PINA: A Gorgeous Trailer Analyzed and Explained(?)

From the few glimpses of her work seen in Pedro Almodovar’s films and what I’ve read in newspapers and reviews, I’ve become a fan of the German avant-garde choreographer, Pina Bausch. I still haven’t seen the Oscar Nominated 3-D documentary by Wim Wenders, her longtime friend, who delayed making this movie until he had a technological means to do justice to her art, which regrettably occurred about the time that she died, in 2008. The trailer is captivating and in this post, I hope to do no more than describe how it is articulated and encourage you to see the film.

The official theatrical trailers is 1:31. There is no dialogue, although there are graphic cards which pose 12 questions, “is it DANCE/ is it THEATER/ or is it just…./LIFE/LOVE/FREEDOM/STRUGGLE/LONGING/JOY/DESPAIR/REUNION/ BEAUTY/ STRENGTH.” The words in capitals appear against shots of characteristically Bauschian choreography, and intimate that her work is all of the above.

Bausch, “a legendary dancer and choreographer [whose] creations transformed the language of dance and offer a visual experience like no other” (from the film’s website) does not appear in the trailer, which excerpts moments from her signature works. In the second scene or dance sequence, a veteran collaborator, who looks uncannily like the choreographer, appears eyes closed, at the center of a group of men in suits and ties who manipulate her limbs, cup her chin and tweak her nose. The question “is it THEATER” appears over this strange, compelling image and unsettling choreographic encounter.

As the blurb from the official website indicates and as everything I’ve ever seen or read about her work confirms, Bausch’s dance is startling, even for those used to the conventions of modern or contemporary dance. Her movement is as if drawn from life; her dancers are too: young and old, short and tall; thin and heavy-set.

As captioned by the various nouns: life, love, freedom, etc. etc.., we see movement and movers representing, at least abstractly and sometimes, iconically, those terms. Single centered performers, or pairs on either side center frame, typically coming together in a right to left (or left to right) trajectory. Taupe, black and grey provides the color palette of the dancer’s costumes, with an insistent and striking use of red—as dress material, lipstick, title card color—punctuating the images, all shot in the post-industrial German town of Wuppertal. Red is presumably Pina’s signature shade. (The title PINA is in large block, fire-engine red letters.)

After the last of the possible answers to the question of what “it is” are posed, a quote from Ms. Bausch, “dance, dance, otherwise we are lost” appears on screen, as a shirtless male dancer lifts and twirls his red-gowned partner in a circle away from the camera.

Next, a female dancer, center frame, dances on point amidst the hulking physical plant of a vast, industrial complex. A card appears on the left half of the screen: A FILM FOR PINA BAUSCH; then the idea is completed with a card appearing on the right side of the screen and the dancer: BY WIM WENDERS.

The motivation of the film and its directors’ credit (Wenders is a celebrated film artist) is followed by a clip of the same troupe of taupe-clad dancers from the opening shot, fronted by a woman holding out a red dress. As she meets a shirtless male dancer approaching from the right, he, suddenly and forcibly, pulls her and the fabric into him.

Cut to a male dancer, shirtless, dancing in a few inches of water, kicking sprays of water from lower left to upper right, where the red block letters PINA appear, spotlit in the shimmering droplets.

Over a shot of the hanging train (or Inter City Express) of Wuppertal, Germany, (the only one of its kind in the world, and incredibly dating to the late 19th century) a blurb from Wall Street Journal film critic, Joe Morganstern summarizes: “A haunting elegy for choreographer Pina Bausch, with a wondrously surreal evocation of her work. Takes unprecedented advantage of 3-D.” Here, in the words of the distinguished reviewer is a summary of what this film is, how it succeeds and why, technologically and artistically, it’s significant and worthy. If only every blurbmeister were as helpful to trailermakers.

As the camera pulls out along the track of the Hanging Train, (seen earlier in the background of a dance sequence staged on a grassy median of a city street), the credit block appear.

The music cue for the trailer is, I think, all of a piece, but consists of two parts: opening strings, brass and synthesized notes slowly descends the scale, imitating the sound of human voices sighing; then, as the card for “LIFE” (as in, “is it ….LIFE”) appears, a piano, bass and drum riff kicks in– driving home comparison of word, sound and image– as a shirt-and slacks appareled male dancer bursts over the lip of a vast quarry, dancing in the sand up top. The music bed is driving and rhythmically regular, and the dance movement as well as the presentation of graphic copy is cut to the beat.

The edits are simple and direct: no fades, dissolves or cuts to black; just cutting from scene to scene, each narrative or kinetic unit complete, albeit linked across the edits by rhythmic and graphic relationships. (Centered action; lateral movements; a muted color palette with eruptions of red.)

Editing is often conceived as a type of visual choreography, and here, that figure of speech or metaphor is made literal. It’s a gorgeous trailer. Go see the movie. I’m buying my ticket now.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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