The Plateau of Dance: Take the Lead (2006) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Plateau of Dance: Take the Lead (2006)

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Ah. I was wondering where the smolder went off to.

Andrew COMMENTARYIt's weird that a movie as formulaic as Take the Lead succeeds in defying some kind of expectation.  Granted, it's a very specific expectation, one established by my broad constraint of looking at modern hip-hop dance in film, but it defied it nonetheless.  Take the Lead was one of those films I thought would fuse the art of hip-hop and tango together into another wacky hybrid.  Much to my surprise it takes tango, ballroom, salsa, and other more traditionally minded dances far more seriously than anticipated.

That said, its an absolute failure at continuing the trend of utilizing hip-hop dance the way it had enjoyed some success in the two years previous.  Take the Lead came out before Step Up and paved the way for the white-washing that went on in the first SU film.  The cast is multi-ethnic, the dancing styles varied, and all filmed with exuberance and passion for the sensuous freedom of movement.  Of course, it barely made over $30 million (still a mild success) and eventually drove the more vanilla SU into the foreground while other ventures into hip-hop dance faded away.

The plot borrows a bit from Dead Poet's Society and a pinch of Stand and Deliver to a fairly satisfying mix.  That it's all based on the life of a real man, Pierre Dulaine (played by Antonio Banderas), makes me wonder how much life drew from film and vice versa.  But all great teachers, fictional or otherwise, share the same passion even if it's sometimes silly to watch (Poet's) or heartbreaking (Stand).  Dulaine catches a troubled student wrecking a teachers car, finds out where he goes to school and begins to teach the detention-bound students how to dance in the hopes of teaching them respect.

He succeeds because the film is rated PG-13 and stars Antonio Banderas, a presence normally breeding inconsistent films but one I always find charming.  As you can see, he's full smolder during the dance scenes and his shaky grasp of English leads to some adorable moments when he's trying to attract the kids attention.  Even the various story-lines of the students has some empathetic appeal, particularly one love triangle that ends in a creative three-way tango at the end.

Interesting that the issues in Take the Lead arise more from class distinctions than race.

But, as I mentioned, this film built up a much stronger expectation for the fusion of hip-hop and tango.  The trailer is backed heavily by beats and Spanish guitars even pausing for the always tasteful vinyl scratch.  But really, outside of the rare bonding moment between student and teacher, very little popping or grooving actually ends up in the movie.

It's not terribly hard to figure out why.  Aside from the fluke success of You Got Served, none of the other films in the modern dance canon made much money.  YGS was the greatest success at $40 million but, aside from the growing success of like-minded dance shows on television, not another film was able to come close to YGS success.  Even Take the Lead didn't do very well.  Considerable commentary on Banderas' acting ability aside, he still seemed a bankable star to make a movie like this a success.  But it came, opened, did a paltry $34 million and went quietly into the night.

The story of modern hip-hop dance in film as a mainstream success, outside of the remaining SU films, ends here.  Whatever influence it had left would eventually be delegated to Dreamworks animated film endings and the mandatory appearance in Friedberg/Seltzer atrocities (Date Movie, Scary Movie 2, Disaster Movie).  Unlike the 80's, before mostly disappearing from film in the 90's, it wasn't a novelty anymore but it also wasn't a lucrative possibility to pursue.

In a sense, I admire the way that Take the Lead let's the characters all express themselves through their own favorite style of dance, but it's disappointing that so little of that was dedicated to the one form that really livened up these films.  It's not that the dance scenes in Take the Lead aren't entertaining, especially since Banderas practically ejaculates onto the camera during his example tango for the class, but it's a return to a number traditional forms which didn't need anymore exposure.

The exuberance in the dance scenes is palpable, but I wish the direction was pointed differently.

What I liked about Rize, YGS and Roll Bounce was the way they treated modern hip-hop dance as something that was completely new but never needed to be invented.  Growing from skates, or cardboard flats on the streets, the cameras grew to embrace the full form from head to toe and sit back to watch the action unfold.  Those same cinematic techniques are present in Take the Lead, but I'm just not as interested.

So, much like in it's inception, it's time for it to go underground.  Or at least in a series of much smaller pictures with a narrower focus.  Since I haven't seen many of these I'll be discovering their qualities just as you but, suffice to say, 2006 was the end of this quick era of modern dance films.

Now to see how they evolve from here.

The Schedule
September 30th – Feel the Noise
October 7th – Planet B-Boy
October 14th – Stomp the Yard
October 21st – How She Move
October 28th –  B-Girl
November 4th – Make It Happen
November 11th – Step Up 2 the Streets
November 18th – Dance Flick
November 25th – Step-Up 3D

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Take the Lead (2006)

Directed by Liz Friedlander.
Screenplay by Dianne Houston.
Starring Antonio Banderas.


Posted by Andrew

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