The Rise, Fall, and Remains of the Modern Dance Film - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Rise, Fall, and Remains of the Modern Dance Film

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Andrew COMMENTARYEvery Tuesday for the last year I've been plumbing the delicious depths of some of the most overlooked filmmakers that put an indelible mark on the way movies are made.  These have included Bela Tarr, a woefully underappreciated Hungarian master of the long-take and precise composition; Ingmar Bergman, certainly not overlooked but a man who's films are so intense and unflinching into the human condition that they've lost some foothold in today's easy-peasy America; and Atom Egoyan, a director so thoroughly empathetic into the nature of desire that he is incapable of an insincere film.

But the face of so many truths can get a bit depressing.  I've been peering into the depths of depression, spiritual crisis, unfulfilled to badly directed desire and intense confrontations for so long that Monday nights (when I sit down to write these pieces) have become an exercise in restraining despair.  So to that end, I've decided to embark on a new sort of examination, a series of films that started to become popular in 2004, exploded in popularity and who's cultural influence has become so imperceptibly ingrained into our culture that it's a wonder no one has tried to pinpoint the exact source.

Staring at images like this for over a year does get a bit draining.

I'm talking about You Got Served (YGS) and similar dance flicks that came out in the wake of it's immense success.  I was there at the front lines during the initial salvos of it's popularity but remained ignorant to it's influence until I realized that Step-Up 3D is one of my favorite movies and wondered how that came about.

It all goes back to when I was working at a movie theater in 2004.  Lost In Translation was set to open and needed to be screened, but I was lured away from Sofia Coppola's ode to loneliness by one of my fellow employees because she didn't want to watch YGS by herself.  So, yes, I was tempted away from a massive art-house hit to watch some dancing movie that looked stupid all because I couldn't say no to this pretty girl.

Strange how things work out.  LIT is still hailed in quite a few circles as one of the modern greats, but it's influence is very minor.  Not too many other filmmakers rushed to replicate it's sense of isolation and separation that Sofia so perfectly encapsulated.  I'm a big fan, don't let me lead you to believe otherwise, but as far as longevity is concerned I oftentimes wonder if it's really going to last much longer than the lifespans of those around to enjoy it when we pass.

If there was ever a man that needed to dance more.

Now, I have no such ideas or predilections about YGS.  There's very little doubt in my mind that it's going to be forgotten when we've all gone back into the proverbial ash.  But that doubt isn't 100% for a few reasons that keep nagging at my brain.  Something about this film and it's progenitors has remained long after the self-important art-films of the new millennium came and went.  Do they say as much, if anything, about the human condition, why we're here and all those other Big Important Questions?

Not directly, which I think is part of their charm and why they became so subtly important an influential for a period of time before the "fad" faded and we're left with many shows like So You Think You Can Dance?  Shows that did not find a successful audience until after YGS paved a way for their acceptance and proved that there was an audience for this sort of thing.

To this I say hallelujah.  These modern dance films and shows remind us of something that had been long forgotten.  It wasn't since the age of the Busby Berkeley musical that the whole of the country rose up to embrace the physical beauty of dancing.  That it is packaged in a hip-hop style is equally amazing, giving a wide audience to a kind of dance that was previously relegated to street corners and the Scary Movie franchise (with one notable funny detour into Don't Be a Menace To South Central While You're Drinking Your Juice in the Hood much earlier in the 90's).

Don't Be A Menace also boasts the unique distinction of being the only completely funny Wayans film.

Starting with YGS, these directors found a way to update the film grammar of yesterdays dance hits with a respect and appreciation of the movies that came before it.  All this was accomplished while each film maintained their own sense of individuality (YGS is far different from Step-Up which is removed from Roll-Bounce and so on) and furthered the dance movie with increasingly complex choreography without sacrificing a bit of likability and toying with old stereotrypes in interesting ways while pushing increasingly positive messages.

None of them, save Step-Up 3D, is a "Great" film in the way that we've come to accept.  But collectively they speak of a new and invigorating form of film-making that, for a while, seemed poised to become a continuing phenomena until dissipating into the collective consciousness.

I hope that you'll join me in the coming weeks as I look at the rise and fall of the modern dance film.  I'm going to be starting with the film that hoped to kick off this trend, the 2003 Jessica Alba vehicle Honey, and concluding with the great Step-Up 3D.

The Schedule
August 16th - Honey 
August  23rd - You Got Served
August 30th - Rize
September 6th - Roll Bounce
September 13th - Step Up
September 20th - Take the Lead
September 27th - Feel the Noise
October 4th - Planet B-Boy
October 11th - Stomp the Yard
October 18th - How She Move
October 25th -  B-Girl
November 1st - Make It Happen
November 8th - Step Up 2 the Streets
November 15th - Dance Flick
November 22nd - Step-Up 3D

Posted by Andrew

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