (Elisabet Ros) reappears several times, and Bim always manages to maneuver himself between her legs (one of the last times, in the guise of Prince Charming to mother's Clara). He sublimates these desires in a need to dance.
Bim leaves his native Marseilles for London, where he pursues his dancing career under the tutelage of Nikolai Sergeyev, channeling the spirit of the dead choreographer Marius Petipa (Gil Roman). Roman doubles as Mephisto, implying some kind of Faustian bargain. The nature of this bargain is highly unclear until we see a dance of boy scouts being placed into sleeping bags and then harassed by a pair of bearded women accompanied by Marilyn Monroe. Her presence lends the key to the sexual character of the bearded women and there is no doubt that Bim's career is possible only through compliance with homosexual favors to older dancers or patrons. At the same time, Bim erects a monumental statue resembling the central figure of Botticelli's Birth of Venus, representing The Ideal Mother and unsuccessfully attempts to scale it and to clamber onto its breasts. In a truly weird bit of imagery, the statue turns to reveal an enormous vaginal opening whence emerges Bim's mother, and, after sensuous dancing together, they both return to the eternal womb. Clearly we're a long way from Clara and the Mouse King here.
The second act, with its many familiar dances, is here largely devoted to Bejart's impressionistic recollections of the Marseilles of his youth, turned into a circus ring. The Spanish dance portrays his fantasies of being a matador, and the Chinese Dance is mysteriously shown by Mao-suited Chinese riding bicycles (the voiceover explanation at the end being that everyone in Marseilles rode bicycles during the war, as if it were a Chinese village). Bim's accordion-playing fairy godmother makes an appearance and interrupts Tchaikovsky's score with several popular French songs, including one which Bim sings (badly) along to. Even approaching the reinterpretation with an open mind, it is difficult to accept this emendation of the classic albeit saccharine score. Bejart surprisingly includes the traditional choreography of the Pas de Deux, a gesture which somewhat but not entirely makes up for the brutalization of the score.
While there is definitely some interesting and arresting imagery to be seen here, the subtexts are nearly revolting. To add insult to injury, the fairy godmother resembles in no small part the Lady in the Radiator from David Lynch's Eraserhead. Why does she play the accordion? Apparently because the dancer who portrays her can do so. Gil Roman is an effective stage presence as both Mephisto and the Mephistophelean Marius Petipa. Bim is a singularly uninteresting and frankly annoying hero who doesn't elicit sympathy as much as revulsion. Juichi Kobayashi is simultaneously interesting and unsympathetic as Felix the Cat, who leaps and laughs at all of Bim's Freudian nightmares and mocks his introspection and self-absorption.
Bejart is present as a godlike overseeing figure, projected between numbers onto an enormous screen overhanging the dancers. Here he gives a narration which loosely ties the episodes together. To highlight the fact that this is A New And Different Production, there is also dialogue added to some sequences, as well as a film clip of Bejart's grandmother giving her recollections of his childhood. These sequences are presented in French, with an English voice overlaying the French; this would have been a good place to use subtitles, frankly, because this manner of presentation is highly unpleasant. But I guess that's appropriate, given the subtext of this production.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic picture is clean and sharp throughout, with no visible damage or defects. As is so often the case in a filmed stage production, blacks are a little lacking but the colors are vivid and rich. In particular, the reds and blues are sumptuous, without oversaturation from the reds. I observed little artifacting. Visually, this disc is quite well brought off.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 tracks are rich and full-sounding. The DD 2.0 stereo track is a little less full-sounding but does an admirable job of bringing the music across. Range on all tracks is very good indeed. The music does not sound compressed or limited, except during Bim's brief song, which is highly distorted (apparently intentionally). No hiss or noise of any kind (other than the occasional audience cough and microphone rattle) is to be heard anywhere. The area which causes serious downgrading is the use of the various speakers on the surround tracks. Bejart's voiceover and the occasional added dialogue are quite center-oriented. The music uses the surrounds on the 5.1 tracks extensively in addition to the mains for an enveloping but not particularly directional or interesting soundfield. Applause as well as music comes from all speakers, making the audio experience rather disorienting.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 24 cues and remote access
Layers Switch: 01h:08m:31s
Extras Review: The only extra is a 22m:13s behind-the-scenes documentary which includes interviews with Bejart and conductor Edmon Colomer. This documentary goes a long way toward explicating the often cryptic imagery we see on the screen, and is essential to understanding the presentation at all. Thankfully, the French interviews are subtitled in yellow, avoiding the obnoxious duality of the English language track of the feature. Chaptering is adequate, but that's it.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsA highly non-traditional and often highly disturbed presentation of Tchaikovsky's ballet. While the dance is evocative, the feelings it evokes are of distasteful Freudian obsessions and overt pederasty. Because the score is toyed with to a significant degree, this disc is best reserved only for devotees of modern dance who feel a need to reinterpret the classics with an air of the bizarre and twisted. Definitely not intended to get you into the holiday spirit unless you grew up in a household where Christmas was just another opportunity for sexual abuse.
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