And Now for the Really Good Stuff…..
Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter
Today’s marching orders were easy: get to Lincoln Center somewhere around noon to join the standby line for Dance on Camera’s opening night (and only) screening of Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter. Of course it’s sold out, but maybe you’ll get lucky…
Greg Vander Veer’s sensational account of Martha Hill’s long, productive life overflows with joy from its first images and music, as American Modern Dance is born in the hills of Vermont, to its final summing up of how the power of bodies expressing emotion directly transformed our vocabulary of movement forever. It’s one hell of a ride, and Vander Veer and his editor, Elisa Da Prato, make sure it’s a full gallop all the way through. Where it excels is in the superb rhythm of its editing and the canny telling of its dynamic story; they are in perfect balance, along with the sheer momentum of the dance footage itself and the information on how Modern Dance came to be.
Martha Hill became its rock and advocate, stifling her own performing talents to build the careers of pioneers: Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Hanya Holm. She created a dance community that beckoned students, from Paul Taylor to Pina Bausch. They, and many others, would have fallen by the wayside without Hill. She could not, and would not, give up. Ever.
Her adventures are given their due, yet there is uncommon delicacy (and wit) in presenting Hill’s own conflicts about giving up performance to ensure the careers of geniuses of movement, as well as her radiant (but very private) private life, and – almost shocking in its brutality – The New York City Ballet’s commandeering of Hill’s dance department at Juilliard. How did this tall reed of a woman prevail against the Rockefellers, the Ford Foundation, and the Balanchine juggernaut? Because of the intense devotion she had inspired among thousands of teachers, students and dance lovers who bombarded everyone involved in the coup with letters of protest. The letters won, Balanchine’s company expanded its own School of American Ballet separately, and Juilliard remained a hotbed of the Modern Dance Hill had championed for decades.
The comments of friends and colleagues are there for insight but – to be honest – the lavish archival and contemporary footage of bodies in ecstatic motion and the entirely universal drama of Hill’s story will haunt you long after the final frame. With a compelling original score by Florent Ghys that perfectly bridges the decades, Peter Buntaine’s cinematography, Di Prato’s tour-de-force editing, and Vander Veer’s direction, they light a fire that is contagious and give passionate evidence of a revolution that changed the way the world looked at dance.
The Martha Hill Dance Fund remains part of Hill’s community and, like Hill herself, did not waver in its belief that this film must be made. We owe them, its makers, and its subjects a debt of gratitude. If you have never seen dance before, Miss Hill will be a revelation. There’s only one drawback: it deserves eternal life and full houses after the lights and the music go off at Lincoln Center. I will be back soon with more on the film and the filmmakers. In the meantime, see what you can do…and watch the video.
Lucky for Tim’s Vermeer that SONY has put its muscle behind this brilliant entertainment, even luckier that Penn and Teller and Tim Jenison (the trio behind the proceedings) had the means and the smarts to make it, and luckiest of all that Jenison appears wholly unfamiliar with the phrase “to give up.” In other words, the trifecta that makes movies possible. And should you have any doubts about just how idiosyncratic and wonderful this movie is, be reassured: after its initial screening at the NY Film Festival, a later screening at SONY drew a number of critics seeing it for the second (and even the third) time, trying to parse out its theories and their intricate execution.
Have you ever marveled at Vermeer’s trademark use of light? So has the trio named above. Is it some unique strike of DNA lightning, or is there some more scientific (but no less compelling) explanation ? In fact, both David Hockney (who wrote “Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters”) and Philip Steadman (who wrote “Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces”) have been proponents of the scientific option for years, and you will hear from them in due course. What you will also encounter in due course in Tim’s Vermeer is OCD (which might have become tiresome in less original hands and minds) and what can be accomplished by someone in full thrall to it who gets mad, gets even, and proves his point by, well, painting a Vermeer: “The Music Lesson,” after getting permission from its owner(the Queen of England) to commune with it for half an hour—no cameras allowed. Throwing in a trip to Delft, renting a storage unit in Houston with the same northern light as Vermeer’s original setting, grinding the original pigments and weaving the original fabrics that Vermeer employed gives new meaning to do it yourself; the rest is history. Which our Three Musketeers (and their backstage army) rewrite in their very own delicious way.
There’s more—much more—to be had in the film’s packed 80 minutes, and having a cup or two of coffee before you see it will open your eyes, your mind, and jolt your ambition into high gear. But should you want to try this at home, first read the books and see the film at least twice. You can do it!
Finding Vivian Maier
This is another wholly original film, brought to life by two dedicated obsessives who wouldn’t give up: the film’s subject, “a mysterious nanny, who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that were hidden in storage lockers and discovered decades later,” and producer-director John Maloof, who found a box of her negatives at a locker auction, and was fatally hooked when he worked his way through the images.
The box changed his life and his direction; he went on a quest for every picture Maier might have left behind and, eventually, tracked down her employers and now-grown charges to find a mystery that grew more challenging as he uncovered its elements—and still remains only partially solved. The only part of the picture that has become clear is that Vivan Maier was a true genius; her images were stunning.
Finding Vivian Maier opens on March 28; save the date. trailer
More on Maier and on John Maloof later, too…
Later: it seems lawyers have gotten into the mix, so the mysteries and ultimate ownership of the prints and negatives may create a Bleak House-like scenario of long duration. Meantime, see Judy Gelman Myers’ interview with John Maloof: