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Film / The Turning Point

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The Turning Point revitalized the fad for ballet and dance films. Released in 1977, the same year as Annie Hall and Star Wars, it also inaugurated Mikhail Baryshnikov's pop culture career as a film star. The film's ballet credentials are impeccable: it was directed by former dancer and choreographer Herbert Ross; was produced by Ross' wife, legendary ballerina Nora Kaye; and featured several established or up-and-coming ballet stars in the cast.

The plot covers two generations of dancers. In the older generation, a touring stop by the ballet company reignites the rivalry between Emma (Anne Bancroft) and DeeDee (Shirley MacLaine). DeeDee's career ended shortly after she became pregnant and married another dancer, Wayne (Tom Skerrit). Emma, however, became a star in then up-and-coming choreographer Michael's adaptation of Anna Karenina, a part that DeeDee had also wanted. In the younger generation, DeeDee's daughter Emilia (Leslie Browne) receives a fellowship for a special program at the company ballet school, where she catches the eye of philandering star Yuri (Baryshnikov).


Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, but lost all of them, setting a record since tied by The Color Purple. Now often accused of being Soap Opera en pointe.

Not to be confused with 1945 Russian war drama The Turning Point.

This film contains examples of:

  • Agony of the Feet: Emma grumbles about what ballet does to dancers' feet. Later, we see Emilia nearly sobbing in pain just from DeeDee trying to bandage her battered toes.
  • All There in the Manual: Screenwriter Arthur Laurents' novelization includes considerable Word of Gay, making it clear that Wayne is a gay man who married to save face, and that Michael, despite being Emma's former lover, is now partnered with the company's male ballet master.
  • Ballet
  • Brutal Honesty: When Emma abandons her role in Arnold's ballet, she turns to Michael for sympathy. His idea of sympathy is telling her that she will no longer dance the title role in Giselle, then hinting strongly that it's time for her to quit.
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  • The Cameo: Notably, famed ballerinas Antoinette Sibley and Alexandra Danilova. A number of then-current ABT performers and backstage personnel also make brief appearances, including Alexander Minz (best known as Drosselmeier in Baryshnikov's The Nutcracker) and Enrique Martinez.
  • Camp Gay: Arnold.
  • Camp Straight: Freddie.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: A glaring example during Emilia's audition, when all the other dancers are wearing various shades of dark colors, but Emilia is outfitted in white.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: A miserable Emilia gets drunk. Then, she somehow has to perform with the other members of the corps. This goes very badly.
  • Enforced Method Acting: In-universe, Arnold belatedly explains to Emilia that his bad behavior to her was all part of getting her to stop emoting.
  • Family Versus Career: DeeDee stops performing after her first child; Emma achieves stardom, but has no family.
  • Glory Days: One of the film's major themes.
    • Emma is at the very end of her career, and is being pushed out in favor of younger dancers.
    • DeeDee is still obsessed with what she gave up.
    • Michael no longer choreographs.
    • Freddie is suffering the same fate as Emma.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Averted. The film makes clear that even the most talented dancers need to spend hours in class, and DeeDee warns her son that he needs to focus his attention either on baseball or on ballet.
    • The novelization suggests that Wayne, while potentially brilliant, just isn't ambitious or interested enough to put in the real effort a ballet career requires.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: DeeDee is still obsessed with Anna Karenina, and finally asks Michael if he would have given her the leading role instead of Emma. He doesn't remember.
  • Informed Ability: Anne Bancroft is carefully blocked to make it appear that she knows how to dance, but does very little in the way of movement.
  • The Ingenue: Emilia.
  • Maybe Ever After: Emilia and Yuri.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Michael is based on Jerome Robbins.
    • Adelaide is ABT co-founder Lucia Chase.
  • Prima Donna Director: Arnold.
  • Really Gets Around: Yuri.
  • Roman à Clef: DeeDee's and Emma's rivalry owes a lot to Nora Kaye and Isabel Brown, while Emma's failed love affair with Michael was inspired by the collapse of Kaye's engagement to Jerome Robbins.
  • Technician vs. Performer: For Emma, a dancer in her forties, even a double pirouette is a potential nightmare; she succeeds on the strength of her acting. As a result, she can't handle an abstract modern ballet, which demands much stronger technique.
  • What Could Have Been: Gelsey Kirkland, these days mentioned in almost the same breath as Pavlova and Fonteyn, was originally cast as Emilia.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: DeeDee.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Everybody, pretty much:
    • Emma is the other woman in a longtime affair.
    • DeeDee has a brief fling with the company's old music director.
    • Emilia catches Yuri in the act of seducing another dancer.


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