George Fairfield’s documentary, With No Regrets: A Dancin’ Man’s Journey, tells the story of dancer and choreographer Tony Stevens. From his childhood in Missouri, putting on puppet theater, complete with a revolving stage, to being a part of the conversations that formed the genesis for A Chorus Line, to eventually dancing to the enthusiastic ovations of his own dancing idols, his life was an entertaining one. While maybe not as well known as Bob Fosse, Stevens nevertheless had a huge impact behind the scenes. Stevens himself is given voice, despite passing away in 2011, as the core of the film is made up of his own recorded interview, lovingly wrapped in the words and recollections of his friends and colleagues.
If you’re looking for gossip about Broadway, or the like, while that does exist to a certain extent, that’s not this film. This is a heart on its sleeve love letter to Tony Stevens, and it never pretends to be anything but that. Sometimes someone might say something you could consider slightly negative about Stevens, but it’s usually said in a loving way that betrays its truth more than any ill-intention. This is a celebration of a life, pure and simple.
That said, my main issue with the documentary is that its overall visual aesthetic gives it a very amateurish feel. I know it sounds, and likely is, superficial to say that the lack of professional polish makes it hard to focus on what is being said, but it does. When you’re watching bad green screen work, and the edit feels like someone was just playing with different text effects, filters and backgrounds, it can take you out of it. At least I don’t remember seeing a star wipe, but if you told me you recorded this off of public access late one night, I would believe you.
Now, on the technical side, what I did find intriguing was the way the film edited the interviews together, often in a way where, as Stevens speaks about aspects of his life, the other interviewees are reacting or responding to his words. In that way, even though the interviews were obviously filmed separate, the entire experience becomes like sitting in on a conversation. In this case, considering the anecdote regarding the inception of A Chorus Line, it’s all very fitting.
So there’s good and bad on the technical level. There was an attempt to try something unique and ambitious, and it’s to be respected. I just wish the film was a little more polished otherwise. That said, if you have an interest in dancing, or the history of dancing, With No Regrets: A Dancin’ Man’s Journey is fairly interesting.
While it’s easy to place our own measurements of success on Stevens’ life, the film gives the audience and opportunity to see how he defined his own life’s successes and failures and… he did not seem like an unhappy man to me. Sure, other names may have been more famous, or garnered more accolades, for whatever that’s ultimately worth, but Tony Stevens comes across as a man who achieved the things he set out to achieve, and even when he didn’t, he still had a fun time along the way.
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