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 Post subject: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2000 4:26 pm 
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BILLY ELLIOTT<P>This film frankly left me………puzzled. I knew the basic story was about an 11 yr. old boy from a mining town in England who comes into contact with a ballet class and finds his true metier. It not only answers his inner need to dance, but also offers the possibility to escape working in the coal mines that normally would be his future. Though the class consists of all girls, he is not deterred; he is a confident young man.<P>But the movie is not about dance, it is about stereotypes; the pictures we produce in our minds when we hear certain words like “ballet” and “men in the ballet”. The miners, too, are stereotyped, raw language, propensity for violence and drink and their very predictable view of the ballet.<P>This is not a subtle film. The coal slag heaps surrounding the town are stark, the images of the striking miners, which include the boy’s father and brother, confronting the strikebreakers and the police are harrowing. We see this young boy surrounded by what is destined to be his future; poverty, hopelessness, strife and constraint. <P>The timelessness of the ballet class is juxtaposed against the severity of the coal miners' lives. I have to say here, as an aside, that I have never seen an everyday ballet class for children conducted in classical tutus. And these tutus were incongruously white. I feel this was a rather heavy handed way of making the contrast between the girls and the lone boy even more marked. <P>Occasionally the film’s lack of subtlety crossed over the line and became maudlin, in my opinion. In a scene of pseudo dance which occurs in a small space enclosed by high brick walls, the boy’s frustration was over symbolized. It was not necessary since the point had been hammered in from the very first moments of the film. Other props for tears included the boy’s deceased mother, a grave scene, a letter she leaves for him, and a half-doddering old grandmother. And, then there is the pawning of the dead mother’s few items of jewelry to finance the boy’s trip to London for an audition to the school of Royal Ballet, as the father finally recognizes that this might be a better road for his son than the coal mines. <P>But, even so, to this point the movie still had charm – until the last five minutes, when to this reviewer, all the stereotypes which the film had labored to question, are then reinforced as the father and brother come to see a performance of the now adult dancer. To the magical music of Swan Lake, we see the male dancers standing in the wings about to take the stage. This is the perfect moment to show a male corps de ballet - or a single soaring male dancer glorying in his accomplishment. Instead we see a male dancer wearing only black tights covered with feathers – barefoot – bare chested – oddly made up – awkwardly take to the air. It left me up a creek without a paddle – or rather upon a lake without a clue.<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2000 9:37 pm 
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i haven't seen the film yet, but i too, noticed this in one of the publicity photos:<BR> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>I have never seen an everyday ballet class for children conducted in classical tutus.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>-sot of gives the game away, in advance, as to how 'accurate' the film will be! Image

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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Sun Oct 22, 2000 7:47 am 
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Another inaccuracy - I didn't want to clutter up the critique too much -<P>I have taught for over 25 yrs - and therefore probably taught pirouettes to hundreds of both adults and children. I have never seen anyone trying a pirouette with a single rotation fall down flat on his or her back - or face for that matter. This boy fell down continuously. Not a jumped (tour en l'air) just a simple, single pirouette. And the import of the scene was that this was normal for a beginner - the teacher just stood there. I sure do wish they would get some of these simple things accurately when filming dance.<P>Like go watch a ballet class and see if the little girls are in tutus and if people are falling down all the time.


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Sun Oct 22, 2000 3:07 pm 
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Well, movies are supposed to take us to magical places. Sometimes in those magical places dreamed up by the director, the facts need to bend a little to fit the "artistic vision" of the movie. Inaccurate as it was from a ballet standpoint, I still felt it was a heart-warming movie and does its job of inspiring boys to dance.


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Sun Oct 22, 2000 5:23 pm 
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Azlan - what did you think of that ending? the dancer in the turkey feather tights? I couldn't make heads or tails of it - pun definitely intended.


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Sun Oct 22, 2000 5:28 pm 
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That came from the Adventures in Motion Pictures' performance of Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake."


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2000 2:40 am 
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As Azlan says, the final moment was Billy starring in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. I thought it was a pity it wasn't Le Corsaire or something similar, but the Bourne Swan Lake is very fashionable!<P>I too was puzzled at first by the ballet class in tutus, as I also have never come across this. Either it's symbolic - another world - or, if you take it literally, maybe it shows the extreme provinciality of this intentionally bad ballet class. The little girls like dressing up, so they are allowed to. Maybe it happens, though I doubt it.<P>I really liked the film, although I admit that it's sentimental in places. It has quite a lot to say, I think.


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2000 6:11 am 
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There was something else which I didn't mention in my critique - can't mention everything!! But - I and my companion - and the rest of the audience had a certain amount of trouble actually understanding some of the dialogue. Our American ears couldn't always pick up everything that was said. It almost needed subtitles in places. This was true especially when the children would speak to one another - their speech seemed to be faster and shorter than the speech of the adults and so the accent was much more difficult to understand. <P>There was no difficulty understanding the father or the ballet teacher - and the speech of the panel at the school before which Billy was auditioning had accents much more attuned to the American ear. I noticed that at several places the people in the audience were asking one another what was being said on screen - so it was not just me and my husband.<P>Ironically - LOL - this week I am being "studied" by a student getting a master's degree at SDSU in language and speech - because of MY accent. I am originally from Philadelphia and have retained my "vowel" accent all these years. I am told that in certain places on the East Coast (Philadelphia being one of them) the speech accent is much closer to that of the original colonists from England than other places in the USA. So what goes around comes around.


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2000 9:00 am 
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basheva - not wishing to be rude at all but firstly you comment that the film is not realistic i.e tutus, people never falling over doing pirouettes etc but you then say that the accents should have been clearer so that the US market could understand them better. However as a Brit myself I found the accents very accurate - I'm afraid that sometimes you can't have it both ways - and us Brits aren't always easy to understand - goodeness we have trouble undrestanding all the regional accents ourselves.<P>As for the tutus etc I agree with what someone else posted i.e. being symbolic rather than realistic and they did jux ta pose well with the awkward dancing performed by the class.<P>Perhaps it is a cultural thing - being a Brit i remember very well the hostility during the miners strike - Britain was a very hositile place at that time and their was a lot of prejudice racially, sexually and class wise. I felt the film contrasted this well with the more accepting nineties at the end of the film - i.e a male corps de ballet from a very commercially suuccessful ballet - Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake.<P>however this is just my opinion and as you say Basheva it would be a very boring world if we all liked the same thing.


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2000 10:35 am 
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Hello Joanne - I think you may have mis-read me. While I commented on the difficulty of understanding the accents - I NEVER said that it should be changed. I accept its authenticity - and I did NOT ask that it should be otherwise. It was not a complaint - simply a statement of fact. The audience did have trouble understanding it. In fact, in you look above, you will see that my comments about the accents is NOT part of my critique - only part of a later posting.<P>I also said in my critique that I realized that the tutus were used as a point of contrast - but I felt the contrast heavyhanded. <P>I think your thoughtful conclusion about contrasting the strife ridden times of the miner's strike and the more accepting climate of the 90's is very well said - and I agree with it, completely.


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2000 1:42 pm 
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The point about the accents though is quite important - although the film is British and set in Britain it is marketed to the world, it is a problem if people unfamiliar with accents can't understand them as it will obviously spoil understanding and enjoyment of the film. <P>I think Billy's dance sequences went a long way to describe his feelings without language and perhaps that is another point the film is trying to make that dance was a supreme and for Billy one of his only ways of communicating his feelings effectively and in the end was his only way of crossing class boundaries - Dance in the Uk can be seen as very elitist - not least the institute that Billy auditioned for. I think it was an interesting scene where in the end Billy's dancing only got him part of the way into the Royal Ballet School it was his (eventual) verbal expression that clinched his place. Therefore very complex layers of communication were at play in the film<P>I have seen some of Daldrey's theatrical productions and he does sometimes use very strong stereotyped images to draw you in at one level, but underneath there are lots of other levels at play. I think to truly enjoy the film viewers need to look beyond some of the stereotypes and examine why they are there and what purpose they serve in the film.<P>As I say these are only my opinions. But I would interested in others views on this.


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2000 4:46 pm 
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Very well said, Joanne. I agree completely.


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2000 9:30 pm 
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I agree with everything Joanne says. When I saw Billy Elliott, in England, I thought it would need subtitles in America. It almost does in England! The reason that the children are harder to understand than the adults is that their North-east English accent is genuine, whereas the father is Scottish, and Julie Walters doesn't have a north-east accent. I can't remember whether she pretends to in the film. The people at the Royal Ballet School speak perfect standard English ("like royalty", as a real Royal Ballet dancer said). The accents and the difference between them are very significant in Britain, because they indicate social class. Sorry we're such a snobbish lot, but there you are. It's not nearly as bad as it used to be. <p>[This message has been edited by HelenB (edited October 23, 2000).]


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Mon Oct 23, 2000 11:21 pm 
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I suppose I do have an advantage with the North East accent my boyfriend and his family hail from Darlington which is is the same county that the film was set in. Their accent isn't that broad though just their pronounciation of words and how they phrase things that can be different.<P>Julie Walters who played the ballet teacher did have an accent but it wasn't as broad as the children's - supposedly she had moved around and the accent had become less harsh. The children only really knew County Durham and therefore all their dialect influences were from there. As you saw at the end of the film Billy's accent was very different. <P>Accent in the UK is very class based even today and Billy's change of accent at the end of the film again signified his change in social status. But i agree if your ear is not familiar with all the idiosyncracies of the hundreds of different dialects in the UK it can be a bit of a challenge to the ear.<p>[This message has been edited by Joanne (edited October 24, 2000).]


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 Post subject: Re: Billy Elliot - A critique of the film
PostPosted: Tue Oct 24, 2000 6:54 am 
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Many years ago I saw a movie from England that did have subtitles. When I went to New Zealand, we found that we could understand them, but that they spoke much more rapidly than we did. And, we could see that they thought we spoke VERY slowly, much as I feel that people from some southern states in the USA speak very slowly. <P>What I have also found interesting is that I have seen several movies in which the scene was set in another country altogether - for instance - Italy - but it was an English lanuage film - and the actors who played the ordinary folk spoke "ordinary English" (with an American accent) but the actors who played roles of authority - like royalty - affected "The Queen's English", - even though every character was supposed to be Italian. <P>Like I mentioned above - my accent is being studied tomorrow ..........<BR>


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