Degas and the Dance — The Man Behind the Easel (2003)

by | Sep 13, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Degas and the Dance — The Man Behind the Easel (2003)

Narrator: Frank Langella
Studio: PBS/Koch Lorber Films
Video: Widescreen enhanced for 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, English with French subtitles;  French with English subtitles
Extras: Audio tour with magnification of nine of the art works, 83-year
timeline of Degas’ life with 30 of his works, Six additional segments —
incl. on the supplier of the pastels Degas used, Paris Opera maquettes
not seen in the film, Archival images of some of the dancers Degas
painted, Paris Opera Dancers demonstrating contrasts between some 19th
century ballet poses and contemporary techniques.
Length: 66 minutes
Rating: ****

Created for a PBS Great Performances special, this presentation
provides an accurately-researched and artistically satisfying portrayal
of the famous impressionist painter who was more closely associated
with the dance than any other. Half of his entire output of paintings,
drawings and sculpture dealt with ballet dancers of Paris in the late
19th century.  The painter’s close connection with the ballet
school of the Paris Opera is featured.  One sequence shows the
circular practice room with circular windows in both archival
photographs and Degas’ paintings, and then dissolves to footage of
modern dancers rehearsing in the very same historic space. Fortunately,
there has been little change in the buildings since Degas’ time. 
Some recreations of Degas at work in his Montmartre studio are also
seen.  Late in life he bought a camera and began photographing his
young subjects in his studio. Spokespersons from some of the museums
who cooperated to put together a traveling exhibition of Degas and the
Dance tie together the art and the dance history.

Just one revelation concerns the shadowy figure of a man in a black
outfit and top hat often seen in the wings or backstage in many of
Degas’ paintings. This would be the sponsor — i.e. wealthy suger-daddy
who has contributed to education and support of one of the pretty
ballerinas.  There is even a unique specific salon provided
backstage for the dancers and their sponsors to mingle before or after
performances. The reproduction of the paintings and especially the
closeups of sections of them make Degas’ art come alive for the viewer.

-— John Sunier

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