Ahq Michigan Daily.
Wednesday, January27, 1982
off 'Whose Life'
Johanna Breyer and Ron Thiele lead 'Scheherazade'
during the Qakland Ballet Company's Monday night per-
Classic restaged by
the, Oakland Ballet
By James Clinton
A CAR SLAMS into a truck in the
opening moments of Whose Life I
It Anyway? Through intense surgical
procedure, around the clock care, and
daily dialysis, eccentric sculpter Ken
Harrison miraculously survives-from
the neck up. The rest of the film con-
sists of his fight to be taken off life
saving devices and die a natural death.
Unarguably, the subject matter is
dour. The medical and legislative com-
plexity of thee issues seem more
suited to a "60 Minutes" segment than a
film. The denoument is predictable,
pragmatic, and depressing. It
seemingly invites a viewer's mood to
swing from aversion to boredom. The
project appears doomed from the
beginning by its claustrophobic
limitations and distasteful interior.
Well, imponderable as it seems, a very
intelligent treatment is the result and
Whose Life emerges as one of the most
unlikely of recent successes.
There are several reasons why the
film works so well and they are all
named Richard Dreyfuss. This is an ac-
tor who remains an enigma. When he is
bad, (or out of control) he hams up the
intellectually neurotic, incessantly
mannered characters he plays, to the
point of parody. When he is "on",
though, the insight and overall design
he brings to a role are quite
remarkable. Such is the case here.
While Ken Harrison has, certain
similarities with the composite
Dreyfuss characters of the past
(notably verbalralacrity, perseverance
and a sardonic wit), in many ways this
role is a daring departure. Dreyfuss is
nothing if- not a visceral, intensely
idiosyncratic actor. Usually his roles
are characterized by a metabolic inten-
sity that shifts from hyper to manically
animated. He relies on a repertoire of
nervous ticks, scratches and ever,
present hand gesticulations that are
compatible with his whiny aural
delivery. The thought of a Dreyfuss
performance bereft of physical shifts
and linear movement is highly im
In this film the physical proximity of
the role exists in the few inches between
the mouth and the eyes. In an enor-
mously complex and challenging role
he realizes his character so admirably
that one can't help but he impressed.
His facial expressions are so mutable
that not only . is the transference of
emotion evident, but it's as though a
visualization of the thinking process en-
folds before our eyes. He uses his voice
more effectively than he has in the
past; the intonations signal a change
from acceptance to rage and back
again. The overall effectis of a man
who must emote everything with his
face, a face that vivdly fortells his for-
tune in fate.
Unfortunately, Dreyfuss' brilliance is
offset by a sluggish troupe of suppor-
ting players from the autonomous John
Cassevetes (who's certainly capable of
more than this unilateral caricature of
the chief doctor), to the badly mis-
cast Christine , Tahti, as the
sympathetic physician. In
fact, other than Thomas Carter, who
spices up the atmosphere as the
energetic, rasta/orderly, the cast is so
in contrast with Dreyfuss that it's as
though they're working with a different
To a degree, Badham compensates
for this by a deliberate focus on
Dreyfuss, who, for all his physical
limitations, is never dull. The pacing of
this film (as it was in Badham's Satur-
day Night Fever) is particularly good;
an appearance of oyerall movement
neatly disguises the basic immobility of
By adapting Brian Clark's original
play in quite a literal fashion,,a level of
dialogue usually associated with good
theatre emerges. This considerably
enlivens the central activity, while
enriching the dimensions of both the
story and the protagonist. Also, in the
portrayal and summation of the legal
and medical complexities, there isn't
the tendency toward editorialization
the matter might've dictated.
To be sure, there are surface flaws,
such as a schmaltzy soundtrack and
camera work that borders on banality
by repeatedly focusing on the weather.
One presumes Badham does this to
broaden the atmospheric latitude from
the inherent constriction of the hospital
room locale, where most of the very
sequentially ordered film occurs.
These and other little things are
negligible complaints. If Badham's
imagistic aptitude is somewhat
sophomoric, his overall design is
fashioned around a storytelling, in-
tegrity that, in this particular case,
translate an intrinsically legislative
issue into the broader and infinitely
more personal realm of human ex-
perience. This is a surprising success.
5:30 00 17:.
PICTURES RELEASE 93
By Ellen Rieser'
M~fONDAY EVENING'S "Diaghilev
' Tribute" at Power Center by the
Oakland Ballet Company was an
eyeopener in many respects. Not
only was it an adventurous program
consisting of four works associated with
thie famous director of Les Ballets
Russes, the performance was a solidly
professional one by a leading-but in-
ffequently' seen-West Coat ballet
Diaghilev's ballets are notoriously dif-.
ficult to mount properly. If not done
with sensitivity to the strong design and
mime elenrents, the ballets can look
denatured or overly static. However,
the Oakland Ballet Company has been
unusually fortunate to have actually
worked under the guidance of Leonide
1(assine, a principal dancer and
choreographer with Diaghilevs Les
1allets Russes;. the company has also
worked with Nicholas .Beriosoff,
assistant to another great Ballet Russe
choreographer, Michel Fokine. Thus,
the versions of the Diaghilev ballets
that the Oakland Ballet Company dan-
ces have been passed down from the
originals with a minimum of distortion.
The prograz i opened with
Sdaeherazade, choreography by Michel
Fokine, set to the Rimsky-Korsakov
gore. Scheherazade was a strong
production all around. The set and the
opening .scrim were wonderfully
exotic; the costmes, based on the
classic designs by Leon Bakst, were
gaudy with reds, greens, blues, and
oranges; the gems on the costumes glit-
tered and chinked in the dim light.
The ballet is based upon the famous
first tale of 1001 Nights. It is the story of
an orgy in the Shah's harem and the
horrific aftermath off the Shah's
discovery of his wives' unfaithfulness.
Emphasizing the Arabian setting, the
choreography features deep back bends
by the women,fluid arm movements
postures presented in freize-like.
profile, and the absence of pointe work.
Johanna Breyer's performance as
Zoebide, the Shah's favorite wife,
showcased the extreme suppleness of
her arms. Zoebide's lover, the Golden
Slave, was capably. danced by Ron
Thiele who whirled and leapt with
After what seemed to 'be an un-
necessarily long intermission, the
Oakland Ballet Company performed
excerpts from La Boutique Fan-
tasque, choreographer by Leonide
Massine, music by Rossim-Respighi.
The ballet, which concerns the antics
and fortunes of enchanted dolls in a toy
shop, is a delightful collection of little
bonbons of music and characterization.
As the ballet is infrequently performed,
Monday's performance, albeit of excer-
pts, was an unusual treat. However, the
ballet itself is so short that one would
have wished that the company had gone
ahead and performed the Whole. This
also' would have been fairer to the
original. By showing only the variations
featuring the enchanted dolls,
Massine's important contrasts of
humans and dolls, human reality and
See RUSSIAN, Page 7
N ews Staff
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