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Billy Sunday

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Film Identifier: F.2011-05-0120
Run Time
0h 19m 48s
This original Ruth Page ballet was conceived in 1941 but not premiered by her company until December 13, 1946 in Mandel Hall at the University of Chicago (as a workshop version, with incomplete staging and no scenery or costumes). The full version was presented by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the New York City Center on March 2, 1948. Page originally approached Kurt Weill to compose the score but he fell through, so Page then considered John Cage, Virgil Thomson, and Nicholas Nabokov, before finally settling on Remi Gassman. There was also originally the possibility that Alexander Calder would design for the ballet but this also fell through, so Paul du Pont was chosen. "Billy Sunday" is based on the life and sermons of the American baseball player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday. This film version looks like a complete performance, save for final curtain at the end, so it may well be a dress rehearsal. The film canister is labeled with both "Page-Stone" and "Ballet Russe" so it is unclear whether it was shot right before the New York City premiere or elsewhere, at another time.
The film opens with a view of a stage, upon which is built a platform with a podium and steps leading up to it. The Billy Sunday character stands at the podium, apparently delivering a speech. He then descends and performs a set of gestures, as well as a few ballet steps. Afterward he undertakes the first of multiple on-stage costume changes, signaling a new phase in his life: he changes out of his jacket into a crown and cloak. He then performs a solo. Next, a female exotic dancer and three men in turbans enter with a large sheet. After they help her stretch, they conceal her behind the sheet and a man in a sequined unitard emerges; soon after him, the exotic dancer emerges and dances with Sunday as the sequined dancer follows along. Eventually, Sunday throws her to the ground and the sequined man carries her offstage in Sunday's cloak. Then two groups of women enter stage, one in long dresses and one in short dresses. They appear to compete, the more fully clothed ones representing that which is 'proper' and the others representing the 'improper.' This latter group is soon joined by men in sequined unitards who carouse with them. Eventually, the two groups part and Sunday reenters, changing his costume a second time, into a jacket. He is joined by a lavishly dressed couple. Soon after Sunday greets them, the male companion exits with the woman's feather boa and she attempts to seduce Sunday, though he resists. They fight over a hand-mirror, and after the woman's companion returns to console her, Sunday fetches police and accuses the woman of something; she accuses him in return. Angels then appear and dance with Sunday; afterwards he changes a third time into a different jacket, plus a wig. Then a scantily clad woman appears and dances with Sunday flirtatiously, eventually removing his wig and exposing him to a group of Ku Klux Klansmen who are themselves exposed as baseball players. Making his final costume change by removing his jacket, Sunday then calls numerous people to the stage, including a number of well-dressed women and the men in sequined unitards. He dances with them variously and speaks briefly at his podium; then the baseball players pose in a cluster on the platform, the sequined men exit, and Sunday performs a finale with the group of women. All strike a final pose, hold it for a moment, and then mill about, indicating that the ballet is over.
00:05-00:21 - Film begins with a view of a stage, upon which is built a platform. The Billy Sunday character is standing upon the platform, apparently delivering a speech or sermon at a podium 00:22-00:49 - Sunday jumps off the platform and begins a sort of danced version of engaging with the audience, gesturing and reaching toward the camera and occasionally performing ballet steps (perhaps miming the story of his early life) 00:50-01:40 - Sunday removes his jacket and a approaches a person at the edge of the platform, who gives him a cape and a crown and sits down at the edge of the stage while Sunday performs a solo 01:41-02:23 - A female exotic dancer and three men in turbans carrying a large sheet enter from stage right; Sunday ascends to his platform to watch. The female dancer poses on the floor at center and the three men put down their sheet and surround her, manipulating her body in various ways (apparently stretching her). 02:23-02:33 - The three men in turbans escort the female dancer up the stairs to the platform, and hold the sheet up to hide her as Sunday moves down the stairs off of it. 02:33-02:47 - A male dancer in a dark sequined body suit emerges from the curtain; Sunday walks up to it and attempts to peer over while preventing this dancer from doing the same 02:48-03:02 - The female dancer emerges from behind the curtain and dances momentarily with the sequined man before joining Sunday; the sequined man ascends the platform and the men in turbans exit with their sheet 03:03-04:38 - Sunday and the woman dance together and the sequined man descends from the platform to follow the couple as they dance together, occasionally interacting with them 04:38-05:09 - The sequined man takes Sunday's cloak from him and the couple continues dancing together with occasional interventions by the sequined man 05:09-05:17 - Suddenly, Sunday seems to become angry and casts the woman to the ground; the sequined man then shrouds her in Sunday's cloak and carries her off stage left 05:18-06:05 - 5 women enter from each side of the stage: those entering from stage right are in long dresses and crowns; those from stage left are in skimpy dresses and dramatic hats. (Sunday exits stage left). The two groups pause (the first standing and the second lounging on the ground) and then circle one another, each performing characteristic "proper" and "racy" steps, appearing to compete 06:06-06:26 - The group in long dresses ascends the platform and forms a row facing upstage while the group in short dresses performs an ensemble dance, landing on the ground 06:26-07:06 - The sequined man reappears, followed by 2 more costumed just like him. They dance with the women in short dresses and one encourages those in the longer dresses to come down and join; the women in long dresses appear horrified by their dancing and turn away toward the stage right wings. 07:07-08:28 - The sequined men alternately taunt/harass the women in long dresses, who try to discourage the carrying on, and dance merrily with the women in short dresses. Eventually, the appalled women in long dresses make a show of beginning to exit stage right, and the women in short dresses and the sequined men exit just as merrily off stage left 08:29-08:59 - The women in long dresses turn to see the others go, and Sunday emerges from stage left; the women then exit stage right as Sunday puts on a jacket, appears to say a few words, and performs a brief solo 09:00-09:45 - A lavishly dressed couple emerges from stage right. The man, dressed in a sequined cape, shakes Sunday's hand. Sunday appears to say a few more words, and then the woman, who relinquishes her feather boa to her partner (he then exits stage left), begins a solo dance. 09:45-11:28 - Sunday, apparently taken by the dancer, begins to partner her. She seems to attempt to seduce him in the ensuing pas de deux, but he resists. 11:29-12:25 - The person at the edge of the platform (an assistant?) now hands Sunday a mirror, which he uses to look at himself and then gives it to the dancer, who spends a great deal of time admiring herself in the mirror. The mirror then seems to spark a fight between the two; she tosses it away and dances alone while Sunday faces away from her. 12:26-13:20 The woman seems to begin a tantrum on the ground, which causes Sunday to turn back around and approach her; they begin another pas de deux, still apparently disagreeing. 13:21-13:33 - The woman chases Sunday off stage left just as her original partner reappears to join her; she seems very upset and appears to collapse in tears. As she does so, Sunday reenters from stage left onto his platform, accompanied by two police officers. He points to her accusingly. 13:34-14:23 - The woman points accusingly back at Sunday, who is grasped by the two officers. A stand-off between the two parties ensues, which includes Sunday pushing the woman's companion and several dramatic falls on her part. 14:23-15:59 - The woman and her companion exit stage right, Sunday places himself back in the custody of the officers, and a young woman costumed as an angel enters from stage right. She is soon joined by two more women, similarly costumed. They perform an ensemble dance, dismissing the officers and bringing Sunday into their midst; he dances with them. 16:00-16:27 - The second two angels exit stage left, followed soon after by the original angel. This leaves Sunday to change jackets, once again with the help of his assistant. This latest jacket is accompanied by a wig. 16:28-17:45 - A scantily clad young woman (a maid? a Rockette?) enters from stage left and dances flirtatiously before an intrigued Sunday, who dances in response. The woman then tricks him and steals his wig triumphantly. 17:45-17:59 - The woman then beckons forth 5 figures, apparently dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, who descend upon Sunday's body and carry him around the stage. 18:00-18:18 - The woman and two Klan members seem to perform a rite while Sunday wriggles free and starts de-robing the other members. The remaining two disrobe themselves; all seem to be baseball players who gather, shaking (perhaps frightened?), in the downstage right corner of the stage. 18:18-19:07 - Sunday dances briefly at center, allowing his assistant to remove his jacket, and then calls forth numerous people: numerous well-dressed and apparently wealthy women begin to line the upstage edge of the platform, and a number of the sequined men from earlier reappear downstage to dance. Sunday alternately joins them and the women, bringing a chair to center and stationing himself there briefly before returning to the podium on his platform. 19:08-19:30 - Sunday appears to speak briefly and the baseball players 'leapfrog' over one another; Sunday returns to downstage to dance again among the sequined men. 19:30-19:41 - Signaling the finale, the sequined men exit, the baseball players pose on the platform, and the wealthy women circle around Sunday and perform an ensemble dance behind him before all land in a final pose 19:41-19:47 - No curtain goes down but the dancers all get up and begin walking away/milling about 19:48 - End
Additional Credit
Gassmann, Remi (is composer)
Page, Ruth (is casting director)