Monday, December 6, 2010

Harry Potter, the Deathly Hallows, and the Alamo Drafthouse

Who knows what Isadora Duncan would have thought of the whole Harry Potter phenomenon? Surely she would have appreciated JK Rowling’s rich mythological landscape and the neglected-orphan-turned-hero storyline that figures somewhat into her own personal narrative. Duncan would certainly have noted Rowling’s nods to Greek and Roman myths, including my favorite Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Remus Lupin, named as a gesture to the wolf-suckled twin brothers who founded Rome.

Tunics at Austin's Alamo
Given Duncan’s struggle with melancholy, she would also have appreciated the Dementors as invisible, but very real, sources of human depression, as well as their antidote—chocolate. She would have identified with Ron’s story, narrated in the latest film release, about a ball of light entering his chest, reminding him that his relationships are truly important and that his heart will guide him where he needs to be.  She likely would have resonated with Rowling’s mixture of pagan and Christian symbolism, as Duncan embraced both in her own art.

An avid reader and an admitted fan of both cheap fiction and dense philosophy, no doubt Duncan would have devoured the novels as soon as they were released, supporting a cultural phenomenon in which crowds horded bookstores, hungry to read the next installment of Harry’s story. Of course, given the success of the books, the film release was inevitable—or was it?

Duncan was living and working during the advent of the motion picture era, yet she famously refused to be filmed. She did not think that her dance art would translate to film, and given the limits of the technology at that time, she was largely right. Only one short film clip of Duncan dancing exists, and this was shot from behind a tree without her knowledge. From a historical distance, it is invaluable, but does the genius of Duncan’s dance art translate? Not fully.

So, what about the Harry Potter movies? Do they capture the aspect of the novels that sent a media-saturated, visual and sound-byte culture scampering to bookstores of all places? In my opinion, not really—at least, from my perspective, the first four films were overwrought caricatures and terribly disappointing.

But, these last few installments, and the yet-to-be-released Part II of the Deathly Hallows, directed by David Yates, come closer as successful film renderings of Rowling’s work. It makes me wonder what the film journey of Harry’s story would have been like if Yates had directed the whole sequence.

Harry Potter at South Austin
Alamo Drafthouse
Of course, pretty much any film is enjoyable at the Alamo Drafthouse, Austin’s local dinner-and-a-movie theatre. I can imagine Duncan would definitely have appreciated the opportunity to sip a glass of wine with a gourmet goat cheese salad or tasty artichoke pizza. And what is coming next to the Alamo? I’m looking forward to seeing Black Swan with Natalie Portman, the first film in a while that has piqued my curiosity with a bad review (listen here for NPR)! Watch out for possible thoughts on that film experience in the next few weeks.

Just a quick side note—as today happens to be my birthday! There is a fun tradition in Duncan dance culture of the Birthday Polka—click here for a free listen and improvise your own birthday dance.