What do you do when a man turns up and you fancy him but you are in a wheelchair and
the person caring for you fancies him, too, and steals him from under your nose, the
bitch, ‘cause she isn’t in a wheelchair. You try and steal him back, of course.
These, more or less, are the words and thoughts in Heather Rose’s head that propelled
the script for Dance Me To My Song, a film born out of real experiences by Rose herself, a
woman with cerebral palsy, who speaks only through a voice synthesiser and is dependant on
others for most of life’s functions.
This dance ain't no dainty waltz.
"writers use material from their own lives"
In the film, Heather Rose has become Julia – and she plays the role; the twice
fancied man has become Eddie (John Brumpton), and the bitch of a carer has become
Madelaine (Joey Kennedy). Eddie is possibly a little crooked, but there is much to him
that’s likable; Madelaine is lonely and angry, selfish and angry, temperamental and
sad. Co-writer and director Rolf de Heer is quick to point out, though, that the film is
not a biography.
"Not at all; only in the sense that writers use material from their own lives.
Madelaine is merely the collection of the worst qualities of the worst carers
Heather’s ever had."
It could be seen as a dramatised documentary, since it is Rose herself playing Julia,
and her physical or surface life is so intense and she is so obvioulsy handicapped. While
he understands that response, de Heer draws a comparison with the first films that used
black actors instead white actors in blackface. "I don’t know how it felt
emotionally to an audience, I wasn’t there, but I think that is the equivalent."
The script was written by de Heer from a treatment by Rose and Frederick Stahl, and de
Heer was propelled by a wish to see the story in cinematic form.
"I wanted to go behind the obvious" Rolf
"I wanted to make the film and see it myself, to go on a journey with a drama
that’s very different. We tend to see people with disabilities as disabled first and
foremost; I wanted to go behind the obvious to the point that we no longer notice that
In pursuing this objective, de Heer aimed to distance Julia from Heather Rose, and he
believes he’s done that. "I see the character of Julia up on the screen and the
character of Julia is not at all like Heather. It’s a performance, not a
He is also proud of the fact that half way through the film he perceives Julia quite
differently to how he perceives her at the beginning: "She’s just Julia, no
longer the disabled character any more than Madelaine is the character with brown hair or
Eddie is the character with the muscular body."
Above all, though, de Heer is awed by Rose’s performance through the constraints
of her disability.
"Being given the lead role meant so much to me" Heather
Heather Rose came into contact with de Heer during the making of de Heer’s
celebrated drama, Bad Boy Bubby, in which Rose had a tiny part. The experience jolted her:
"I was hooked on movie making, but I didn’t know where to go."
Rose and Stahl embarked on a script, believing that a film about a woman like Rose
could work; but it had to be a dramatic story, not another ‘disability’ film.
For her birthday party, Rose invited de Heer, and they talked about the script, but de
Heer refused to read it, not wanting to meddle in the process. It was sometime later that
de Heer did get involved, and he suggested developing the script further. Rose’s
confidence was boosted, but not as much as the next stage, when the reality of her playing
Julia was upon her.
"Being given the lead role meant so much to me, to have Rolf and the others have
that much belief in me was the first time in my life people were so supportive of
Dance Me To My Song was shot in the middle of 1997 in Adelaide, and is the second film
on which de Heer has used binaural sound, which he pioneered on Bad Boy Bubby.
This requires two microphones instead of one, both on Rose and on the camera. "We
used this because we get very close to her, we hear the intense breathing which is a
critical part of her character. Heather doesn’t speak conventionally but we still
want to catch her personality and her breathing is very present about her."
"a dense, dynamic sound with deep perspective"
Tony Clark’s camera is also equipped with twin microphones, and wherever it is
pointing binaural sound is recorded. The sound recording was complicated, but the end
result is a dense, dynamic sound with deep perspective, which lifts the dramatic effect,
says de Heer.
In the end, the film is a devastating experience, draining and exciting all at once,
because you feel you are seeing something unique and involved in something far more
complex than most of the movies you ever see – and completely unexpected.
As de Heer, admits, "Some people will find the confronting."