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From the Vault: White Nights

June 27, 2010

Gregory Hines and Misha Baryshnikov


    Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Jerzy Skolimowski, Helen Mirren, Geraldine Page, Isabella Rossellini, John Glover


    Taylor Hackford


  • Tay Tay and Dame Helen met and fell in love during the filming of the movie. Hackford is one of my director heroes and Tay Tay is just my silly affection name for him. I get really excited when I have excuses to talk about him for reasons other than he’s married to Mirren.
  • Lionel Richie’s song “Say You Say Me” won the best Original song at the Oscars. Phil Collins duet “Separate Lives” was also nominated in the same category.
  • White Nights is available for instant streaming on Netflix.

  • Many of the elements of Baryshnikov’s character modeled his own experiences
  • The White Nights describes the weirdness that happens during weeks near the Summer Solstice where there is very little darkness. There’s a more technical definition and you’re free to consult Professor Google.

Released twenty-five years ago, White Nights is the kind of film that sounds really hokey on paper – two dancers (one black, one white) battle the forces of intrigue and the dancefloor in 80s USSR – but in reality is quite a stunning piece of cinema. The performances, particularly Misha1 and Gregory or stunning, even if the rest of the film has become somewhat dated and a bit corny. Baryshnikov’s acting is something he is often not praised for, but seriously, this man is a fine actor. Misha appeared as Carrie Bradshaw’s “Russian” in the last half of SATC’s season six and was brilliant, charming – the perfect foil for Big. Despite the problematic way they chose to show the character the doorm I really enjoyed his tenure on the show tremendously. In addition, the chemistry between Misha and Gregory is just lovely. I wish there were more actors like the late, irreplaceable Gregory Hines, who seems to connect with a variety of performers. I can’t really think of a current actor of similar skill, except perhaps Liev or Cheadle. It’s a pretty rare thing.

But you don’t care about all that. You’re here for the Mirren! Well, this is the film where she met Tay Tay! And I’ll be honest, other than noting she was in this film, it wasn’t until I recently screened it did I remember exactly what role she played. Isabella Rossellini is far more memorable than Mirren, in my opinion. If you want a decent, meaty early 80s role of Mirren’s I would suggest the Peter Hyams meh-fest 2010: The Year We Make Contact – the sequel to Kube’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The director, Taylor Hackford has helmed some “American” classics, yet he’s not particularly known for anything stateside besides being Helen’s sweet baboo. People, this is the dude who responsible for such iconic film imagery as:

and this…

And the highly underrated football film Everybody’s All-American starring Dennis Quaid and Jessica Lange.

Ironic part: Hackford’s actually American! Yep. Born in Santa Barbara, California! Yet, is often assumed to be European, given his films often mimic some of the European framing and stylistic elements of “American” sensibilities a la Milos Forman.

1 “Misha” is a nickname and often heard when other actors reference him, the way people call DeNiro “Bobby” as in “Bobby says, ‘No books!’ anything but tell all books!” or folks at Sundance keep referring to a mysterious character named “Bob” who is in fact, founder Robert Redford. “Misha” is also the way Baryshnikov was introduced to me when I read a profile a German magazine did on him when I was 12 or 13.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. aliciamaud permalink
    June 27, 2010 4:52 pm

    Every spring when my parents would get their tax return we would venture to the (far away) mall for new sneakers and a movie. My brother’s favorite year of this tradition we saw Conan the Barbarian and The Karate Kid back to back, but my favorite year by far was when we saw White Nights. For years I planned to name my first child (or diminutive Russian dancing kitten) Misha, but for some reason that never happened. Thanks for the heads up that this is on Netflix…can’t wait to rewatch.

  2. June 27, 2010 11:59 pm

    Misha, Gregory Hines, dancing and Helen Mirren? I gots ta queue this. Carrie should have gone with Mikhail in the end.

  3. June 28, 2010 7:46 am

    Wow that was a great movie for the beginning of the end of the cold war. I haven’t seen it in a while but as I recall the dancing and the performances were equally fabulous.

    Gregory Hines’ career was much too short.

  4. tanyadiva permalink
    June 28, 2010 8:05 am

    I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Hines live at a local performing arts behemoth a few years before he died. Nothing but him, and a wooden floor and his tap shoes. I was very close to the stage, and how it happened was total serendipity.

    I consider myself blessed.

    This movie is better than it should have been, all things considered. So good on it!

  5. June 28, 2010 11:11 pm

    I still firmly believe that this movie, Red Dawn, and Rocky IV all helped make the Cold War end.

  6. irishup permalink
    June 29, 2010 8:19 am

    Thanks for pointing out all those movies of Hackford’s and the Milos Forman connection – it makes it less of a coincidence to me that both this and “Hair” were choreographed by the great Twyla Tharp.

    My mom loveslovesloves Misha – she always called him that as well. Another True Story(tm); My mom used to work at a pub that was right across from Elaine’s – yes, THAT Elaine’s, the one from “Big Shot”. In the mid eighties, absolutely one of the places to BE SEEN in Manhattan. The summer after White Nights, Misha and an entourage were dining there. He was very gracious outside, posing for pictures and doing autographs before getting into the limo. My mom was beside herself – she could see him out the window, but could not get across the street!!!! A family friend grabbed a cocktail napkin and dashed across the ave. In the meantime, Baryshnikov was finally getting into the car – it was a very hot humid dank NYC summer night, I’m sure he couldn’t wait to get in, dressed as he was for AC (pastel long sleeve shirt, open to reveal lots of chest, black trousers).

    Anyway, our friend C missed him by THIS MUCH! But wait – the limo pulled away, and we could see C trying to follow it down the ave to the next light. Then we didn’t see C for about 45min. FINALLY she comes back dripping sweat, victorious with an autographed napkin!!!! She had chased the limo down to the mid sixties (there was another PLACE TO BE SEEN on 1st Ave & like 65th, whose name now escapes me) – just about a MILE away. Traffic was tight, so she was finally able to catch the limo just as the party was getting out at the new spot. Misha recognized C – and that she was all hot and out of breath and sweaty – and realized she had followed them all the way! He waved her past the bouncers, and asked her why she had run all that way. When she told him it was for an autograph for her mom (my mother being one of those people other people adopt as Mom), he was just floored, and gave her the autograph right a way, and a smooch on the cheek to boot! What a nice man! And my mother nearly made C give her that cheek, too.

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