A Good Man | Film review
Kartemquin delivers a decoder ring for the choreographer’s extraordinary but frustrating Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray.
A Good Man is the decoder ring that should come prepackaged with choreographer Bill T. Jones’s Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, commissioned by the Ravinia Festival for the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. The 2009 work boasted production values and on- and offstage creative talent that few dance companies can match, but ended up an unwieldy behemoth that drowned out most of its fresh read on history.
A clue to the piece’s unsustainable growth comes early into Kartemquin Films’ report from its creation. “Over 15,000 books have been published [about Lincoln] since he was assassinated,” says Jones, who then asks himself, “What the hell do you think you’re doing with this puny thing called a modern-dance concert?”
Jones and director Bob Hercules have called the doc “unflinching” and “unvarnished,” respectively, and they’re right: Some spectacular tantrums made the final cut. We also see Jones’s sensitive side; an encounter in Springfield with Lincoln’s stovepipe hat delivers a sucker punch the dance maker doesn’t seem to expect. Archival footage of experimental works that announced Jones’s arrival in the late ’70s and early ’80s fill in the back story while letting his choreography speak for itself.
Fondly wasn’t about our 16th President so much as it was about America. Similarly, A Good Man isn’t about Jones as much as it is about the family of artists, in the guise of a dance company, with which a volatile, highly intelligent person surrounds himself.