Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Roman a clef

An amalgam of the Balanchine muses whose autobiographies I grew up reading: Suzanne Farrell, Allegra Kent, and Maria Tallchief.

A New York director, and amalgam of George Balanchine in his habitat and sexual proclivities,Herbert Biberman in his devotion to political ideals, Martin Ritt in his origin and career path, and Jean Cocteau in his fantasy cinema.

It's 1959 and a white WWII veteran, his Japanese wife, and fourteen year old daughter, Ramona (The Woodsman, his wife, and Rapunzel), live in Placerville. In a small town way, they are enamored with Hollywood and The American Dream (the small cottage at the edge of a magic forest).

Although the WWII vet is a machinist at Mather Air Force Base, the family's financial stability is rocky because of his alcoholism. Alienated from the community, Ramona takes her after school dance classes very seriously. The small town begrudgingly acknowledges her talent.

The dance teacher, a former Vaudeville dancer, (The Witch) convinces the family that Ramona should have private lessons, which they can't afford. More than that, she wants to take Ramona to New York for professional training.

Struggling to pay for Ramona's private lessons and hoping to offset the expense, the mother takes Ramona to Hollywood to see a talent scout (the mother's hunger). He pegs her as an exotic dancer. The mother catches on and disrupts a screen test more akin to a stag film (the forbidden fruit). Ramona is guilt stricken without understanding what she's done wrong, too sheltered to understand the difference between her teacher's physical corrections and the director's.

The teacher scolds the mother when she finds out. The mother acknowledges that she doesn't have the resources to manage her daughter's career and agrees to let the teacher take her to New York (Rapunzel's parents give her up to The Witch).

Ramona finds New York's tall buildings and throngs of people vertiginous and isolating (the tower). She trains through injury and exhaustion in class and in private sessions with the teacher who has become her guardian as well as her trainer. She is either at the studio or in her studio apartment.

A blacklisted film director working as an actor in New York (The Prince) is at the ballet studio. He sees Ramona practicing a pantomime with her teacher after class--her long, thick hair down, transported by the make believe (Rapunzel singing for the witch).

He asks permission to cast her as Rapunzel in his film adaptation. Her teacher and the school consent, but Ramona is shy about a film crew after her previous experience. The director rehearses with her alone to gain her trust and build her confidence (The Prince's secret visits to the tower).

Ramona is granted time off from ballet training for the shoot. The director encourages her to gain weight for the part. He casts himself as The Prince, saying Ramona is only at ease with him in the part after rehearsing together so long.

When the shoot is over and Ramona returns to ballet, she feels sick. She loses the weight, but gradually puts it on again to her teacher's dismay. Eventually, the teacher realizes that Ramona, who stopped menstruating over a year ago when they moved to New York, is pregnant (the tight fitting dress).

The teacher files charges against the director. The resulting scandal demolishes the director's embattled career (The Prince falls from the tower...). His adaptation of Rapunzel is scrapped in the final stages of production (... and is blinded by the thorns). Ramona is dropped from the school and returns to Placerville. She changes her name and moves to San Diego, raising her child in obscurity (Rapunzel in exile).

Between the recent resurrection of the Polanski scandal and the Disney Rapunzel slated for release in 2010, Ramona's story is unearthed and garners media attention (Rapunzel and The Prince cross paths again). In an interview, Ramona states that, as far as she is concerned, the shame of it all is that her contribution, her work and passion, were discarded along with the movie in condemnation of the director. She says that the scandal was worse for her than anything the director did, and that the scandal mongers were poised for attack because of his politics (Rapunzel's healing tears).

A small group of film students resurrect movie in response (The Prince's vision is restored). Ramona and her grown son attend the screening at a school theater. In a dated cinematic idiom, burnished by nostalgia, the Woodsman and his wife are the proletariats, The Witch the bourgeoisie, The Prince a revolutionary. Rapunzel hangs her long hair from a New York sky-scraper and the Prince evokes King Kong.

Ramona's performance is poignant and perfectly authentic.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Poster Art for Open Screening

November, 2009: The West We Won

October, 2009: The Beast in the Machine