Martha Graham: Dance on Film: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 5 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Martha Graham’s impact on the art of dance is undeniable, as a performer, choreographer, and teacher, she redefined dance and influenced dance across the world. In Martha Graham: Dance on Film, The Criterion Collection celebrates her incredible work with three programs produced for public television. A Dancer’s World is a look inside the world of dance, with narration from Graham herself. She walks the audience through different parts of the art of dance, complete with demonstrations. This is a nice piece with a very personal texture, a nice introduction to dance. Appalachian Spring and Night Journey are two complete ballets, showcasing Graham’s style and approach. The two ballets are quite different in tone, but each is well performed and tells a story, great examples of how good dance can be.

I am not even close to the target demographic on Martha Graham: Dance on Film, as I do not like ballet or dance as an artform in general. I could watch the girls at the local gentlemen’s club for hours, but when it comes to dance as a fine art, I am often bored to tears. I understand how people can enjoy it however, it takes immense skill and can be quite beautiful, its just not what I want to see for entertainment. In this three program collection, we’re introduced to Martha Graham and then watch two of her productions, so its a nice package deal. A Dancer’s World takes us inside the process and if you’re a fan of dance, is quite insightful. The two ballets shown are interesting, but again, more suited for someone who likes this type of performance. Both ballets run around half an hour, but a lot happens in that span, to be sure. I can appreciate the hard work and skill that it takes to dance, but I just couldn’t connect here, though dance fans will love this release.

Video: How does it look?

All three films are presented in full frame, as intended. These programs have been restored and it shows, all three look just superb. The prints show no signs of wear, free from grain and debris, so we have crisp, clear visuals. All three programs are in black & white, so contrast is important and it is well handled here. I found black levels to be consistent and accurate, while detail is high throughout. These look great and as usual, Criterion delivers.

Audio: How does it sound?

The mono soundtracks aren’t memorable, but they serve their purpose. The sole element in most cases is the music, so there isn’t much demand in terms of audio. The music sounds clear and that’s all we can ask, it accompanies the dance programs well and never seems out of order. In the instances where dialogue comes in, the vocals sound fine also. Not much else I can say, the limited audio found here is well presented.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The best of the extras is Martha Graham: A Dancer Revealed, an episode of American Masters that provides almost an hour of insight into the dance legend. The program provides a good deal of information and explores the impact Graham’s work has had, in ways I am sure not everyone is aware of. There is also a thirteen minute comparison between Graham’s version of Appalachian Spring and an archival performance, as well as a visual essay by Nathan Knoll, and interviews with Ron Simon from the Museum of Television and Radio and Eleanor Hamerow & Miriam Arsham, who edited the three films. This release also includes interviews with six of the dancers, footage from a European tour, and excerpts from a technique demonstration.

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