"It has always amazed me how little attention Merce Cunningham receives in film and home media - this and a couple of VHS tapes is all we have - a crime in my view. All right - if you're expecting Swan Lake or Coppelia, or balk at 'tunes' you can't whistle, then Merce Cunningham may take some work. But no amount of avant garde can disguise the sheer beauty of his choreography - in fact, beauty is a poor attempt to describe something for which there are no words. It has a sensuality and immediacy missing from classical ballet while being every bit as graceful; and possibly more demanding in that a degree of improvisation is often required of the dancers. Desperately trying to avoid clichés, if ever anyone has realised the human form and movement as art, here he is. This biopic is laden with excerpts from the past fifty years (including the famous one based on a jumper with 5 sleeves and no neck opening!) and it is a fabulous introduction to this intriguing and warm-hearted character and those around him. All in all a gorgeous disc. Is there a downside? Yes - it lasts only 90 minutes and I could happily watch excerpts twice the length. And may I add a plea to the producers - to make more of Merce Cunningham's work available on DVD. It is a vital part of American, perhaps WESTERN culture - and thoroughly enjoyable."
American Masters Presents Merce Cunningham
Nicholas Croft | New York | 05/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 90-minute film by Charles Atlas[ who also directed "Hail the New Puritan" (1986), "Put Blood in the Music" (1989) and "Son of Sam and Delilah" (1991) ] was created as a co-production of seventeen international television stations. It was conceived for the 16:9 aspect ratio format, but will appear in 'letterbox' on a standard 4:3 ratio television screen.
"Merce Cunningham - A Lifetime of Dance" functions as an artistic biography of this now legendary choreographer. The first fifty minutes of the film detail Mr. Cunningham's life from his birth in Centralia, Washington in 1919 to the early 1950's and the founding of the Cunningham Dance Company, after a summer of experimentation at Black Mountain College.
Archival film and video footage provides documentation of approximately forty-five different dance works. The footage is shown in edit lengths of between 5 and 20 seconds duration. These excerpts are then intercut with the comments of friends, family members, dancers, composers, art critics and also of Merce himself, who provides anecdotes at each stage within the chronology of the biography.
The audio that accompanies these dance works, as an atmosphere or perhaps as a weather event enveloping the performances, was created by at least seventeen different avant-garde composers. These include founding Cunningham Dance Company member and musician John Cage, electronics guru David Tudor, the minimalist LaMonte Young and downtown NYC performance artist Meredith Monk.
In the film, we find that Mr. Cunningham draws his inspiration from movements of any kind, including those of animals, birds and the ordinary movements of people involved in a range of typical activities. He feels that dancers live not just to do these movements, but to 'exist' in performance and to come to realize their own unique identity through the act of dance.
The film closes with an extended discussion of the work "Biped"(1999), which describes the incorporation of three dimensional computer graphics into the context of a live electronic music and dance event.
"Merce Cunningham - A Lifetime of Dance" will serve well as a wonderful media resource for fans of contemporary art."
Dance teachers need this!
Jack Kirven | Charlotte, NC | 03/27/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"i am a dance teacher who works with students at many different levels, and this video can be helpful for all sorts of classes... this is a great historical resource, and it does a good job of sampling cunningham's work. it also explains his significance to dance history and development. be warned that there is more talk and commentary than performance, so if you want choreography you may be disappointed. i recommend this dvd to dancers, dance teachers, dance historians, dance critics (who often know very little about the work upon which they are thrusting their commentary), and anyone else interested in modern dance history, collaborative processes, and avant garde music."
M. Gotsis | Los Angeles, CA | 04/22/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After having seen points in space a few months ago I was absolutely itching to find more on Cunningham. The DVD is quite wonderful with enough excerpts from many of Merce's dances. It it nicely edited and makes sense time-wise. There is adequate time with collaborators, friends, dancers and Merce himself. For the lovers of the avant-garde and for lovers of dance this is truly one DVD to own and watch over and over again. It flows beautifully. I wish that there was a section where one could watch full segments for various pieces even if I had to pay more money for the DVD."
Excellent Overall Review of Cunningham's Life and Work
M. Gotsis | 07/03/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"An Excellent resource for the dance teacher at any level. Of specific importance is old film and video footage translated to the DVD medium. Very Broad overview of his work and company-an excellent starting place to present his work and contributions to the field of dance and collaborative arts."