Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Movie Review: First Position

Technically this is a documentary and, even though I'm not sure if documentaries are actually movies I'm still going to count this for my movie/tv series review of the week anyway. I heard about this a few weeks back somewhere on the internet where someone made a passing comment about how this was a surprisingly good documentary and I of course had to go see if it was on Netflix and since it was only 90 minutes I decided to give it a shot. I've had fairly good luck with documentaries people recommend to me and I like ballet alright so why not?

First Position

Summary: Every year the Youth American Grand Prix is held in New York City, the world's largest international dance competition where kids from 9-19 compete for medals, scholarships, and contracts with dance companies. This film follows six kids from different backgrounds who have all dedicated their lives to ballet and how they advance and perform.

The Good: I was impressed, I'm so used to documentaries hamming up the drama that comes with human life that it was a nice change of pace to see a film not do that. There is some tension of course, all of these kids are competing very seriously and devoting this much of your energy towards one goal is going to cause stress regardless of what your goal is, but it was all presented in a very natural, matter of fact way. The film also didn't make you feel like "oh this person deserves this more than this other person because of their life" and impressively it made me connect with all of the kids in just 90 minutes and really care about how they did in the competition. I don't watch many documentaries but I'm really glad I saw this one and I'm not surprised to see that it was pretty well received as a whole. 

The Bad: I do feel like the film could have gone a bit deeper if it had wanted to, also considering it's only 90 minutes it could have gone longer and gone farther into the kids' lives but it didn't and I don't think it suffers for it (and the pacing was great so I'd hate to mess with that). It did feel a little impersonal at times, unusually I actually have no idea who the director was since I didn't feel them insert themselves into the story at all, but again that's more a stylistic choice than a flaw. I didn't really think this film had many, if any, big or little problems and overall I'm quite impressed with it.

The Audio: I've done some video work and audio editing was always something I had trouble with so I'm impressed at how well they handled it for the kids' performances. Obviously they aren't going to show their whole five minutes of dancing but you can't just cut in and out of shots with the music changing as well, that would be far too disjointed, so I thought the way they edited together the music and the dancing was done very seamlessly and I wish I could learn some tricks from whomever did it.

The Visuals: I did have a few issues with some of the film, why the heck were the performance parts so noisy?!? For each performance the video quality suddenly went down, as if they had to use camcorders on auto to shoot the kids actually competing, and it was rather distracting since the rest of the documentary looked fine. There were some points, again during the competitions, where I wondered if we were dropping frames, the movements looked just a bit off (I especially noticed it for Miko when she was spinning with a long dress, a shot I've seen in other movies and it just looked a bit off here and not because of her). I know there's a big difference between shooting a movie and shooting a real performance, I know from experience just how limited the range of a camera really is and how much light you need to make it look natural but I was still disappointed by these points since the rest of the film looked just fine.

So, as odd as it sounds to rate a documentary, 4 or 4.5 out of 5 stars and a hearty recommendation to anyone who likes ballet/dance in general to check this out. It's streaming on Netflix USA and apparently on Amazon Instant as well. Now, I really want to pick up Swan again after seeing all these dancers work so hard.... 

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