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A Chorus Line




1985. Michael Douglas, Alyson Reed, Terrence Mann, Audrey Landers; dir. Richard Attenborough: 117m. (PC-13) Hi St D cc $79.95. LV $34.95. CED. Embassy. Image; excel. 

If A Chorus Line is a play about faith, the overpowering, almost mythical belief actors have in their profession, then A Chorus Line: The Movie is an appalling demonstration of a director's lack of faith in his material. Granted, the show's story and structure have defeated many in the 10 years it took the musical to reach the screen. It is an intensely theatrical experience, a show in which actors, alone on a bare stage, reveal their loves, fears, and dreams to the voice of a faceless, offstage (and to them, omnipotent) director. 

What's amazing is not the film's failure-artistic success would have been a surprise-but that it fails so miserably. Director Richard Attenborough evidently believed so little in the musical that he has junked its key elements. No longer a play about actors, it is now about two sophomoric lovers: the director, Zach (Michael Douglas), and chorus girl/dancer Cassie (Alyson Reed). The other actors' lives and monologues become fodder for the pair's fights and flashbacks. 

Never has a director worked so hard against his material. Dance numbers are effectively obliterated by closeups, reaction shots, and jumpcuts. Backstage scenes, extraneous exteriors, and silly flashbacks open up the intense, intimate audition situation. The movie's style is wildly inconsistent, starting off cinema verite and then jarringly turning to highly stylized songs. And those songs: badly overdubbed and accelerated to a disco beat, they parody the originals, which were gritty, amusing, and simple. "What I Did for Love" has been given to Cassie, changing it from a moving actor's hymn to a trite lover's lament. 

But that's par for the course in this predictable mishmash. It certainly says something that 10 years after seeing the play I can still remember moments and characters vividly. Ten minutes after this ended, all I could remember was how infuriatingly bad it was.