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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

entry arrow12:36 PM | Remembering Emile Ardolino

There are great directors whose greatness is at once apparent, their extensive bodies of work ensuring distinct places in the canon of film. Think Scorsese, Welles, Kurosawa, Truffaut, Brocka, and their ilk. There are also directors whose greatness comes with time, when the succeeding generations have matured enough to be able to look back and see what was not immediately foreseeable. Douglas Sirk is a perfect example of this kind of director. Critically reviled as a ham director who made "women's films" in saccharine Technicolor during his Hollywood days, he has since been accepted as a director of the first rank, his films an ironic critique of 50's domesticism.

Id' like to think that the American filmmaker Emile Ardolino, who died in 1993, is a kind of Douglas Sirk. Nobody remembers him now, but every time I watch Chances Are (1989), I am reminded that this was one director to watch -- but he died too soon, and left behind a filmmography that is perhaps too short to merit significant critical attention. That he won an Oscar for his documentary He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' (1983) is not even remembered. His films, all of them mainstream hits, are also easily relegated by the critics to the wayside because of their commercial appeal. And yet those who remember Dirty Dancing (1987), Chances Are, Three Men and a Little Lady (1990), and Sister Act (1992) will also remember an intelligent gentility that threaded through them. They were puff pieces and were extremely popular and they made you feel good, but they also didn't leave you feeling stuffed, or worse, stupid. They were very good films, excellently made examples of their genres.

Here's a short profile of the director by Sandra Brennan from All Movie Guide:

[Ardolino] spent much of his distinguished career making television documentaries about classical dance and designing innovative multi-media presentations for theatrical productions, but he is still best known for his commercial feature film debut, the hit sleeper, Dirty Dancing. The New York born Ardolino, began his career as an actor in an off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks. He then joined the film industry as an editor, producer and director of industrial films, documentaries, and multi-media productions. Among the latter, his best-known productions are the Joffrey Ballet's rendition of "Astarte," Jesus Christ Superstar, and Oh! Calcutta! for which he won an Obie award. He then began directing and producing documentaries for public television. He worked for PBS from the '70s through the '80s and caught on film some of the finest work of the world's premiere dancers and choreographers in the Dance in America and Live from Lincoln Center series, for which he won a total of 17 Emmy Awards. In 1983 he won an Oscar for Best Documentary for He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin'. After Dirty Dancing, Ardolino continued to find mainstream commercial success; in 1992 he scored another hit with the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Sister Act (1992). His final features were the film adaptation of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker and the acclaimed TV movie Gypsy which was adapted from a famous Broadway musical. Ardolino died of AIDS in 1993.

Roger Ebert currently features his old, three-and-a-half-starred review of Chances Are in his website, as part of his Overlooked DVD of the Week Series. It's all because of Robert Downey Jr., I know, especially with his current star turn in the megahit Iron Man. But I'm just happy that an old film by Ardolino is being taken out to the critical spotlight once again.

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