MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

Isadora: a saucy rebel who belongs to the '60s

ALAN EDMONDS April 1 1969
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

Isadora: a saucy rebel who belongs to the '60s

ALAN EDMONDS April 1 1969

MOVIES

Isadora: a saucy rebel who belongs to the '60s

YOUNG PEOPLE dedicated to the “doyour-own-thing” rhetoric may be forgiven for thinking they invented it: history lessons notwithstanding, every generation has a love affair with itself. But every once in a while we need, for humility’s sake, a gentle reminder that TV was not discovered by Marshall McLuhan in 1960, but was invented in the 1920s, or that the theory behind The Naked Ape began

with a chap called Darwin, long since dead.

Isadora is such a reminder.

It is a roadshow spectacular about the improbable woman called Isadora Duncan who became the cynosure of the civilized world around the turn of the century by publicly and merrily “doing her thing.” In this case it was prancing suggestively about the stage wearing a flimsy Grecian girdle, and/or prancing suggestively around the stage in a dance that was Great Art. The choice of definition depended on whether you were critic or fan.

She did all this in the cause of the pixilating yet absurd rhetoric that “Beauty is Truth, Truth is Beauty — Nothing Else Matters,” and to further the cause she had her children by different lovers on the grounds that marriage was archaic, if not actually decadent.

Isadora Duncan was a magnificent, mesmeric kook who flowered during the 20 or so years known as La Belle Epoque, which spanned the turn of the century. At no other time in history could she have survived and flourished — except for now, this very minute, in Yorkville or Berkeley, or with the Yippies or the faded remnants of the Flower People.

The “civilized world” Isadora decorated so conspicuously consisted of the new middle class produced by the industrial revolution and now grown secure enough to break ranks with Victorian conformity. It was the time of Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf and of J. P. Morgan and all those marvelous millionaire buccaneers who built medieval castles for their brides in West Wisconsin or somesuch.

Isadora Duncan, the Chicago girl eccentric who believed The Dance Is Life had charisma enough to be adored by a society that revered eccentricity for its own sake. Shades of Andy Warhol’s soup cans!

Today, the egalitarian consumer society is enjoying its own Belle Epoque: it is secure enough to permit nonconformity; to grudgingly grant the young the luxury of rebellion and freedom to “do their thing.” It was probably not chance that led a startling number of bell bottoms and beards to cough up three dollars a seat for the Canadian premiere of Isadora. You’d have thought it a Godard, or a Humphrey Bogart re-run.

Another singular thing: on the

grounds that Isadora is so dramatic, the theatre cancelled the usual roadshow intermission, an act of great courage considering the value of popcorn profits. Even so, two and a half hours of Vanessa Redgrave as Isadora

doesn’t seem overlong. She and a cast of relative unknowns (except for Jason Robards) and director Karel Reisz have produced a sumptuous epic without swamping people or story with the size of it all. Isadora is less likely than other current biographical movies {Star!, Funny Girl) to prompt an attack of what one theatre manager has called The Roadshow Wriggles if only because it has a piquant relevancy for today.

Another lesson?

In the 1920s, with La Belle Epoque ended, Isadora tried doing her thing in a comeback show. The children of her original fans booed. She even tried it bare-breasted. And they booed louder.

ALAN EDMONDS