The Madness of Genius

The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky could make you crazy

Pretend Derek Jacobi is John Cleese, imagine it's all but a daft and cruel joke, and you will find Paul Cox's film tolerable; if you can't, you will find it unbearable. The dancer, a startlingly handsome man who appears in photos like a silent-movie star begging to speak and shout, is better known today for his journals, published in their entirety in 1950, than for his moves; history has relegated him to the footnotes, after a protracted stay in the loony bin. He, of course, thought more of himself than any historian ever would; he was a god...or God, actually, as he offers in his writings, which slowly sink into the quicksand of madness. Jacobi, though, never captures the spark of lunacy. His narration is dry and dreary, an actor's exercise that never breaks a sweat, and it contributes to the pretentious claustrophobia of Cox's film; this is an audio book masquerading as a film, and really little more. (Close your eyes and you will see, if you do not doze off to dream about other things.) I get it, really--this is about the cluttered and crazed mind of the artist rendered ethereal by a filmmaker going for mood andmeaning--but it's dull and infuriating nonetheless, a hodgepodge of nature footage and "re-enactments" and other hazy dreamlike images meant to render tangible the madness of genius; we're meant to feel, not merely witness and judge. But, Lord, does it meander through the maze of sanity--so much so, we're a bit mad by film's end. That, or just angry.

 
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