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Legal Download: Dance on demand

The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in Legal Download, we survey the landscape online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, the column reaches a turning point (though not THE TURNING POINT, since it’s not for rent or sale online) as we watch dance on film.


Film is a perfect compliment to dance because, like film, dance is a medium of pure visual expression. No words needed, no descriptions or dialogue spoken, just movement, gestures, and emotions. Whether it’s ballet or modern or — God help us — breakdancing, dance is a language as universal and as timeless as film. And now, in the immortal words of Gene Kelly, gotta dance, gotta dance, gotta dance (gotta dance).

On SundanceNow
PINA (2011)
Directed Wim Wenders
$6.99 to rent or stream

This 2012 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary and official selection of the Berlin, Telluride, Toronto, and New York Film Festivals captures four different pieces by famed German modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch, who tragically died of cancer just days before production began. Director Wim Wenders (WINGS OF DESIRE) nearly scrapped the film in the wake of that tragedy, then decided to carry on and reconfigure PINA to serve as a testament to Bausch’s life and work. Though PINA was shown theatrically in 3D, the better to emphasize the careful movement through space by the dancers, you’ll only get two dimensions with your VOD rental. Still, you’ll see plenty of astonishing choreography regardless. “Dance, dance, or we are lost,” Bausch famously said. For those of us who can’t dance, watching Wenders and Bausch’s remarkable imagery is about as close as we will ever get to being found.

On iTunes
NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ (2010)
Directed by Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes
$3.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase

This unique blend of dance and film updates a classic “ballet in sneakers” by director and choreographer Jerome Robbins. When NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ premiered in 1958, it was Robbins’ ode to and interpretation of the first generation of American teenagers; in 2010 directors Henry Joost (CATFISH) and Jody Lee Lipes (cinematographer of TINY FURNITURE) restaged Robbins’ work in a production that feels both timely and timeless. As much as life has changed in the last sixty years, Joost and Lipes’ vision of Robbins’ New York suggests teenage concerns remain basically the same in any era. Joost and Lipes took Robbins’ dances out of the studio and restaged them on location at photogenic sites like the High Line, the McCarren Pool, and Coney Island. Billed as “the first film conceived, created, produced and danced by dancers from the New York City Ballet,” OPUS JAZZ combines gorgeous choreography and gorgeous cinematography. The result is beauty on top of beauty.

THE RED SHOES (1948)
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
$2.99 to rent, $14.99 to purchase; $3.99 to rent in HD, $19.99 to purchase in HD

This ballet masterpiece by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is about dance but more fundamentally, it’s about art and the sacrifices great artists make in the pursuit of their craft. Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) is a talented young ballet dancer, torn between her love for a young composer and her loyalty to the head of her ballet company. Vicky picks one man, then reverses her decision and picks another, and both choices have painful consequences. Powell and Pressburger’s film, with Technicolor photography by cinematographer Jack Cardiff recently restored by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, looks so gorgeous it may tip the art versus love debate a bit too heavily in art’s favor. Speaking about the film at a 2009 screening, Scorsese said that THE RED SHOES teaches us that it’s not that artists want to create art, but that they have to. “You have no choice,” Scorsese added. “You have to live it and it comes with a price. But what a time in paying it.” And watching it.

On Netflix
BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (1984)
Directed by Sam Firstenberg
Free for streaming plan members

In the play with the film THE RED SHOES, a magical pair of ballet slippers compels a woman to dance herself to death. In the infamously cheesy cult classic BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, breakdancing works in a similar, albeit somewhat less sinister way. People hear breakdancing music pouring out of a boombox and they instantly start to dance as if some unseen spirit is forcing them to do so. Time and again, the film’s move-busting heroes — Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones), Turbo (Michael “Boogalo Shrimp” Chambers), and Kelly (Lucinda “No One Ever Gave Me a Nickname” Dickey) — show up in a boogaloo-averse location, like, say, a working hospital, and within moments their infectious energy inspires everyone — the doctors, the nurses, even mortally ill patients — to get down with their bad selves. The power of boogaloo compels you! No one would ever mistake BREAKIN’ 2 with a “good” movie, but ELECTRIC BOOGALOO is weirdly unique, with a charm all its own (in part because that charm is so hilariously bad that no one else would want to share it). You might get so swept up in the fun that you could start dancing yourself. All right, maybe not. But you’ll probably laugh a lot anyway.

On Amazon Instant Video
THE COMPANY (2003)
Directed by Robert Altman
$9.99 to purchase

By this point in the column, the themes in THE COMPANY, Robert Altman’s film about the Joffrey Ballet, should sound pretty familiar: the sacrifices artists makes for their art and the incompatibility of personal and professional passion. The new twist Altman brings to the familiar material is Altman: the talent with actors, the focus on a large, interconnected ensemble, and the meticulous attention to detail. Neve Campbell stars as a young Joffrey dancer named Ry; James Franco plays her boyfriend and Malcolm McDowell plays the head of the Joffrey, Alberto Antonelli, based, supposedly (like I would know) on the Joffrey’s late co-founder, Gerald Arpino. Campbell made an ideal star of a ballet film: she’d studied ballet for most of her childhood so she could do most of her own stunts and her experiences helped informed the screenplay, which she co-wrote with Barbara Turner.