THE TURNING POINT
SUBJECTS — Dance; U.S./1945 – 1991;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Marriage; Mother/Daughter; Friendship; Male Role Model; Work/Career; Talent;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility.
AGE: 14+; MPAA Rating — PG;
Drama; 1977; 119 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
A detailed description of the plot of the film is necessary for parents and teachers to evaluate its suitability as a teaching tool.
As the film begins, we learn that seventeen years earlier, Deedee (Shirley MacLaine), was a rising star with a major New York City dance company. When she became pregnant by one of the male dancers, they married, moved to Oklahoma, started a dance school, and had three children. The marriage is a happy one. Deedee’s friend and rival, Emma (Anne Bancroft) stayed in New York and became the prima ballerina of the company.
The action of the movie begins when the dance company, with Emma still its reigning ballerina, visits the town in which Deedee and her family live. Deedee has a party for the company, seeing Emma again for the first time in years. Deedee’s sixteen year old daughter, Emilia, is allowed to take dance classes with the company. She dances so well that she is offered admission to the company ballet school. Deedee’s son, about age 12, is having trouble choosing between ballet and baseball. At her husband’s suggestion, Deedee takes Emilia and the boy to New York City to spend a summer taking intensive dance classes.
They stay with Alexandra Danilova, the great prima ballerina, essentially playing herself. Now elderly, she coaches ballerinas and takes in boarders to make ends meet. In the company ballet school Emilia shines and she is given a principal role in a summer performance.
Emilia, Deedee and Emma each have a major crisis during the course of the summer. Deedee is doubting her decision to abandon her career as a ballerina and concentrate on her family. Treated as just another parent at the company ballet school, she feels very much on the outside. She meets and has an affair with an old flame.
Emilia meets Yuri, a famous dancer from Russia. (Yuri is Mikhail Baryshnikov playing himself; we are shown scenes of the company, including Baryshnikov, in class.) Yuri soon romances Emilia. They have a short affair which ends when Emilia sees Yuri and another ballerina kissing in a dressing room. Emilia also discovers that her mother is staying out all night. (How could she miss it? Mother and daughter sleep in the same room at Danilova’s.) Emilia, naturally, is upset by her mother’s infidelity as well as Yuri’s shallowness.
Emma is in crisis because younger dancers are being selected for the ballets that in the past had been her domain. Her lover, who in years past had offered to divorce his wife and marry her, gets cold feet when she hints that she might finally be receptive to a proposal.
All the frustration and the years of pent-up jealousy between Deedee and Emma culminate in a comic fight in cocktail dresses outside of Lincoln Center. Deedee’s husband comes to town and she realizes how lucky she is to have him. Emma begins to focus on being a mentor to Emilia. Everyone lives happily enough ever after, knowing that if you are going to give your life to performance and artistry, there will be great sacrifices.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1978 Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture – Drama; Best Director – Motion Picture; 1977 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actress (Bancroft & MacLaine); Best Supporting Actor (Baryshnikov); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Supporting Actress (Browne); Best Writing-Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen; Best Film Editing; Best Director; Best Sound; Best Cinematography.
Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Leslie Browne, Tom Skerritt, Alexandra Danilova, Martha Scott.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This film shows fabulous dancing, the unremitting hard work demanded of a dancer, some of the inner workings of a major ballet company, the internal rivalries in a dance company, and the changing of the guard imposed by the aging of a prima ballerina.
After this film was released, there was a flood of thousands of boys into dance schools across the nation.
The movie explores the benefits and costs of a life led in the pursuit of art and fame as opposed to a life concentrating on family and interpersonal relationships. In today’s world, some ballerinas have families while they perform; but it is still difficult.
The film shows that parents aren’t perfect and sometimes need forgiveness from their children. The movie also explores issues of sexual fidelity and attraction. Deedee’s husband is not a major figure in the film but he is consistently supportive and nurturing to all members of his family.
There is a tastefully and beautifully choreographed scene of Emilia’s first lovemaking with Yuri. It is soft-edged and not graphic.
SERIOUS, BUT THEY CAN BE TURNED INTO BENEFITS. The plot of this film involves marital infidelity and sexual promiscuity. We showed this film to one of our sons when he was 11 years of age because of his strong interest in ballet. Before it started, his father took him aside and told him that there were problems with the way in which Deedee, Yuri and Emilia acted with regard to romance and sex. He talked a little about what we felt was appropriate.
As shown from the description above, there are several other problems with the film. Deedee is going through a stage in which she is absorbed in finally reconciling her decision, some seventeen years earlier, to give up dance and raise a family. Her self-absorption causes her to miss an important opportunity to counsel Emilia about her relationship with Yuri. In addition, Deedee has an affair and does not conceal it from her daughter. Emilia is level headed and strong and she eventually forgives her mother. This situation rings true and can be turned into an important lesson for children that parents are not always perfect. (Parents beware, if you discuss this issue, some children will ask whether you’ve ever had an affair. Have your answer ready in advance.)
Deedee’s affair was certainly not appropriate behavior. It was primarily motivated by the emotions aroused by her return to NYC and rethinking her decision to have children and get married. The affair is not particularly important to her and ends by simply stopping, as many affairs do, when the underlying problem is solved. Moreover, Deedee’s husband comes to New York and she realizes that he is the one that she really loves.
Emilia, after she learns that she is just another one of Yuri’s easy conquests, gets drunk and appears for a performance barely able to stand. This is a function, as much as anything else, of her discovery of her mother’s affair and the fact that she had no one to talk with about her problems. After this one misstep, and when she can finally talk to Emma about the situation with Yuri, Emilia moves on, forgives her mother and can dance with Yuri with equanimity. In this she shows real strength of character.
Before watching the movie tell your child that you have problems with the way in which Deedee, Yuri and Emilia acted with regard to romance and sex. After the movie talk a little about how what they did was not appropriate. With some children, a good way to start is to ask them what they thought about how these characters behaved. Then ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question. Finally, perhaps another day at dinner or in the car going to school, ask and help your child answer Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Question #13.
Mikhail Baryshnikov (1948 – ) is perhaps the greatest male dancer who has ever lived. His mastery of technique is unsurpassed. In the Soviet Union he danced with the Kirov and Bolshoi ballets. Baryshnikov defected to the West in 1974, dancing primarily with American Ballet Theatre. He served as its director from 1980 to 1989. Baryshnikov has choreographed and staged ballets such as The Nutcracker.
In the U.S. Baryshnikov expanded his range to include modern dance. In 1990 he formed a modern dance company with Mark Morris, an American choreographer. Baryshnikov still performs modern dance and tours throughout the country. He also played a character loosely modeled on himself in the film White Nights.
Alexandra Danilova (1903 – 1997) was a prima ballerina of exceptional technical purity and interpretive power. She danced with the Kirov ballet but left the Soviet Union in 1924. She danced with the Ballet Russes (see The Red Shoes). From 1958 until her death at the age of 94, Danilova lived in New York and taught at the School of American Ballet. She also staged ballets for the Metropolitan Opera.
2. What does Deedee’s husband mean when he says that Yuri is going to make it respectable for American boys to dance?
MARRIAGE AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
1. Was Deedee’s marriage strong despite the fact that she had an affair?
2. Why did Emilia keep dancing with Yuri after he had disappointed her so cruelly?
3. Deedee’s husband knew that his wife was having an affair. What did he do about it? Was that the best way to handle it?
4. What was the role of ballet in the relationship between Emilia and Deedee?
5. Do you see a message in the similarities of the names of Emilia and Emma? What is it and what were the playwrights trying to tell us?
6. Did Deedee act responsibly when she had an affair in a situation in which her daughter had to know about it, i.e., Deedee didn’t come home one night. Who were the stakeholders in her decision to have the affair? What did Deedee’s decision not to come home that night do to the relationship between Emilia and her father?
7. Why did the screenwriters give the mother the name “Deedee?”
8. Did the husband/father do the right thing to come to New York after he heard that his wife was staying out all night?
9. Why did Deedee and Emma have a fight? What psychological stresses were the cause of their conflict?
10. Deedee and Emma still had strong feelings for each other after not seeing one another for many years. Why was this? What does this say about the nature of certain friendships?
MALE ROLE MODEL
11. Which character in this film was a male role model? Deedee’s husband or Baryshnikov? Explain your answer.
12. Would you give up having a family to be a star?
13. Did Deedee make the right decision to get married and give up her career or did Emma make the right decision to work on her career and not get married?
14. To what does the title of this film (“The Turning Point”) refer?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing.
1. Evaluate the conduct of Deedee and Yuri from the standpoint of Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, and Caring. Tell us who were the stakeholders for each decision. For your convenience, these pillars are set out below:
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, November 14, 2000, Page F4, “How True to Life is ‘Billy Elliot’? Some Experts Reply.”
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 18, 2009.