Robert Altman has an over 30 year reputation of making films that weave together many characters and stories so that by the end of his films, the audience has felt that it has entered into a particular world and got to know it very well, the environment, the situations, the crises. With that in mind, one can say that The Company is 'pure Altman.
Popular star Neve Campbell trained as a ballet dance and took the outline of a ballet company story to producers who asked Barbara Turner (Georgia Pollack) to collaborate and write a screenplay. Eventually Altman was intrigued - about the unfamiliar world of a ballet ensemble and its behind the scenes story and of how to put performance on screen using high digital photography. The Company is the result. It was made with the collaboration of the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet Company of Chicago, with the dancers, choreographers and the collaboration of co-founder in 1956, Gerald Arpino (on whom the character of the director in the film is based). Malcolm McDowell snarls and 'baby's' everyone as the director.
Altman takes us into this world. We participate in training and rehearsal. We watch performances. We are taken into manager's offices and listen in to discussions, disputes, emotional tantrums, dictatorial and non-consulting decisions. We listen to the dancers speak, comment on their lives. We see the conditions in which some of them have to live (on a not so top salary).
The Joffrey does classical ballet but is interested in contemporary work and innovation. Neve Campbell herself dances a modern pas-de-deux, there are some glimpses of classical but the finale is a highly colourful, flamboyant take on Eastern religion and customs, The Blue Snake.
Even if ballet or contemporary dance are not your art forms, this is an interesting tour of the world of a dance company.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the world association for Catholic communications and an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.