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  Isadora Lady Of The Dance
Year: 1968
Director: Karel Reisz
Stars: Vanessa Redgrave, John Fraser, James Fox, Jason Robards Jr, Zvonimir Crnko, Vladimir Leskovar, Cynthia Harris, Bessie Love, Tony Vogel, Libby Glenn, Ronnie Gilbert, Wallas Eaton, Nicholas Pennell, John Quentin, Christian Duvaliex, David Healy
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Isadora Duncan (Vanessa Redgrave) is in France, dictating her memoirs to her longsuffering assistant Roger (John Fraser), with her glory days as an internationally famous dancer well behind her. She reminisces about how she got a start in the art business, for that's what she fully believed she was, an artist, and no matter if she wasn't making any money out of it at least she was being creative, specialising in the Classical Greek form of performance which she saw as a pure expression of physicality. Quite a difference from her lowly beginnings...

What's the one thing everyone knows about Isadora Duncan, if they know anything at all? That'll be her death, then, a bizarre and gruesome accident with a long scarf, a car axle and a speeding Bugatti, which put paid to her life but did at least offer her a kind of immortality in the type of article or book which catalogues or mentions strange demises. This biopic, scripted by Melvin Bragg, did lead up to that tragic end, but did mean that every time their lead picked up or threw on a floaty scarf you were reminded of how she was going to die, which may or may not have been intentional.

As Duncan, Redgrave is often thought to have put in her best cinematic performance here, and it was true she lost herself in the role which did have curious parallels to her own professional career: the undeniable talent, the bravery in her stylings, the controversy in her political leanings, that sort of thing, so it's safe to say she was the best interpreter of the part around at that time. And she proved it as well, as no matter how absurd or wrongheaded Isadora looked, all based on the facts of her life, Redgrave had you convinced that she rarely had a thought that she might have been mistaken.

Elsewhere, however, it's a case of nice try but the vitality was lacking, especially at this length of running time which verged on the monolithic depending on which version you saw - all were well over two hours. It's the sort of film where you expect that before long someone will start playing croquet, the game which epitomised vintage sophistication, and sure enough there's Duncan's first husband Singer, of the sewing machines fame (Jason Robards Jr), picking up the mallet to knock a few balls through the hoops. With that in mind, you might not find Isadora quite as scandalous as she was back in her heyday.

The main points of her life were evoked, but the feeling was that maybe this woman, for all the dizzying heights and vertiginous lows she suffered, was actually a bit silly. This did not matter so much when she was prancing around in diaphanous gowns to the delight of her public, but when she started getting involved in politics, which she admitted she knew very little about, the tone of the film reflected the grimness of the depth of outrage felt around the world when she joined the Soviets. She did it for art, of course, and the Russians appreciated her solidarity, but it alienated her from everyone else for the rest of her life, which didn't last as long as it should have done thanks to you know what. Such a divisive personality could only make for a divisive film, but Redgrave aside there wasn't much fire in its belly, nothing in particular to bring history to life in support of the leading lady's commitment. Music by Maurice Jarre.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Karel Reisz  (1926 - 2002)

Czech-born director Karel Reisz fled his home country to escape the Nazis and settled in Britain. On film, after an association with the Free Cinema Movement he made an impact with important kitchen sink drama Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, thriller remake Night Must Fall, cult favourite Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment, biopic Isadora, The Gambler, Vietnam war drama Who'll Stop the Rain? and The French Lieutenant's Woman.

 
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