Shadow Dancing

Director: Lewis Furey           
Nadine Van der Velde, John Colicos, Christopher Plummer

Do it light,
Taking me through the night,
Shadow Dancing!

                                - Andy Gibb, Shadow Dancing

More like heavy-handed and taking a period of time that seems endless, Shadow Dancing isn't worth anyone's time. I'd rather sit through the latest performance of Andy Gibb. Yes, I know what happened to Andy Gibb; that's my feeble attempt at a joke. For those not amused, change the performer to any of the surviving Gibb brothers.

Oh yes, the movie: Shadow Dancing is a rare movie from Telefilm Canada, the government film agency that assists with funding just about every Canadian movie. Rare, in the meaning that the film in question was designed to be a movie that people would actually pay to see. The usual Telefilm thinking is that Popularity = Hollywood, and "high art" and "distinctly Canadian" means making movies about people having sex in car crashes, cutting off the genitalia of lovers, sex with corpses, lesbian angst, and other subjects that I seriously doubt the typical Canadian (or anyone else) can relate to! So it's surprising that Telefilm would actually fund this movie, especially since there are only two Canadian references in it - Toronto gets mentioned in passing, and we see a shot of the newspaper The Globe and Mail. (Telefilm is notorious for rejecting submitted films for being "not Canadian enough" - you have to wonder what criteria defines "Canadian Content".) But in the end, Shadow Dancing is so bad, that I doubt even patriotic Canadians would want to watch it. So I guess Telefilm somehow sensed this movie would fit in with the other movies they fund. Oh, Canada.

Jess (Van der Velde) and Paul are two poor but in love young adults living in Toronto. Jess is an aspiring dancer, auditioning for a small theatrical company. She looks a little too chunky to be a dancer, but what do I know. The theatrical company in question is staging a ballet centering around the legend of Medusa, in a theater recently reopened by an Edward Beaumont (Plummer) and his sister after many decades of being closed. The theater was closed after a horrible accidental death on-stage of the ballerina (performing in the same dance as in the present day) that Edward was in love with. And Edward, seeing Jess audition, is struck by how much Jess and his dead lover look so alike. Reopened spooky theater, the same dance, and a doppelganger....can you guess where this is heading, kiddies?

The auditions begin, which start the first of many and endless dance numbers. I estimate that at least 25% of this movie is footage of people dancing. What's even worse for the filmmakers is that these dance sequences are at times unintentionally funny in a great way (lots of pelvis thrusting.) Eventually, though, the hilarity fades and our eyes glaze over whenever there's a new dance number. At least, not at first; we see Jess try out, suck, and get kicked out. Only an accident involving another dancer reluctantly gets Jess hired out by the company, though as practice commences Jess continues to suck. Then one night when Jess is alone in theater, she discovers another dressing room. Strange music plays, ghost seem to appear....then it seems that the ghost of the dead ballerina has taken over Jess' body. It also seems that Jess will be heading to the same fate as the ballerina before her, and it seems that her death was not an accident, but murder.

I use the words "seem"  and "seems", because that's what the movie is - a big maybe. And that is because from about that point on, Shadow Dancing makes no sense. Secrets are revealed, characters do crazy things, past events are apparently repeating themselves, characters (eventually) start to catch on what is happening, but none of it makes any sense at all. One of the bigger problems is that Jess isn't really that different after she is possessed by the ghost. Because of that, we don't know if it's ever Jess or "Jess" onscreen. It doesn't help that she isn't likable in any form. Christopher Plummer is wasted in a role that mostly has him standing from afar and whisper concerns or incredulities. The most he gets to emoting is when he blurts, "My corn niblets are burning!" Plummer is a great supporter of Canadian cinema, which is why he may have agreed to this project. I have a message for him: You are not doing yourself or Canada any good when you star in Canadian movies like Crackerjack, Red Blooded American Girl, The Boy in Blue, or Shadow Dancing. What you do when you agree to these projects is embarrass yourself greatly, and by your signing up you are possibly getting these terrible movies green-lighted in the first place. Just choose the best project available, despite what country it may come from.

Direction is terrible. Furey at several key points has several characters talking at the same time (so we don't understand a thing being said), or cuts away from the talking characters to a far-away observer so that the important conversation then sounds faint. At least once he reuses the same shot, and gets more unintended laughs with attempts to be "arty" (slow-motion shots of a parrot flying, and a conference in a darkened room where the camera rapidly zooms into close-up of whoever is speaking at the present time.) I strongly suspect that Furey may have realized at some time how hopeless this movie was; this would explain the padding with the dance numbers, and trying to resolve the mystery with an awkward and contrived monologue at the end. He doesn't succeed. However, if he was attempting earlier to make the loudest and dumbest movie climax in cinematic history, I'd say he got near the mark.

Looking back at this movie, I'd have to agree with Telefilm that yes, this is a "distinctly Canadian" movie. It has the required shot of the big Sam The Record Man store that every Canadian movie shot in Toronto has to have. It's missing important transition scenes. It shows obvious signs of little money placed for script development. But most significantly, it's a movie where you can tell its nationality from the opening credits. Where else, but in Canada?

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See also: Heaven Before I Die, Carnival Of Blood, The Devil's Rain