Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Kitsch classics: The Turning Point, 1977

Two great actresses star as friends and rivals in THE TURNING POINT. Emma, portrayed by Anne Bancroft, is an ageing ballet star whose career has reached its peak. Deedee, played by Shirley McLaine, is her friend who abandoned a career many years ago for marriage and motherhood. The two are reunited after a number of years when Deedee's daughter shows real promise of becoming an outstanding ballerina. An explosion of new and old conflicts arise, each woman examining the choices they have made and how they can live with those. Superb dance sequences featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov add to a poignant emotional story.

Well, thats the dvd blurb. So its the Deedee and Emma show. THE TURNING POINT, like JULIA (reviewed recently here, see below) is one of those 1977 films we rushed to then, but have since almost disappeared and have become totally forgettable. Seeing them again now is practically like seeing them for the first time. Herbert Ross as director creates a ballet world here, his wife Nora Kaye was executive producer and they have filled their soap opera film with lots of ballet excerpts and of course catch Baryshnikov in his prime. It was though scripted by gay veteran Arthur Laurents (SUMMERTIME, THE WAY WE WERE, GYPSY etc) who died a year or two ago in his 90s, He did though leave a waspish memoir where he briefly discusses THE TURNING POINT.

Arthur says: "I wrote a gay subplot without commenting on it; I wanted to let the audience decide. I felt strongly that it was important .... and could not be removed without weakening the film. Herb Ross, the director and co-producer with me, told me not to worry, he'd handle the studio. When the gay elements began to be sanitized, I assumed it was the studio; when shooting got underway and I was on the set I saw it was Herbie. He was married to Nora who was no longer dancing and was more interested in houses and Beverly Hills status than in ballet and artists. ....
I detailed some of the emasculations in the screenplay, the ones I felt were truly important. Herb took a drag on the cigarette in his holder and held that hand out towards me, palm up, fingers curled. "Nobody in the ballet is gay anymore" he said.
Nora had begged me to write a picture about the ballet, THE TURNING POINT was that picture, I had written it to please her...."
Now they were turning it into a straight ballet film. 
Arthur might have had a look at OLD ACQUAINTANCE before starting his script.
What remains is an amusing high-class soap opera as we follow Deedee and her family living in Oklahoma, getting re-involved with the rarifield world of ballet. The only gay character we see is Michael, an old friend of Deedee, and that pushy new choreographer. Emma (Bancroft) realises she is too old to continue as a star as she is brutally told she can stage the next production of SWAN LAKE, while Deedee's resentments boil over. We wait for the big explostion between the two leads and it does not disappoint. McLaine is her usual self - while Bancroft is every inch the imposing, svelte, sleek diva - as compulsive as she was in films like THE PUMPKIN EATER. (Audrey Hepburn was offered this role but would not work for less than her standard fee - it would have been interesting to see her and McLaine teamed again after their THE CHILDREN'S HOUR in 1962). 

What puzzles is how Deedee's daughter Leslie Brown suddenly becomes the new ballet star so quickly, as she takes up with Baryshnikov, while Martha Scott is an imposing head of the ballet company.  Tom Skerritt is Deedee's  husband. Deedee has to realise she left the ballet for marriage and kids as she was not good enough, and wanted to prove that Tom was not gay by marrying her.

Herbert Ross had a good period when he was doing films like THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT and PLAY IT AGAIN SAM and back in sudser territory with STEEL MAGNOLIAS, and Streisand's numbers in FUNNY GIRL and FUNNY LADY, and CALIFORNIA SUITE (see 1970s label) but others of his were excruciating: I wouldn't want to see THE GOODBYE GIRL again, while NIJINSKY is a polarising work - review at 1980s label

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