You Are Doing Good Just Bring It Down A Bit: A Chorus Line (1985)

I was made to believe that A Chorus Line was some modern classic in the way of the musical, navigating a space that had at the time yet to truly be uncovered.  Sure, it is quite intriguing for the ways in which it meshes together the traditional aspects of the musical film with a social realist drama that pinpoints all the intersections of difficulty at play in the world of professional dancers and their aspirations.  I could expand rather instinctively on how this is a great thing to consider in film, but becomes rather disconcerting when done in the exploitative way shown in A Chorus Line.  I could do a ton of these things and be completely warranted in my opinions.  However, on the other end I could defend it for its audacious and at times incredibly ambitious cinematography that manes to make the cramped stage of a chorus line audition seem to fill the world, or discuss how absolutely stellar Michael Douglas proves to be in a film where he rarely leaves the space of a casting chair.  I could go one of two ways with this film and certainly find a following and opposition in either camp.  While i am inclined to lean slightly towards it being a decent film, I know in my heart that A Chorus Line is about as middle of the road as a musical can come, particularly when it has a tendency to fall under its own datedness.  As a musical it hits all the necessary points, even digging a bit deeper than normal when the endeavor proves advantageous, unfortunately, the sort of fabrication at play makes it a matter of accepting that everyone will be afforded a chance to tell their unique perspectives is about as overly idealistic a thing that will ever happen in this particularly traditionalist genre.  A Chorus Line asks for moments of truth from its characters and since it exists in a layered space of the performance, there seems to be a knowing relationship between the dancers and the person shooting the film as to how created the entire process is, but also how important it can be to pushing their own careers forwards, as this proved to be either a definitive breaking point for cinematic success.

A Chorus Line begins about as in media res as a musical could, in so much as it looks at a group of initially nondescript dancers pouring their hearts into a dance number that is been over seen by the choreographer Larry (Terrance Mann).  The group consisting of several dozen performs fill up the space of the stage, hoping to do precisely what is necessary to catch a glimpse of interest from premier choreographer Zach (Michael Douglas).  Indeed, Zach is almost indifferent to the initial tryouts standing like a ghost in the background as lines upon lines of performers dance for his amusement, eventually using the help of his assistant and head choreographer Larry (Terrence Mann) to break down the group to roughly ten applicants including a variety of men and women all competing for, in the end eight parts.  The group is possessive of a variety of different faces, whether it be aging dancer Val Clarke (Audrey Landers) who seems a bit jaded about her hopes and dreams, or the brash Gregory Gardner (Justin Ross) who makes his gay identity known in a very empowering, albeit confrontational, way.  Together they represent a group hoping to attain the one job that will afford them a big break, all the while Zach judging their every move, this becomes more so the case when Zach's former lover and noted dancer Cassie (Alyson Reed) attends the tryouts.  She, along with the remainder of the group, expound upon why they decided to become dancers, whether it be one girl's desire to replicate the success of a small town Rockette, or another who always felt himself to be a bit more in line with his sister, literally wearing her shoes to attend a dance class on the fly.  Zach still secretive about exactly what his show will entail, pries and pulls for these various stories, even coming to relate closely to one young man named Paul (Cameron English) taking special consideration for him when his knee gives out during the beleaguering tryouts.  In the end, Zach does narrow it down to a select group in a manner that reconsiders how one assumes their ability and the receiving of accolades, although the closing number suggests that with the right amount of willpower every person can achieve the singular goal of their lives.

A Chorus Line is rather obvious in its premise that the musical is something that is enjoyed for its spectacle and very little, if anything, is made to consider how involved the personal lives of those on the stage become, indeed, each member of the line possessing their own unique, and often complex, life.  Instead, accolades and admiration is often mounted towards individuals like the producer or director who are seen as visionaries and geniuses, in its own way taking on an issue of gendering in all varieties of the performing arts.  A Chorus Line exists to show these stories within the context of the musical, moving away from the spectacle to the reality of those involved and in some ways it really works filmically, providing genius use of the inner monologue through song as a way of working within the genre, but also keeping it decidedly personal, however, it is also embracing of the spectacle in ways that make a lot of the scenarios become wrought with over performance and sensationalism that simply pad the encounters from any sense of earnestness, particularly when intended to be jarring and unsettling.  There are some rather serious considerations of racial identity that are swept under the table as passing jokes, ones that Zach seems considerably flippant towards, indeed, ignoring his own space of privilege, both as a white male, but also a person who has managed to make it big in the industry.  Sitting, almost as if his own personal panoptician, Zach is capable of judging those below him on a variety of issues, only feigning interest in their personal lives as it affords him personal advancement to his artistic vision.  He seems dismissive of othering, while also fascinated by the curiosity that comes with such identities, although in the end he seems quite content to fall back on his relationship with Cassie, her traditional beauty and normalcy becoming a thing of admiration, even affording her the ability to skip the more arduous elements of a tryout and eventually find her place within a chorus line.  The film wants to consider the ways in which intersections of identity play into the world of dance and theatre, but it also does not seem intent on being the least bit edgy in the process.

Key Scene:  Let Me Dance for You is good, but a bit too over the top at times.

A Chorus Line is a decent film, but, honestly, there are quite a few more musicals that are well worth your time.

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