It's hard to tell from Robert Altman's new film, "The Company," whether the director is doing a sendup of the ballet world or trying to give a fractured view of its reality. The company in "The Company" is part of the problem. The Joffrey Ballet was the dream of a genius, Robert Joffrey, who died before his time, leaving his troupe in the care of his companion, Gerald Arpino.
The real-life Arpino is a mediocre choreographer. Playing him in the film, Malcolm McDowell turns Arpino into a caricature, a flighty fellow given to tossing long scarves around his neck and addressing his dancers as "babies."
While "The Company" is less melodramatic than other behind-the-scenes ballet movies -- from "The Red Shoes" to "The Turning Point" -- it's relative restraint results in a drab story. It's not helped by Altman's choppy, collaged approach -- tightly cropped scenes of ballet stereotypes such as the career-threatening injury; the ballerina who can't accept that she's getting older; the temperamental choreographer who creates a goofy ballet with costumes that should do wonders for the value of stocks in the foam rubber industry.
Despite Altman's approach, designed to show real ballet life, his film doesn't capture that reality -- which is even less glamorous than what's shown.