First Run Features // 2006 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 22nd, 2009
Two Undeniable Talents. One Amazing Documentary.
Some people are truly born ahead of their time. For them, life offers two distinct paths: relative obscurity or (in the most rare of instances) universal artistic recognition. The former are frequently plagued by the possibility of never, ever being acknowledged. The latter are like superheroes, seemingly incapable of failure even in the face of critical and commercial condemnation. Pristine examples of success unstuck within an era are dancers Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder. She was New Orleans born but Los Angeles raised. He came from colonial Trinidad, where his brother was also a renowned entertainer. They met, as most artists of color did back then, along the slightly more open avenues of New York's Great White Way. Their courtship was brief, their marriage unexpected. While she was as closely connected to Alvin Ailey as anyone associated with the choreographer and activist, it was Carmen's union with Geoffrey that would solidify her stature. And for the larger than life artist? He finally found a muse who could truly and fully inspire.
As part of the excellent documentary Carmen and Geoffrey, directors Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob illustrate how important this partnership has been for the two influential icons. Sure, there is some sugar coating, including a cursory glance at the racism of the era that should have been explored more fully. But from the stock footage we see of both performers at work, as well as the explanations provided by family and friends, one thing is crystal clear -- nothing, not even ethnic heritage and the hatred associated with it (especially in America) was ever going to stop this couple. And once you witness them in action, their inherent greatness clears away any concerns. As stated before, de Lavallade and Holder are individuals born outside the usual temporal constraints. They seemingly succeed at everything they do, from bringing modern dance to the masses to creating one of Broadway's seminal shows. From his fascinating and moving paintings to her meticulous attention to movement and form, it's clear that fate would be the only thing to undermine these two certified savants.
Oddly enough, the other shoe never drops. While that might be part of the tribute-like tone of the film, one gets the distinct impression that de Lavallade and Holder have enjoyed the dictionary definition of a charmed life. Certainly they've seen their fair share of heartache (Ailey's untimely death still marks them both) and no one is questioning the complications that exist once the spotlight was removed from their efforts. But even in the face of a quasi-flop (the Kismet revamp Timbuktu!) or age limitations, these two always see the sunny side. There is no such thing as failure, only circumstances which allow for growth and personal reflection. Besides, if one particular pathway proves complicated, the pair simply pursues another of their many passions. One of the weird things about Carmen and Geoffrey is the cultural hallmarks left off of the duo's video resume. He is never mentioned as a seminal Bond villain (in Live and Let Die) or a 7-Up pitchman (the "uncola nut"), nor is her time at the Met or as a legitimate stage actress ever pointed out.
Naturally, in a life overview filled with accomplishments, something is certain to be left out. But de Lavallade and Holder are so amazing, so poised and proper in a world which often sees the talented and the famous falter while under the scrutiny of the public, that we can't imagine that this is all there is to their story. It's almost a fairytale in its tenets, a romance so fully realized and a career path so creatively full that one infers scandal where none obviously appears. With both still going strong, Atkinson and Doob clearly get the last laugh. They found to people bonded by their passion and their profession -- and both have only grown stronger over the years. Carmen and Geoffrey is a wonderful film as well as a fascinating celebration of two indelible individuals.
As DVDs go, First Run Features offers little that is new or novel within the format. The 1.33:1 full screen image is color, clear, and crisp. Even with the various stock footage sources -- video, old kinescope, film clips, and newly acquired Q&As -- the picture looks presentable. The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix is also acceptable, providing easy access to the conversations and voice over narration. As far as special features go, there are text based biographies and a collection of trailers. That's it. While it would have been nice to discover how Atkinson and Doob came upon this project, the film itself is value enough.
There is nothing more electrifying than watching two incredible artists achieving the highest position of their chosen profession. Carmen and Geoffrey gives us illustrations of this over and over again. It's a fabulous testament to two very talented and unusual individuals.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated