Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky
Paul Cox's meditative tribute (part documentary, part lyrical essay) to that prime "self lover" of the twentieth century modernist stage in The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky provides a companion piece to his Vincent (1987).
This long-nurtured Nijinsky project is one of his more bearable films, thanks mainly to Derek Jacobi's soulful diary readings on the soundtrack (1), and some useful restagings of principal choreographic works.
However, much of the film's imagery is banal and flatly illustrative of the text – if we hear mention of a bird, we see it in flight, if God is mentioned, there is a cut to a holy statue. And how inert and blandly centred Cox's images too often are!
In its worst and most clichéd moments – dull passages devoted to babbling brooks, birds in the sky, shadows on rocks – it almost resembles a Durassian experiment: it's like the image-track of Vincent with the soundtrack stripped and another famous artist's words laid on top!
Cox's personal identification with these figures is, of course, no secret: whether Van Gogh or Nijinsky, it seems like we are hearing the same thundering platitudes about art, life, nature and love otherwise recycled as bad dialogue in his fictional pieces – with the added bonus here that the great dancer had some especially nasty things to say about critics.
© Adrian Martin March 2002
1. Although the film credits a French edition of the dairies as the source for its voice-over text, an English translation has long been available in paperback: The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, assembled by Romola Nijinsky (London: Panther, 1937/1963).