The Plateau of Dance: Stomp the Yard (2007) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Plateau of Dance: Stomp the Yard (2007)

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Andrew COMMENTARYI've seen a pattern with these dance movies that's difficult to deny.  This isn't a very intriguing pattern, more one which is starting to grow a bit grating and actually makes me long for the directness of You Got Served and the eventual optimism of Step Up 3D.  Dance films like Stomp the Yard exist as a sort of mirror image of the plot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Stomp the Yard - much like Feel the Noise, Step Up and Roll Bounce before it - features a young man who gets into trouble and then has to leave the life he's known for new surroundings.  In each film, the man is initially ostracized and then accepted through the power of dance (or, in the case of Noise, music).  There's the standard love interest, a villain displaying varied degrees of evil, and a thumpin' soundtrack to keep things steady.

It's also important to note these films have also been the worst I've seen in this series and boasted the most lackluster dancing and in the case of Noise hardly any at all.  As easy as it may seem to dismiss the new wave of dance films as "formulaic" it turns out the one's that only seem to adhere to a formula are the ones which come out the most unique.  This is seen racial role-reversal and commentary in Served or the eventual bizarre concept pieces of Step Up 3D.

The unfortunate thing about Stomp the Yard is it didn't even have an interesting a form of dance to focus on.  Yes, the stomp form has it's roots in old work songs and secular field music, but it doesn't make for the most exciting source of movement to focus a camera onto.  Sadly, it's over an hour before the film presents us with a real dance sequence and since it manages to be the single most thrilling moment in the film.

The vibe of Stomp the Yard is unnecessarily aggressive, even when it tries to soften up (not depicted, the film trying to soften up).

Until then it's a bunch of stomping and some fairly extreme posturing.  Another important factor in the most successful of these movies has been the streak of optimism.  Within the first ten minutes of Stomp the brother of our main character is shot dead after out dancing a rival.  This leaves Duron (Chris Brown) understandably shaken and hastens his exit to Atlanta, GA for college and a taste at the good life.

Now as much as this would shake Duron, this sends the wrong kind of message to any potentially receptive crowd.  The problem with taking such an extreme action is conflating the death with a dance competition.  The idea is to avoid the kind of violent posturing and actions which have been stereotypically associated with hip-hop and rap.  Instead, participants take this sort of perceived hostility and turn it into a sometimes beautiful display of dance and charm.

This reinforces, instead of contradicting, the wrongheaded notion developed by too many parental watchdog groups that rap music (and by extension, those who enjoy it) can be dangerous.  Beyond the philosophical level it just sets the tone wrong for the rest of the movie, flashing back to a fairly violent death when we should be embracing the sense of motion onscreen.  It's a perplexing decision to a movie that, for the rest of its run-time, just can't escape from.

All might be forgiven if we could at least be treated to some great dancing.  But dance numbers are limited, and what few remain are not helped by director Sylvain White's shooting style.  He positions his camera at chest-up medium shot length or nearly extreme wide.  This leaves us too close, numbing our senses to the spastic motions of their style of dancing, or too far away to figure out just what everyone is doing with their bodies.  The positioning is not helped by some very dark lighting which hides the performers features even further, and White's perplexing decision to have the camera shake along with the dancer's movements.

This serves for a nice solo movement in a thematically appropriate venue, it's just too bad the film meanders for an hour before providing it.

When this was done after a group jump in You Got Served it helped to heighten the sense of excitement and weight of the dancers.  Here it is a distracting gimmick, not really immersing the audience in the performances and instead jolting them right out of the theater.  There are just too many wrongheaded decisions made regarding the style of this movie to justify what little good dancing exists in it.

Stomp the Yard exists as a firm point for the decline of dance films.  Despite it's success at the box-office there were few imitators in film, and little to see in popular culture drew influence from its efforts.  It's wrongheaded, dark, and too muddled in what it wants to accomplish to really do any good.  The temporary boom of creativity now silenced, it's time to get back to the "real" world of dance.

This is not progress and, sadly, we have not seen the end of the descent.

The Schedule
November 4th – How She Move
November 11th –  B-Girl
November 18th – Make It Happen
November 25th – Step Up 2 the Streets
December 2nd – Dance Flick
December 9th – Step-Up 3D

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Stomp the Yard (2007)

Directed by Sylvain White.
Screenplay by Robert Adetuyi and Gregory Anderson.
Starring Chris Brown.

Posted by Andrew

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