If you're looking for a cool breeze of culture in this warm-weather movie season, two new releases are just for you.
The documentary "Last Dance" tells the story of a collaboration between major artistic figures: the Pilobolus dance troupe, known for its colorful, energetic style, and Maurice Sendak, author of the children's book "Where the Wild Things Are."
It also shows the discussions and disagreements that arose during the creation of their joint venture, "A Selection," starting with Sendak's surprising suggestion that the Holocaust would be an intriguing subject for a dance. The final work was an international success, but as this film shows, uncertainty and unpleasantness played roles in the creative process.
Arts documentaries are often made by admiring filmmakers who gloss over the strong personalities of many artists. While it's not a blistering look behind the scenes, "Last Dance" gives a fuller picture of the creative process than most others of its ilk.
"Tosca," an adaptation of Giacomo Puccini's opera, reminds us that opera films come in many forms. Some go for realism, like Joseph Losey's naturalistic "Don Giovanni." Others, like Ingmar Bergman's enchanting "Magic Flute," recognize that both movies and operas are highly artificial, and capitalize on this in imaginative ways.
French director Benoit Jacquot uses both approaches. Most of "Tosca" aims at dramatic realism, fleshing out the love-struck painter Cavaradossi and the fatally deceived title character with conviction.
Jacquot inventively adds modernist touches. We see performers singing in the studio and miming their roles onstage. At times, the singers speak their lines over the music, and at one point, images run backward, underlining that time is running out. The result is a fine production with splendid singing by Angela Gheorghiu, Ruggero Raimondi, and Roberto Alagna. It joins the very short list of first-rate opera films.
'Last Dance,' not rated, contains nudity, vulgar language. 'Tosca,' not rated, contains adult themes.