Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob’s documentary “Carmen & Geoffrey” offers a pleasant but sketchy celebration of Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder, spanning their respective and frequently overlapping careers as well as their 47-year-marriage.
Separately, both artists created remarkable work. The New Orleans-born, Los Angeles-raised de Lavallade was among the first African-American women to become a major force in modern dance. In her partnership performances with Alvin Ailey and in her solo work, she created a remarkable stage presence with her inventive body language and sultry personality. The 6-foot-6 Holder, originally from Trinidad, had enjoyed a multitude of careers including dancer, choreographer, artist, costume designer, director (he won the Tony Award for the original 1975 Broadway production of “The Wiz”) and actor.
“Carmen & Geoffrey” incorporates a wealth of rarely seen footage from the 1950s and 1960s, including their incredible dance work in support of the legendary Josephine Baker. The film also shows the couple going ahead with contemporary activities – de Lavallade still performs at 71 (and looks gorgeous!) while Holder, walking with a cane and peering through thick eyeglasses, focuses more on his artwork and giving talks about his colorful career.
Oddly, the film skips over significant patches of achievement. Holder’s work as a film actor is not touched upon (there is only a brief glimpse of a publicity still of him with Roger Moore in the 007 epic “Live and Let Die”), nor is there any mention of his highly popular work as the playfully urbane pitchman for 7-Up soft drinks during the 1970s (most people probably remember him from those funny commercials). For her part, de Lavallade’s work as a professor at Yale University, where she has taught since 1970, is ignored.
What is on camera, however, are a pair of warm, funny and wonderfully unpretentious creative artists who clearly love each other and take joy in spreading the magic of visual and performing arts to new generations. It is difficult not to get caught up in their effervescent personalities and their indefatigable spirits. By the film’s end, one feels glad to have made their cinematic acquaintance.