Merce Cunningham wasn’t concerned with labels or conventions, the kind of guy who would shrug off not just claims that he was one of best choreographers of all time, but even the claims that he was a choreographer “I’m a dancer,” he’d tell people. The modern dance pioneer helped not only bring the art form to American eyes, but also managed to shape it in his own image. Over the course of a career that spanned seven decades, he crafted his own style, built a successful dance company, and worked with other artists from every corner of the creative world Brian Eno and Radiohead, Andy Warhol and Frank Stella, and those are just the biggest of big names. In short, he’s the perfect candidate for a deep dive documentary about both the personality and his process.
Alla Kovgan’s “Cunningham,” though appropriately stunning to the eyes and often in tune with Cunningham’s unique wavelength, is not that documentary. While Kovgan, a Russian filmmaker who has made her own contributions to the world of dance through film and performances, has a clear affection and respect for Cunningham, her solo feature debut is unable to do much more than hold him at arm’s length. Not that Kovgan is totally constrained by her own interest in Cunningham and his work — her treatment of Cunningham’s dances, brought to life in fresh performances, is a highlight of the film no matter your awareness-level of his work — but the overall truncated nature of “Cunningham” keeps it from being essential.
Perhaps that’s due to Kovgan’s desire to totally step away from documentary conventions in order to tell a story that is anything but conventional. “Cunningham” is divided between two distinct modes of storytelling: archival footage laying out Cunningham’s history and trajectory, spliced into revelatory segments that feature his dances in unexpected settings with new dancers. That divide sometimes works, as archival audio and footage of Cunningham and his closest collaborators is helpful in explaining his aesthetic and aims — not always a given in films like this — before turning to dance segments that bring it to vivid life. The film was first presented in 3D, and while the new 2D presentation loses a bit of its verve, Cunningham’s genius was so great that it still bursts through the screen.
It’s when Kovgan leans too hard on her archival reserves that “Cunningham” loses its tenuous footing. While Kogan has assembled a wealth of footage, it is often needlessly gussied up into the cinematic equivalent of a scrapbook, photos and film and drawings layered over shot after shot in an unsophisticated mishmash. It’s the kind of fussy thing that Cunningham himself would have balked at, a cheap way to interpret a life that never fit...
The stars of the romantic drama and producer Will Packer talked to The Hollywood Reporter about what it means that Universal released the film on the big screen.
In Universal's recently released The Photograph, stars Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield take on roles different from both their familiar TV characters in Insecure and Atlanta, respectively, and their past film characters.
Instead, as the romantic leads in the drama, Rae and Stanfield play a couple falling in love as Rae's Mae grieves the death of her mother, learning more about the woman she was and fearing that, like her mom, Mae won't be able to commit to people she cares about.
And as she moves forward with her film career — Rae also has The Lovebirds out in April — the Insecure star said she's looking for projects that take her out of her "comfort zone."
"Anything that feels new or fresh or feels like it will challenge me, that feels outside of my comfort zone and movies that I would want to see," Rae told The Hollywood Reporter at The Photograph's world premiere in New York earlier this month of what she's interested in making. "I don't want to do movies just to do it. I want to be a part of things that will either provoke conversation or that feel fresh and fun."
For Stanfield, it was the chance to "stretch" and "do something different than what I'm usually seen doing" that was part of what drew him to his role as Michael, a journalist who meets Mae as he works on a story about her mother.
And going forward, viewers should expect more roles that keep them on their toes, Stanfield told THR at the Photograph premiere.
"Everything you see me do is going to be different than the last thing," he said. "I'm interested in challenging myself and taking on different things. You'll never be able to catch me."
The film's cast also features Kelvin Harrison Jr., who — after breakout roles in Waves and Luce — also wants to "keep trying to tell stories that challenge me."
"I just want to keep working with people that intrigue me, I think that's the biggest thing. And when you're in a job like this, you give so much out all of the time that I think it's important to feed yourself again," he said. "I think when I'm surrounded by artists that inspire me, art that challenges me, art that makes me want to research and discover more of the people around me, that makes it worthwhile, so I'm just looking to extend this."
Writer-director Stella Meghie has said that the initial idea for The Photograph came about when her grandmother was about to meet a daughter that she hadn't seen in nearly 30 years.
"That was the impetus for the backstory, like what are the things you don't know about your mother, what are the things...