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Billy Elliott (2000)
Inside every one of us is a special talent waiting to come out. The trick is finding it.
Filmmaker(s): Stephen Daldry

County Durham, England, 1984. The miners' strike has started and the police have started coming up from Bethnal Green, starting a class war with the lower classes suffering. Caught in the middle of the conflict is 11-year old Billy Elliot, who, after leaving his boxing club for the day, stumbles upon a ballet class and finds out that he's naturally talented. He practices with his teacher Mrs. Wilkinson for an upcoming audition in Newcastle-upon Tyne for the royal Ballet school in London.

Billy Elliott (2000)

Battle Dancer

This is a replacement comment.

Though the dance was passable here, the story is so vapid and unembellished, I sat there looking for another movie. And I found one, battling to get out. It was clever and true, overlooked because of the mediocrity placed in front of it. You can find the tragedy of an eleven year old girl in northern England. Her father was caught in an affair and also fired, so he sits around the house getting drunk. Meanwhile the topic of sex (urges, power and denial) pervades every moment of her home environment.

Debbie approaches menarche in this atmosphere which heightens her curiosity about sex. She is rejected by her sexually frustrated mother, so the attraction of sex combines with a need for companionship. Her mother starts a ballet class for Debbie and her little girl peers, in the hope that some of her lost accomplishment and youth will revive, if not in Debbie, perhaps one of her friends. Thus, Debbie is transformed into pupil from daughter. But neither Debbie nor any of the other girls shows any talent or focus.

So her mother seizes on a boy Debbie’s same age who wanders in. She takes advantage of his own lack of identity — exacerbated from the normal vortex of puberty by sexual confusion and the loss of his mother. Debbie’s mother gives this boy some focus and is able to charm him into the enterprise of dance.

The core of the film is Debbie’s attempts to come to terms with this usurper sibling, by similarly trying to charm him with anything at her disposal, including her childish sex. The battle between mother and daughter for Billy takes on the more abstract battle between the charms of sex and the drive for personal expression. Much of the real estate of the film is taken up in Billy’s reaction, including some dances which play out this battle.

There’s other guy stuff going on in the background as well, fights and strikes but they merely are there to provide a loud noise to illustrate the challenge of little-girlness. Ultimately, Debbie loses the battle because Billy is really gay (something the mother sees straightaway), and she is presumably doomed to a wasted life as non-entity in a dying coal town. (At the end, we see Billy’s lover, the grownup, more clearly gay childhood friend.)

Nicola Blackwell utterly steals this film as Debbie, shining completely through all the noise and motion that swirls around her. There is an unforgettable scene where after a pillow fight, with Billy on top of her, she strokes his cheek — one of the strongest images of the entire year. (The next time we see her, she plays Lolita, offering herself opencrotched and lollipop sucking. It is the last time we see her. Afterwards, her surrogate takes the place: the little blond girl who is consistently outside his back yard.)

That stroking scene establishes the emotional apogee. She also has the perigee (the comic center): when walking with Billy, she holds a stick against the wall, then walks by lined up cops, similarly holding the stick against their genitals protected by shields.

You might enjoy this — be transported into how a sexually frustrated little girl imagines the world — much more powerful than “Dancer in the Dark”.

Posted in 2010

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 4: Has some interesting elements.


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