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Cinemalphabet: W is for White Nights (1985)

December 23, 2010


    Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Jerzy Skolimowski, Helen Mirren, Geraldine Page, Isabella Rossellini, John Glover


    Taylor Hackford


  • Tay Tay and Dame Helen met and fell in love during the filming of the movie. Hackford is one of my director heroes and Tay Tay is just my silly affection name for him. I get really excited when I have excuses to talk about him for reasons other than he’s married to Mirren.
  • Lionel Richie’s song “Say You Say Me” won the best Original song at the Oscars. Phil Collins duet “Separate Lives” was also nominated in the same category.
  • White Nights is available for instant streaming on Netflix.

  • Many of the elements of Baryshnikov’s character modeled his own experiences
  • The White Nights describes the weirdness that happens during weeks near the Summer Solstice where there is very little darkness. There’s a more technical definition and you’re free to consult Professor Google.

Released twenty-five years ago, White Nights is the kind of film that sounds really hokey on paper – two dancers (one black, one white) battle the forces of intrigue and the dancefloor in 80s USSR – but in reality is quite a stunning piece of cinema. The performances, particularly Misha1 and Gregory are stunning, even if the rest of the film has become somewhat dated and a bit corny. Baryshnikov’s acting is something he is often not praised for, but seriously, this man is a fine actor. Misha appeared as Carrie Bradshaw’s “Russian” in the last half of SATC’s season six and was brilliant, charming – the perfect foil for Big. Despite the problematic way they chose to show the character the door I really enjoyed his tenure on the show tremendously. In addition, the chemistry between Misha and Gregory is just lovely. I wish there were more actors like the late, irreplaceable Gregory Hines, who seems to connect with a variety of performers. I can’t really think of a current actor of similar skill, except perhaps Liev or Cheadle. It’s a pretty rare thing.

Gregory Hines and Misha Baryshnikov

But you don’t care about all that. You’re here for the Mirren! Well, this is the film where she met Tay Tay! And I’ll be honest, other than noting she was in this film, it wasn’t until I recently screened it did I remember exactly what role she played. Isabella Rossellini is far more memorable than Mirren, in my opinion. If you want a decent, meaty early 80s role of Mirren’s I would suggest the Peter Hyams meh-fest 2010: The Year We Make Contact – the sequel to Kube’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The director, Taylor Hackford has helmed some “American” classics, yet he’s not particularly known for anything stateside besides being Helen’s sweet baboo. People, this is the dude who responsible for such iconic film imagery as:

and this…

And the highly underrated football film Everybody’s All-American starring Dennis Quaid and Jessica Lange.

Ironic part: Hackford’s actually American! Yep. Born in Santa Barbara, California! Yet, is often assumed to be European, given his films often mimic some of the European framing and stylistic elements of “American” sensibilities a la Milos Forman.

1 “Misha” is a nickname and often heard when other actors reference him, the way people call DeNiro “Bobby” as in “Bobby says, ‘No books!’ anything but tell all books!” or folks at Sundance keep referring to a mysterious character named “Bob” who is in fact, founder Robert Redford. “Misha” is also the way Baryshnikov was introduced to me when I read a profile a German magazine did on him when I was 12 or 13.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. AnthroK8 permalink
    December 23, 2010 11:28 pm

    OMG I did love this film. The dancing! The dancing! Also I love cold war movies. The famous dance scene is in a great anthropology of dance book, too.

  2. Chi permalink
    December 27, 2010 7:17 pm

    After seeing this Dancing at the Movies video I just had to watch White Nights again on Netflix :

    (no embedding, darn! Warning: may induce goosebumps and tears of happiness.)

    I definitely got it much more than I had the first time (as a teenager), like how they’re playing with the incongruity of a late-night, increasingly-drunk dinner when light is coming through the window. Yeah, such a product of its time. My 25-yr old brother got bored and left halfway through, so I got to do my best, “Bah, you kids these days don’t even know what it was like to live under the threat of mutually assured destruction.”

    Calling up those memories and feelings about Russia that I had as a kid in the 80’s is kinda surreal now.

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