They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Horace McCoy, James Poe, Robert E. Thompson, and Sydney Pollack, 1969
Before reality television, there were dance marathons. Initially a straightforward
matter of dance till you drop, by the 1930s these contests had added rest periods (in
the movie, ten minutes for every two hours) that allowed them to stretch on for weeks,
even months — over seven months, in one contest that netted the winners $2000,
split two ways, minus expenses. And like those who watch Survivor in order to
see yuppies experiencing genuine misery, Depression-era audiences watched these (often
scripted) marathons in order to gawk at cadavers shuffling around a dance floor and
feel that at least someone had it worse than they did.
I first saw this movie ten years ago, having gathered that it was part of the 1960s
film canon but knowing nothing about it other than its title. It made a pretty
strong impression on me, with its unusual concept (this being back in the days before
humiliating spectacles came to dominate prime time) and unremitting bleakness (the
ultimate message being that the gruesome dance marathon is a metaphor for life).
This time around I would still say it is pretty good. It is quite dated, with lead
performances by such 1980s icons as Molly Ringwald, Phil Hartman, and Kevin McHale—
...er, make that Jane Fonda, Gig Young, and some hippie. Whoops. Anyway, it still
feels dated, with its mannered 1960s acting:
Molly RiJane Fonda
received plaudits for her performance, but it's such a one-note affair that I have
to assume that the critics were surprised to see her play such a bitter character
in the wake of The BreakfBarbarella. I also didn't care
for the flash-forwards. But all in all I would recommend this movie, unless you
are still reeling from the untimely end of Barbaro in which case I can see how this
might be too soon.
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