By itself, "Martha Graham: The Dancer Revealed" is incomplete--a documentary emphasizing the life of the artist over the masterworks that make her story worth telling.
Happily, this thoughtful, hour-long "American Masters" portrait is followed by an hour that completes the picture: the previously telecast "Dance in America" episode featuring Graham's "Steps in the Street," "El Penitente" and "Maple Leaf Rag."
Boasting an array of rare but incredibly pristine archival films plus forthright interviews with Graham's contemporaries, "Martha Graham: The Dancer Revealed" refuses to ignore the woman's capacity for violence--or descent into alcoholism--and also develops a controversial thesis.
Instead of depicting Graham as a proto-feminist, the program highlights the influence and even dominance of key men in her life--especially her mentor Louis Horst and her husband and lead dancer Erick Hawkins.
Horst is seen as virtually directing her career, while Hawkins emerges as a kind of male fertility symbol and the inspiration for a whole body of her work. (For the first time, he comments on the record about their relationship in interview segments teeming with unresolved emotional conflicts.)
The focus on Graham's men seems particularly intriguing in view of all the women shaping this project: director Catherine Tatge and executive producer Susan Lacy, for example. Some of the most outspoken interviews also come from women--among them the late Agnes de Mille and a number of Graham's ex-dancers.
Graham died in 1991, a month short of her 97th birthday. The final scene of the documentary shows this skeletal, arthritic, modernist icon standing up in company class, still blazing with the same inner fire evident in her earliest black-and-white dancing photos.
Hers is by turns a heroic and ironic life, retold here (often in her own voice) with a candor and eloquence she would have appreciated. However, Graham doubtless wouldn't have permitted her dances to be upstaged by constant voice-over commentary--and she would have insisted that her leading dancers be individually identified. * "Martha Graham: The Dancer Revealed" airs at 9 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28. "Dance in America: Three Dances by Martha Graham" follows at 10 p.m.