Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Pina and the stereoscope
I decided to give myself an Easter treat. Having found suitable eggs for my parents, who like milk chocolate; my son, who is a vegan and my daughter, who doesn't like chocolate very much, it seemed time to give myself a present. I determined on an Easter Day trip to the cinema and resolutely ignored the demands of house, garden and work.
My first idea was to see the film Oranges and Sunshine by Jim Loach. I still hope to see that some time. The scandal of children shipped from Britain to Australia, where many were abused and exploited, has particular resonance in the East Midlands, where the story was first brought to public attention. Jim Loach's film, which tells that story, is well-cast and has received excellent reviews. But I wasn't sure I wanted to be distressed on Easter Sunday, which is supposed to be a day of rejoicing.
A glimpse of a good review turned my attention to Wim Wenders' film, Pina. My daughter studied Pina Bausch's work at university and her views shifted from mild dislike to enthusiastic appreciation. It isn't easy to shift my daughter's views and I thought I would like to learn more about the choreographer who achieved that. While dance isn't one of my greatest interests, every so often a dance work does excite me and Pina Bausch, who used the term Tanztheater (dance-theatre) for her work, seemed the kind of creator who would at least be interesting. And when I heard of Wim Wenders' enthusiasm for 3D, my choice was settled.
I've never taken 3D cinema seriously before. I've enjoyed a couple of 3D cinema experiences – at least, I think I have – but while they were probably exciting at the time they had the quality of theme-park rides: intense at the time but ultimately unmemorable. Yet 3D is a logical development of cinema which includes the stereoscope among its origins.
I like stereoscopes. I've peered through them in museums and seen two similar, apparently-faded sepia prints spring into something resembling solidity. They recapture an unalterable past and give it a brief air of tangibility. The images shimmer into solidity before my uncertain gaze. I wasn't sure how 3D would work for dance but it seemed an appropriately elegaic mode for this subject – Pina Bausch died just as Wenders was starting work on a film about her.
The film Wenders has made is an elegy. Dancers' words recalling Pina are heard as they gaze silently into camera. There are also clips which show Pina dancing. These are, of course, in 2D but the stereoscopic effect is achieved by the use of an on-screen audience, reminding us that what we watch belongs to the past and cannot be recreated. The inclusion of 2D footage also has the effect of ensuring that the 3D effects remain vivid and startling – the brain isn't allowed to become acclimatised to the novelty of the experience.
I'm not sure I understand Pina Bausch's work. Even if I did, it resists being put into words. As she says during the film (so far as I can recollect), dance is an ideal medium for things which can be hinted but not spoken directly. Once I start describing what the dancers do and how they move, I know I'm diminishing their work. More than for most art-forms, the meaning of dance is unsayable.
Moreover the dances Pina Bausch created work, like most dance, by repetition of movement. A sequence which is initially startling – often because of the skill employed by the dancers – ceases to astonish and appeals to the emotions as it is performed again and again. My brain can't unscramble the effects but I can feel them.
At times, of course, my concentration flagged. Sometimes all I saw were the startling 3D effects as dancers moved towards me and away. That may have been because I was tired, because I'm insufficiently familiar with the vocabulary of dance or even because Wim Wenders is not yet sufficiently in command of 3D cinema and its effects. But my interest never fell away and I emerged from the darkened cinema feeling that I'd seen something that isn't usually available away from the screen.
“After all,” I reflected on the train home, “3D is never quite so intensive and exciting in the real world. The 3D of reality is flatter than that.” And then, when I left the station, I looked up and was suddenly aware of distance – between sky, houses, trees, road and lamp-posts. It seems that the film has re-educated my brain. The world I see now has sprung back into its real, 3D perspective.