Documentary Aesthetic

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Last week, I wrote that I would introduce the dancers in the documentary this week, but I as I began choosing pictures to include I realized that I hadn’t discussed the aesthetic of the film. I know the dancers are much more interesting, but I hope that you can bear with me. As a filmmaker I lost sleep over these decisions (such as whether or not I should use a tripod with my Super 8 camera).

In preparing for this film I watched every film (narrative or documentary) that I could get my hands about ballet. I find that there is almost always an issue making the performances and the storyline work together. The performances always take us out of the story and they are not integrated well. The only time it works is when the filmmaker really brings the camera into the space of the dance instead of simply placing it in the audience.  A good (and well known) example of this is the final dance in Center Stage (2000) where the implication is that we are watching from the audience, but in reality the camera is on stage with the dancers (or, in actuality, on a soundstage with shots of an audience cut in). The problem with a documentary is that you cannot be on stage during a performance without ruining the performance.

So somehow I had to think of a way to integrate dancing (beyond rehearsals) into the film in a manner that engages the camera more than simply filming the dancers under the proscenium. Since dancers spend their careers seeking perfection I liked the idea of using an imperfect medium to portray their dancing. In this vein I shot the dancers using my Super 8 camera. This is a small format movie film camera; the model I used was made in the late 1960s. Kodak still makes the film (fingers crossed that it stays that way, bankruptcy be damned). These cameras are imperfect, in a sense, because you can’t really control them or predict exactly how your shots will look. Unpredictable. The intangible is what makes the world beautiful. It’s why Margot Fonteyn is one of the greatest dancers, even though her feet were not perfect. To complement this I used a Holga and a Diana camera for the still images, which will hopefully be used in posters and such.

So now you know what I am trying to accomplish with the aesthetic of the images. I also included a picture of the three dancers below since, I promise, I will be writing about them next week.

Melissa, Alex, and Traci

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  • candice

    I love the paradox of using an ‘imperfect’ medium to show the striving for perfection–have you read about wabi sabi?

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