The Company follows Ry (Neve Cambell) in her initial year as a member of the well respected Chicago's Joffrey Ballet

Working to perfect her craft in The Company is often a dull, repetitive affair; Ry practices points, knee contortions and numerous aspects of the art of dance

The Company

While I personally enjoy classical music I have to admit I have never been a real fan of the ballet. Sure I can appreciate the grace of beauty of the movement but the score always fascinated me far more. I have these preconceived notions in mind when I first view The Company. The collaboration between actress turned writer/producer Neve Cambell and noted director Robert Altman did catch my attention, pleasantly so.

The Company follows Ry (Neve Cambell) in her initial year as a member of the well respected Chicago's Joffrey Ballet. Working to perfect her craft is often a dull, repetitive affair; Ry practices points, knee contortions and numerous aspects of the art of dance. During her time off from the troupe she works as a waitress in a brew burger type of eatery and tries her best to work in a relationship with a cook, Josh (James Franco). During this grueling work in the background the director and head choreographer Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell) is putting together a new presentation, one that initially he doubts can, even should be done. These two threads combine to form the focus of The Company; the artistic process that each member of the cast and crew work to create. Although teamwork is vital here there is a sense of detachment that pervades the ensemble. Each person in there own little world, each driven by their own exclusive motives.

Contrasting the first professional year of Ry we see the end of a career for Harriet (Barbara Robertson). The inevitable affects of aging are far more pronounced in such a youth oriented, demanding profession. Having spent many seasons in the ballet she has seen others age out and must face the conclusion of this vital portion of her own life. The interactions of the characters in The Company are more superficial than in the typical Altman film, if any Altman film can be described as typical. In one scene a dancer slips, you can practically hear the tendon snapping. As the camera pans the faces of the other dancers there is a look of relief, it wasn’t me, a feeling of dread, not this time. Each dancer knows that it can happen to anyone at any time but rather than taking the usual Hollywood track of an emotional out pouring there is a retreat of emotions, the rehearsal has to continue. This is not a ‘lets put on a show’ film full of comrades joining together, each dancer coverts the best roles, the featured spots. Many will be turned off by the length of some of the rehearsal numbers, the attention to the tedious detail of the practice and fine tuning of the production. Certainly this is true to life but there is a lack of drama here that is not for everybody.

The Company was obviously a labor of love for Neve Cambell, before her breakout acting role in television’s ‘Party of Five’ Cambell did study with the Canadian National Ballet. Here, she endeavors to meld her two passions, dance and film. Working with Barbara Turner who penned the critically well received ‘Pollock’ the two present a script that features the tedium of the process more than any character. Cambell does well as the aspiring dancer; the difficulty she faced in getting this project off the ground translates nicely, augmenting her performance here. As usual Malcolm McDowell is perfectly cast as the head of the show. He has made a career by playing characters we love to hate. Here his Mister ‘A’ comes across as a driven individual that presses each dancer to their limits in order to project his vision of the dance at hand. James Franco as Ry’s lover lacked the emotional commitment to truly make his role work. It was almost as if the writers felt there should be a love interest for the lead and injected the sub plot in to the story to show a side of Ry that the audience can identify with. Barbara Robertson as the aging dancer does inject the much needed pathos into the film, the affects of aging giving the audience something to emotionally connect with and infusing some degree of dramatic momentum.

Robert Altman was one of the first directors whose films I would go and see based only on his participation. With a resume that includes such quirky films as M*A*S*H and Nashville, his trademark numerous intersecting plots and overlapping dialogue made his work stand out. Here Altman returns to a pseudo documentary style, reminiscent of his Prêt-à-Porter. One aspect of such a direction is drama takes a back seat to the tedium of life. He shows us just what it takes to drive human beings to such painful extremes all for the sake of their art. The Company flows more than it is directed. There is a lack of focus that surrounds the presentation that is more obvious here than in any other Altman film. He continues to fly in the face of established Hollywood norms, pushing the love story into the background and concentrating on how a ballet is developed. Characters come and go, some seen only once or twice. There is no grand intersection of numerous plots as in Nashville or sense of belonging like we saw in Gosford Park. We are presented with a group of very self centered people devoted to self promotion. Of course, such an attitude is required for survival in this type of environment.

With The Company DVD, Columbia TriStar proves once again that they are dedicated to presenting all their films in the best possible way. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video captures every subtle movement without the slightest blurring or defect. The color balance is rich and satisfying. The Dolby 5.1 audio takes the viewer right on stage with the performers. The sub woofer is a bit under utilized, something not unexpected considering the type of film. For true aficionados of the ballet the extras include extended dances sequences. Altman filmed several ballets in full in order to ensure the best sense for make it into The Company; here we see some of the dance that was previously left unseen. The commentary track featuring Cambell and Altman provides a better than average insight into what was required to bring this film to life. Cambell had to make numerous pleas to get Altman to sign on. For those out there jaded by the barrage of action flicks this film will be a pleasant change of pace. The cinematography alone makes The Company worth while to own and enjoy, for Altman fans it is a must have.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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