Monday, June 3, 2019

Don't bother with NUREYEV, a too-often risible documentary about the famous ballet dancer....

...but do see, if you haven't already, The White Crow, the much-better narrative version of Rudolf Nureyev's early life leading to and including his 1961 trip to Paris with the Kirov ballet troupe, during which he defected to the west. Unfortunately, the new documentary film by Jacqui Morris and David Morris, titled simply NUREYEV, proves about as ham-fisted a display of filmmaking as I've seen in some time.

TrustMovies might not feel so strongly this way, were it not for the many, many filmic interruptions to their documentary offered up by the Morrises -- Jacqui is shown at left, while David (I believe that is he, at least) is below, right -- via scenes of dance and movement meant to underscore or represent what we are simultaneously being told on the soundtrack.

These staged scenes grow increasingly silly as the doc moves along -- first, because they are simply unnecessary. If there were no archival footage that worked with the narration,
why not simply show whoever is currently narrating? (The filmmakers never do this: Their movie is an array of constantly changing disembodied voices.) Further, these "danced" segments are increasingly disruptive, calling huge attention to themselves, even as they keep causing us to wonder, "Why are we having to view all this?"

Whether these danced scenes are well done seems beside the point, as they all are unnecessary. (Some are less ridiculous than others, especially one toward the end that features a strongly-built and talented male dancer and goes on long enough to make us wonder if this one is going to break free and become its very own short film.)

Otherwise Nureyev is full of verbal narrative -- everyone from Yehudi Menuhin, Leslie Caron and Dame Siân Phillips (who oddly enough has been chosen to speak for Nureyev) to Clement Crisp and Pierre Lacotte -- along with the usual archival and/or newsreel footage. There is some previously unseen archival dance footage, some of it choreographed by the likes of Martha Graham and Paul Taylor, but much of this is also so old, worn and out of focus that at times you may wonder just who you are viewing. (Visually, the most stunning shots in the film remain Richard Avedon's remarkable 1961 photos of Nureyev, still the glistening black-and-white wonders we remember. Seen here, on the big screen, they're jaw-dropping.)

By far the most interesting and lengthy sections of the doc involves Nureyev's relationships, romantic and professional, with Erik Bruhn and Dame Margot Fonteyn (the latter shown above and below), both of whom would seem to have been the loves of his life. These sections come already so full of narrative gold, as well as visual material that,  thankfully, none of those aforementioned "danced" sequences are needed.

The encroachment of AIDS into the world of performing arts back in the 1980s is explored somewhat here, and, as the disease eventually took Nureyev's own life, is certainly worth remembering. The documentary earns its bona fides by reminding us that only in the western world is AIDS no longer life-threatening. In the developing world it remains as much of a scourge as ever.

Nureyev takes a chronological approach to its dancer/hero: birth to early childhood, youth and finally that dedication to dance and adulthood, if not maturity. If you are among those who found Rudolf Nureyev as spectacular, sexual and riveting an icon as did I and so much of the rest of the world, you may find the film worth a watch. Certainly, it provides the other bookend, chronologically, to The White Crow. Too bad it is not a better one.

Released by Cinelife Entertainment and running 110 minutes, Nureyev has its New York theatrical premiere this coming Friday, June 7, at Film Forum, and then will move elsewhere around the country. To learn if the film is coming to a theater near you, click here, then click on GET TICKETS and follow the directions from there.

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