> Volume 6 > Number 05


Robert Altman

Neve Campbell
Malcolm McDowell
James Franco
Barbara E. Robertson
William Dick
Susie Cusack

Release: 25 Dec. 03

The Company


The Company opens with an announcement to all those sitting in the theatre: please turn off your cell phones, please do not use flash photography. Although the latter has become common for anyone entering an all-media screening in midtown Manhattan where a guard will wand Leah Rozen to make sure sheís not packing a camcorder, its certainly not something that automatically comes to mind as part of the filmgoers etiquette.

The Company, though, isnít what a normal filmgoer would see, anyway. A film built around a collection of performances by the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, isnít quite as accessible as, say, Chicago or South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, but thatís not to say that the niche The Company exists in is negligible. On the contrary, itís so rare that a film of ballet comes out -- least of all one that is actually interesting -- that the simple existence of this film should be noted.

Surely, the fact that Robert Altman is the man behind this should come as no surprise. Having, at this point, seemingly filmed everything from country music concerts to British chamber drama, Altman is still proving that he can latch onto projects that most directors would fear, and does something with them that connects them to his history of character-driven films. Originally created as a vanity project for the Joffrey troupe produced by Neve Campbell (herself a former student at the National Ballet School of Canada), the final product screams Altman even if itís not necessarily up to par with much of his canonized output.

Even if its concluding scene takes place at a performance for children, The Company is an adult film. This isnít because it features sex, nudity, or violence -- actually, none of these are really on exhibit here -- but because it deals with everything with such a maturity that one must, as anyone sitting in an Altman film should, pay close attentions to minor details like facial expressions to truly understand the levels in which he and his characters inhabit. Iím continually drawn to Altman, even in his lesser films, because he has an innate talent to provoke depths within actors who previously played only in the shallow end. The list of actors who gave their finest performances in an Altman film -- from Julie Christie, Warren Beatty, Shelley Duvall, Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, and Elliot Gould in the 1970s to Vincent DíOnofrio, Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison, Greta Scacchi, Madeleine Stowe, and Peter Gallagher in the 1990s -- is commanding. Add to the list Neve Campbell and James Franco here.

And Altman, who deserves all the credit he gets for framing stories within his films, is a mature enough director to film something as seemingly stodgy as ballet with a style that makes it interesting. I cannot comment on whether this is a film that could convert people into patrons of the arts, but I will say that there are moments in Altmanís filmed ballet experience -- including a wonderful outdoors performance to ďMy Funny ValentineĒ joined by an incoming storm -- that eclipse the real wonders of being in a live audience. Even if this film is a actually still photographs being projected rapidly on a screen, the opening requests begin to take shape as Altman shows off his abilities in staging ballet for the screen. Without the opening, one might feel the urge to start taking pictures

©2004, David Perry,, 30 January 2004