Sunday, January 6, 2013
One of my friends, who has a moderate appreciation for modern dance, said to me after watching Pina, "I feel like if you don't like the stuff in it, you can never like dance," by which he meant that these dancers are so impressive and remarkably skilled that they represent the pinnacle of the artform. With that gauntlet thrown down, I... kind of like dance. On the one hand, the dancers here are unquestionably accomplished and impressive, and there are moments that I became completely enraptured. On the other hand, unlike the Martha Graham collection, these are mostly clips from bigger pieces, interspliced with footage of Pina (she recently passed away unexpectedly) and interviews about her with the dancers in her company. This format can be extremely frustrating, as there are frequently moments where a performance is just getting good only to be interrupted by footage of the dancer talking or a cutaway to another performance.
Pina as a whole mirrors this uneven rhythm, which seems ironic for a work made about perfect rhythm. At one moment the film is extremely beautiful and speaks to the freedom and artistic sensibility of its subject. But just as quickly the moment ends and jerks toward another disjointed but similarly impressive moment. This means the film is mostly a pleasure to watch but only with a goldfish's sensibility - any reflection on what has come more than a few minutes before is going to be a reminder that the movie has yet to establish an overall trajectory.
Wenders often makes big messy movies. His two narrative films in the collection, Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, are both masterpieces first of form and then of content, but they are packed with ideas about that form and their themes are too huge to be fully explored within one movie. On the other hand, Wenders's most well-known documentary, Buena Vista Social Club, veers towards PBS in structure (though it's been over a decade since I saw it). Pina is a lot closer to this latter movie, but it doesn't go deep enough into the film's subject to get at the essence of these artists the way Wenders did with the earlier film. Even accounting for the fact that I have an immeasurably larger interest in Cuban music than I do in modern dance, Pina lacks the human spark seen with BVSC, and instead remains simply a beautiful document of a group of insanely talented artists who nevertheless might have benefited from a more straightforward presentation of their skills.