(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June. She’s trying to get it all done by July 11th! Will she make it!? Keep visiting the site to find out!)
The 28th film on my DVR was the 1977 film The Turning Point. I recorded it off Indieplex on June 3rd.
I guess I should start this review by admitting that I really have no excuse. As someone who grew up dreaming of being a prima ballerina and who unknowingly caused her mother to spend an incalculable amount of money of dance classes, dance outfits, dance shoes, dance trips, and all the medical bills that go along with having a klutzy daughter who is obsessed with ballet and as someone who continues to love to dance today, I really have no excuse for not having seen The Turning Point before last night. Along with The Red Shoes and my beloved Black Swan, The Turning Point is one of three ballet movies to have been nominated for best picture. It’s a film that, as a result of its box office success, established many of the clichés that continue to show up in dance movies to this day.
Seriously, how had I not seen it before?
And make no mistake about it — The Turning Point is a dance movie. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a plot. Actually, there’s several plots and it’s not incorrect to describe The Turning Point as being something of a soap opera. But ultimately, all the plots are just window dressing. Director Herbert Ross started his career as a choreographer with the American Ballet Theater and the characters in The Turning Point are fictionalized portraits of people that he actually knew. Ross’s love for both ballet and the dancers comes through every frame of The Turning Point and the film’s best moments are when the melodrama takes a backseat to the performances onstage.
But I guess we actually should talk about the melodrama. Okay, here goes:
Many years ago, DeeDee (Shirley MacClaine) and Emma (Anne Bancroft) both belonged to the same New York ballet company. DeeDee was the star of the company and was set to play the lead in Anna Karenina when another dancer with the company, Wayne (Tom Skerritt), got her pregnant. DeeDee not only dropped out of the company but she married Wayne and moved back to his home state of Oklahoma. (The film suggests, in an oddly regressive moment, that Wayne only slept with DeeDee in order to prove that, despite being a male dancer, he wasn’t gay.) DeeDee and Wayne opened a dance studio in Oklahoma City while Emma got the lead in Anna Karenina and went on to become a prima ballerina.
18 years later, Wayne and DeeDee’s daughter, Emilia (Leslie Browne), is invited to join the company. Because Emilia is shy and somewhat naive, DeeDee accompanies her to New York while Wayne stays behind in Oklahoma with their younger children.
Once in New York, DeeDee starts to wonder if she made the right decision when gave up ballet for domesticity. She run into an old friend, conductor Joe Rosenberg (Anthony Zerbe, not playing a villain for once) and has an affair with him. Meanwhile, Emma is having an affair with a married man named Carter (Marshall Thompson) and is struggling to accept that she’s getting older and will soon have to retire. Just as DeeDee regrets giving up dancing, Emma regrets never having children.
Meanwhile, Emilia slowly starts to come into her own and blossom as a dancer. She even ends up having an affair with the self-centered and womanizing Yuri (Mikhail Baryshnikov), one of the stars of the company. Emilia and Emma start to grow close, with Emma treating Emilia like her own daughter. DeeDee finds herself growing jealous of both her daughter and her former best friend.
Needless to say, it all leads to Emma throwing a drink in DeeDee’s face and the two of them having a cat fight on the streets of New York…
The Turning Point is no Black Swan or Red Shoes. Leslie Browne (who was playing a character based on herself) was a great dancer but not much of an actress so you never care about her the way that you do Natalie Portman in Black Swan. The dancers are amazing in both films but Darren Aronofsky literally put the audience in Portman’s ballet slippers while Herbert Ross keeps the audience at a distance, allowing them to watch and appreciate the dancers’s passion but not necessarily to experience it with them.
But, with all that in mind, I still enjoyed The Turning Point. What can I say? I love dance movies! Both Shirley MacClaine and Anne Bancroft give excellent performances. Bancroft apparently had no dance experience before shooting The Turning Point (and it’s hard not to notice that, whenever Emma is performing, the camera focuses on those moving around her as opposed to Emma herself) but she still does a good job of poignantly capturing Emma’s fear of getting older and her joy when she realizes that Emilia looks up to her. MacClaine, meanwhile, has an amazing scene where she watches her screen daughter perform and, in just a matter of seconds, we watch as every emotion — pride, envy, regret, and finally happiness — flashes across her face.
And, of course, there’s that cat fight. It’s a silly scene, to be honest. But seriously, if there was any actress who could convincingly throw a drink in someone else’s face, it was Anne Bancroft.
The Turning Point was nominated for 11 Oscars and it ended up setting a somewhat dubious record when it managed to win exactly zero. (This perhaps shouldn’t be surprising when you consider its competition included Annie Hall and the first Star Wars.)
Well — no matter!
Though the film may not be perfect, I liked it!