A Chorus Line
Long before there was Simon on American Idol there was Zach (Michael Douglas), a man sitting alone in the dark, mid-way back in an empty theater deciding the fate of young hopefuls. As he sits there, only the glow of his cigarette visible, he does not provide constructive criticism, there is no time for that, he shoots down the unfit with a phrase sharper and more deadly than any sword. This film centers not on the inherent acerbic nature of the director but rather the hopes and dreams on the line for young dancers that put everything out in the open for this all important chance a making their dreams come true. The initial group consists of a wide variety of cinema archetypes providing someone almost everyone in the audience can identify with. One of the first real tests that Zach imposes on these wannabes is to speak about themselves. Each in turn introduces themselves, which is actually great for the audience since it provides an opportunity for us to get to know them. It is also pivotal to the plot. Each person started out in the early part of the audition as just a nameless number. Now, as Zach presses them for details of their lives they have to open up. There is also the subplot of Cassie (Alyson Reed), once a star of the stage who had a relationship with Zach, now in need of a job and finding herself having to humble herself before her former lover. What adds a lot to this film is the juxtaposition, I just love a good juxtaposition, between Cassie’s decent from Hollywood stardom and the young hopefuls just beginning the arduous trek to success. As each applicant relates their story we see Cassie in the back ground thinking about her life with Zach and what she did to achieve her fame. Cassie is older, better and more seasoned than any of her competition yet she is forced by a year of unemployment to seek a position in the lowest rung of dance, the chorus line. It is not so much the money, although she is broke, but rather that she is a dancer and has to dance to live. This is something that is a common thread between Cassie and the other 16 that made this next to last cut, they all love dance. As their personal stories relate some danced to get out of their small town or neighborhood, some to flee from an abusive home situation, most because it made them feel special, appreciated and worthy. As you watch you will identify with some stories more than others but each will reach out to you in a very human manner.
True to the format of this film some of the applicants stand out more than the others but all give sensitive presentations of their characters. Gregg Burge as a young black dancer relates how nervous he was during his first sexual encounter but he soon got to enjoy it. Jan Gan Boyd as Connie Wong makes bad Asian jokes to cover her insecurity and lack of formal training. Audrey Landers is Val, the beautiful blond that tells us in song how she was tired of being a 10 for dance but a 3 for looks and visited a up town doctor to get her ‘T and A’. Tales of coming to grips with being homosexual, being told you no good all come out as the cast opens up in poignant song. Michael Douglas is fantastic as the acerbic Zack. We see him having to make a business decision, part of his job, which will make or break the emotional state of each person before him. There is even a few moments when Douglas drops his stern façade and reaches out to one shy boy you related the humiliating events surrounding his parents facing the face that his is gay. One real breakout performance is Vicki Frederick as Shelia, the old one of the group. She is going on all of thirty, has a nine year old daughter and has a mouth on her that every New Yorker will appreciate. Reed as Zach’s former love Cassie carries her role with dignity and grace. Here is a woman that had it all and now has to humbly return to her start. None of the performances are too over the top. Each is crafted as a unique personality amidst a sea of similar looking people. While few of the cast members went on to many other films we at least have this movie to see them at their best.
Sir Richard Attenborough directed this film. This is a man that has lived the stage and screen for many decades. There is not an aspect of production, acting or direction that he did not master. Perhaps because of his long career as an actor he comes across as an ‘actor’s director’, one that gives the actors a lot of room to grow into their roles. His use of lighting in this film is nothing short of brilliant. The shadows, the hot spot lights all add to the mood created by the performances without overwhelming them. Towards the end there is a scene where the cast assembles for the final cut. The lights outline their forms as the slowly go to the line, knowing their fate will be decided. The lighting holds on to them with a stark reality of the moment. With a film of basically one set there is a trap that is deftly avoided here, the audience is not bored with the lack of set changes but rather comes to know it as the dancers in it. The dark, empty seats of the audience, lit only by Zack’s work lights and the brightly lit stage form the perfect setting for this drama concerning the contrasts in life.
The DVD is up to the standards set my MGM. While the audio is two channel Dolby Surround it fills the room. It was mastered a bit low so you will have to crank up the volume just a notch. The sound field created is rich and covers the audio spectrum nicely. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video holds up well for an older film. There were no major defects to be found. The only extra was a featurette ‘Marvin Hamlisch: From Broadway To Hollywood’ showing how this master stage man created this film. Even though there were numerous expository flashbacks it did translate the stage play very well. With musicals making a come back this is definetly one for you collection and enjoyment.