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Tony Palmer's Film About Margot Fonteyn
Tony Palmer's Film About Margot Fonteyn
Actors: Frederick Ashton, Robert Helpmann, Lynn Seymour, Rudolf Nureyev, Roland Petit
Director: Tony Palmer
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
NR     2006     2hr 43min

Margot Fonteyn was the greatest dancer England has ever produced. In her life she transcended the world of dance and became a tabloid darling second to none, a true celebrity. And when, already in her forties, Fonteyn team...  more »

     
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Movie Details

Actors: Frederick Ashton, Robert Helpmann, Lynn Seymour, Rudolf Nureyev, Roland Petit
Director: Tony Palmer
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Dance, Educational, Documentary
Studio: Kultur Video
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 06/27/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 2hr 43min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 4
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Thorough, insightful documentary about the great ballerina
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 06/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Last year, Meredith Daneman published an exhaustive biography of Margot Fonteyn. Around the same time, Tony Palmer made a rather long documentary about the great ballerina. The two projects are nice compliments for each other. Palmer's film often vitalizes the stories from the Daneman biography.

Despite being Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Royal Ballet, and the most famous ballerina of her generation, Margot Fonteyn's life was not a bouquet of roses. At a young age, she fell in love with the alcoholic composer/conductor Constant Lambert, who stood her up at their courthouse wedding. Margot was so heartbroken she ripped out all the pages of the books Lambert had given her. Fonteyn then married the Panamanian "ambassador," Tito Arias, who was a chronic philanderer and freeloader. Just as she was set to divorce him, he was shot, leaving him a quadrapalegic for the rest of his life. Still he was faithless and kept a mistress, who poisoned herself the day he died. Tito's son (Margot's stepson) was even more of a freeloader than his father. Tito's medical bills were enormous; she danced in excruciating pain to support him, and lived in a ramshackle farm without electricity when she retired. She had no pension, practically no salary, and when she dying of cancer her partner Rudolf Nureyev had to pay the bills. The Royal Ballet organized a "gala" event for her near the end of her life which embarrassed her more than anything else. She died penniless, and was buried in a pauper's grave.

Tony Palmer's documentary starts out somewhat melodramatically, but settles into a generally tasteful, sympathetic look at Fonteyn. She was not without flaws -- she was politically naive, giggling at the thought of Tito being a "revolutionary" in Panama. Her dominance at the Royal Ballet was so complete that many dancers felt jealous or slighted. Yet nearly everyone who is interviewed in the film seems to have loved and admired this delicate-looking yet incredibly strong woman, even her dancing "rivals." Among the people interviewed: Rudolf Nureyev, Frederick Ashton, Keith Money (who produced the film), Ninette di Valois, Beryl Grey, Moira Shearer, Antoinette Sibley, Lynn Seymour, Tito Arias' children, Fonteyn's assistant Colette Clark, Fonteyn;s sister-in-law Phoebe Fonteyn, Robert Gottlieb, who editted Fonteyn's autobiographies.

Many of the stories don't mesh -- Fonteyn's stepchildren describe a loving marriage, when everyone else around her talks about Tito's faithlessness. There is the controversy about the Romeo and Juliet premiere, which was intended for Lynn Seymour, but given of course to Fonteyn and Nureyev. Seymour still seems bitter, but Money insists that Fonteyn sincerely did not wish to dance in the premiere, and was only strong-armed into it, and had nothing but respect for Seymour. Not all the stories agree, but everyone has something interesting to say. Keith Money tells some surprising stories -- one is that Fonteyn often saw a group of stoned teenagers hanging outside her house, and she'd run inside and make them meals, to fulfill their munchies. Fonteyn's self-deprecating sense of humor is revealed when she recalls eating lunch with Nureyev one day, and being accosted by a Russian fan, who gushed and gushed at Nureyev before turning to Fonteyn. "Who's she? Your mother?" And of course there are hints of how brutally demanding ballet is: near the end of her career, Fonteyn needed large injections of painkillers into her arthritic foot to get through a performance.

Along with the interviews are some truly incredible dancing clips. Some of the clips have been commercially released, but many have not -- Fonteyn dancing the Nutcracker pas de deux, a 1937 film of Fonteyn dancing Giselle (when she was just 18!). Rehearsal footage (including one where Ashton attempts to show Fonteyn how to arabesque, with Nureyev giggling in the background). Home videos of Fonteyn sunbathing, or her curtain calls. Incredibly beautiful photos.

Some people will not like this documentary. While not sensationalistic, it does delve into some very personal matters (Fonteyn's two abortions and miscarriage, her getting arrested for gun-running, her rather wacky political ambitions). The only area where I thought the documentary actually dipped into tastelessness was when Roland Petit swaggeringly recalls their torrid fling. Personally, I always like to know the person behind the persona. This documentary humanized Fonteyn -- she was not simply Giselle and Odette. She was PBA, but never requested special treatment. She also lived through hardship and heartbreak. The Daneman biography is predictably more thorough, but the Palmer documentary, with its wonderful mix of footage, interviews, and photos, sort of reminds me of the axiom, "A picture is worth 1,000 words." To use one example, one reads about the 30 curtain calls during the first performance of Giselle with Fonteyn and Nureyev. It's another thing entirely to see their Giselle pas de deux -- breathtakingly beautiful and tender.
Highly recommended for fans of this amazing dancer, and amazing woman."
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.
J. M WILINSKY | teaneck, NJ United States | 07/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In the late 1980's, a previous dvd emerged entitled "Margot Fonteyn" by Patricia Foy, which pretty much followed the content of Fonteyn's autobiography(I'm lucky enough to have an autographed copy!). In that earlier dvd, which is in large part narrated by Fonteyn, herself, we get a fairly pleasant and exciting picture of Fonteyn's life up to her retirement. This new dvd by Tony Palmer goes further and covers her entire life--and death. Here, we get details and speculations by her family, friends and fellow artists(in other words, insiders) of aspects of her life that we would never have guessed, such as a love affair between her and Nureyev resulting in a pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. We get a look at her good times, but also her bad times--a very bittersweet view with emphasis on the bitter. Some of the material presented is from the older dvd: about a fifth, but the rest is new and very interesting. This is a rather sad picture. We even get to see Clive Barnes, the dance critic, cry when he considers how much she is missed(how often do we get to see a critic cry?!)! We are left to wonder how much of her misfortune was due to circumstance and how much was her own choice. For example, one point mentioned in her book, which is not covered in either dvd is the fact that she had a British suitor that had much in common with her and would discuss classical music, poetry and dance with her, and was interested in providing her with a "conventional" life, but she was just mad about her Panamanian suitor with his "dark eyes", as she put it. Which one of us can claim to be an expert on matters of the heart? It is suggested here that she really wasn't madly in love with Dr. Arias, but Fonteyn claimed she was, and it is hard to look at the things she did for him and think it could have been done out of anything else but great love. In addition to many interviews, there are also many clips of her rehearsals and performances, some not seen on dvd before; one of my favorites of these is Fonteyn all by herself in a dance classroom practicing her adagio technique. (Incidentally, I have taken ballet class with dancers who knew her and had taken class with her and they have told me that what they found remarkable about her in class, was that she was very little concerned about going to any extreme, such as how high to lift her leg, but instead concentrated on perfection of placement and technique with great calmness.) This is an excellent addition to the history of this wonderful and beloved ballerina and highly recommended."
Deeply troubling but worthwhile documentary
Emily | Boulder, CO | 11/17/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is an excellent film for balletomanes, Fonteyn fans and those seeking insight into Fonteyn's particular style of dancing. However, it might be too "candid" for diehard fans or just sensitive souls who love ballet documentary. After repeated viewings of Tony Palmer's film, I was compelled to delve further into the life of Margot Fonteyn: this is perhaps the best compliment one can give a documentary. As other reviewers have noted, it is best viewed or understood after reading Meredith Daneman's biography "Margot Fonteyn: A Life" which provides a better chronology of Fonteyn's life. My complaint about the film is the confusing chronology, occasionally jarring editing and use of music, and the lack of dates and Fonteyn's partners' names on the ballet footage. For example, one might believe that Fonteyn's husband Tito Arias was shot before the advent of Rudolf Nureyev into Fonteyn's professional and personal life. I also think that certain speculation about Fonteyn's offstage relationship with Nureyev might have been cut since one supposition about Fonteyn's fertility grossly interrupts an otherwise fascinating discussion about the "lost generation" of Royal Ballet dancers who were pushed back a generation due to the popularity of the unique and exciting Fonteyn-Nureyev partnership. Tony Palmer is able to pull evocative and moving interviews from a variety of Fonteyn's friends, family members, and colleagues. Footage of deceased colleagues and acquaintances are culled from footage of standard documentary fare about Margot Fonteyn. The footage of Fonteyn dancing dates from the 1930s to the 1980s and it is outstanding although I could have lived with fewer clips of "The Rose Adagio" from "The Sleeping Beauty." There are beautiful clips of Fonteyn in "Les Sylphides" and "Giselle," and there is a curiously lovely black-and-white clip of a youthful Fonteyn in The Nutcracker pas de deux with heartbreaking commentary by good friend and assistant Keith Money who is probably the most articulate interviewee in this documentary. After all the candor, footage and interviews one still asks the question: "Who was Margot Fonteyn?" - especially as it relates to her involvement with Panamanian politics, gunrunning, and her marriage to Tito Arias. Palmer does interview Fonteyn's Panamanian relatives and close friends but it is one of those questions (Did she really love the womanizing, spendthrift Tito?) that leads to the larger questions and statements that Palmer's film discusses: was Fonteyn a clinically, self-deluded people pleaser with terrible taste in men and people in general? And why, or why, with all the controlling people in her life: her mother, Ninette de Valois, Frederick Ashton, et al. didn't SOMEBODY set up a pension fund for Fonteyn?! Perhaps it is best to concentrate on and remember Fonteyn's dancing and meditate on the beautiful, haunting candids of her in this documentary, for that was Margot Fonteyn as she wanted to be remembered."
MARGOT F. DE ARIAS....Panamenian at heart...
L. Arias | 12/18/2006
(1 out of 5 stars)

"I haven't seen the movie yet and i don't think i ever will.... but i have to say something about this, she was NEVER BETRAYED by her family in Panama, it was her other family who took advantage of her name and her fame to the point that one of her family members changed his last name to Fonteyn because of the fame this last name had....I am one of the family member in Panama and the only thing I have to say about this is that she was here because she wanted to, because she love this country, love my uncle and loved her famlily here, we made her feel at home and loved, that's why she wanted to spent her last days here and asked to be burried where the ones she called her family are now....there is so much you guys don't know and never will....for example, her wishes over her material belongings were not respected by the "others" they took everything and instead of doing what she asked for, they auctioned everything because they wanted MONEY....people should get the information from both sides, not just one....i can't believe people can take the life of someone so important in the world and so loved and do whatever they want with it, for money....she deserves respect, not a bunch of lies and worse of all put down a family name that she adopted as her own because she wanted to and because she felt it was hers...and that she was so proud to write down next to Fonteyn....stop doing this to her please, she is not here to defend herself....look for the truth...."