I revisited The Turning Point a couple of days ago. It’s one of my favourite films and I have watched it goodness knows how many times. When I was a teenager, I recorded it when it was screened on Channel 5, Singaporean Broadcasting Corporation, and I watched that video tape so many times, over so many years, the picture got decidedly fuzzy in the end.
I got the DVD in the early 2000s, but have not watched it for years — the last time, I was probably in my late thirties.
I was ballet crazy in primary school and through my teens and early adulthood, so the gorgeous ballet sequences in The Turning Point were very special to me. Remember, this was before the days of YouTube and the Internet. I was living in a small town in Malaysia and had no access to any ballet performances of any kind. The rehearsal scenes in the film were also wonderful — they allowed me to be a part of a magical, mysterious world that I could otherwise only dream (and read) about.
Baryshnikov was the main reason I was first drawn to the film. I was crazy about him, although not as much as I was crazy about Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. However, after I watched The Turning Point for the first time, I was definitely more taken with Leslie Browne than I was with the Russian superstar.
Of course I took her character, Emilia’s side in the love affair portrayed in the film. And of course I swooned over the romance of an aspiring young dancer falling in love with the more experienced but also young, handsome star of the ballet company. Watching the film today, I found that I was amused by how predictable Emilia’s feeling are, and then annoyed at how predictable Yuri’s behaviour is. Otherwise, the relationship is not a terribly interesting feature of the film, but written to highlight deeper issues faced by Emilia’s mother Deedee (played by Shirley McClaine) and Emma (Anne Bancroft), the ageing ballerina and Deedee’s best friend.
It is so interesting to me that when I was a child (yes, my teen self seems like a child to me now), I was totally unmoved by the film’s most important relationship: the one between Deedee and Emma. When I re-watched The Turning Point in my teens, I may have fast forwarded through the scenes in which the two women interact. I know I definitely fast forwarded through that last climatic interaction at the ballet gala, in which things come to a head between the two friends.
But today … goodness! Nearly every scene featuring the two women made me tear up, and all of them hit a chord. Obviously, what Deedee and Emma faced, the problems they were struggling with meant nothing to me when I was young because, having not lived, I knew nothing, and was scornful and dismissive of everything that I had not experienced. Thwarted ambition and lost dreams, betrayal, regret, self-sabotage — what did I know of these things?
At the end of the film, Deedee says to Emma, of Emilia, ‘Oh, Emma, if only she knew everything we know’ and Emma replies, ‘It wouldn’t matter a damn.’
In life, experience is everything. Without it, there is only imagination and even that, in my opinion, relies on experience to function fully.
We can’t force what about a story resonates with us. We can’t imagine what will appeal and what not until it does or doesn’t. I love this film now as much as I did when I was sixteen, but for different reasons. I know exactly why I loved it in 1983, but I would never have guessed, then, how my life would shape the way I responded to the story on Saturday.