Friday Face/Off: Dance Films

Alice (went to a daytime showing of Step Up 3D with friends cos they knew there would be no one to see them dancing along):

In these days of doom and gloom, in between reading the broadsheets and the latest political biography, watching the news and Question Time, eating your five-a-day, giving up alcohol, cigarettes and saturated fats, remembering to go to the gym, meditate and avoid getting repetitive strain injury… sometimes your brain needs the celluloid equivalent of junk food – something to give you a quick endorphin fix without the calorific value. The simple answer is a couple of equally enthusiastic friends (no eye-rollers allowed), a DVD of any amazingly crap (or crappily amazing) dance film, and complete abandonment of cynicism, irony and taste for a couple of hours. In short, films such as the Step Up trilogy, Dirty Dancing and Strictly Ballroom are pure guilty pleasure, and there’s nothing wrong with that (as long as you don’t actually admit your passion to any snobby friends).

John (has never felt more old and out of touch than when at a screening of Step Up 3D, alone, at 10:30 AM):

I couldn’t agree more – sometimes an entertaining but basically worthless film is exactly what the doctor ordered. However, dance ‘films’ simply do not qualify. Have you actually seen Step Up 3D? I have (I was the only person over 15 in the cinema), and it had no more in common with the hundred-year-old art of cinema than ‘Friday’ by Rebecca Black does to the venerable craft of popular music. Films are stories committed to celluloid; although dance can be a powerful storytelling medium, the noxious ‘dance film’ has no such pretentions. Watching a procession of lithe acrobats with wooden acting glands traipse across the screen and desperately try to act for ten minutes at a time before lapsing gratefully into another bout of twirly nonsense does not constitute seeing a film, and the sooner aficionados of the diseased ‘Moose’ and his ilk (/elk. HA!) face up to that the happier we’ll all be.

I shall briefly go off topic to add my thruppence worth of bewilderment at the Rebecca Black anti-phenomenon. However (back on track), while I agree that sometimes there is a frustrating lack of acting in some dance films (how hard can it be to scour talent schools for genuine multitaskers?), there are those which actually showcase some bona fide talent. Saturday Night Fever is very much a dance film, and it brought John Travolta into the spotlight as well as dealing with genuinely disturbing ‘issues’. (I also hold a fading hope that Step Up’s Channing Tatum will choose a decent film and fulfil what I think is decent acting potential, but that may be foolish of me.) As for storylines – what about 80s’ classics Footloose, Flashdance and Dirty Dancing? While they were never going to run for Best Screenplay Oscar, they have enough weight to have lasted the decades and inspired new generations to cut loose, footloose, kick off their Sunday shoes…
(N.B. I will hear nothing against Moose, aka Adam G. Sevani, who is a brilliantly talented choreographer.)

Right, let’s be clear here. I’ve got nothing against films which happen to have dance-centric plots – nobody’s arguing with Black Swan, after all – but I have serious, well-marbled, grass-fed Argentine beef with the new breed of films which consist of dazzling choreography stitched together with the barest wisps of plot and character. This unsavoury phenomenon probably started with Save The Last Dance, way back in 2001, and it’s been gathering pace ever since. Whether the culprit is one of the nefarious Step Up films (Adam G. Sevani can suck my antlers), the pitiful UK imitation Streetdance 3D or even, Christ preserve us, Stomp The Yard (or stomp your girlfriend’s face, eh Chris Brown? Eh?), you can rely on three central principles; the dancing will be impressive, the plot will be negligible and the acting will be physically painful. Gene Anthony Ray (Leroy in Fame) was a superb actor and a hypnotic dancer; we know they exist, so why can nobody be bothered to find them? Dance films are hoist by their own lazy, low rent petards.

OK, so I’m just going to have to stand up and confess to this, much in the same shameful way that Li-Lo owns up to the Mean Girls‘ Burn Book. I just don’t care that the acting’s a bit crap in the Step Ups; it’s worth it for the sheer breathtaking joy of the choreography. It’s like wading through all the boring Sam ‘n’ Frodo bits to get to the glorious Middle Earth battles (yep, I just compared Step Up to The Lord of the Rings. So what?). I’ll admit that even I couldn’t sit through Street Dance: 3D again (planks could do a better northern accent than the girl lead) but in most other dance films the ratio of mediocre acting to AWESOME dance is totally worth it. Underwood, judge me all you want, but a gal gotta be allowed one dirty little lapse of taste. Of course, it helps that the lead males are buffer than Captain America on Serum top-up day.

Hey, no fair! You knew I’d be distracted by any mention of Captain AmeriBUFF; however, not even Chris Evans’ taut and gleaming physique could distract me from my fundamental loathing of dance films and the sort of pitiful troglodytes who choose to watch them. If you want to goggle at unnecessarily svelte people twirling around then that’s fine, but why deny yourself any chance of enjoying the rest of the film? Watch Fame for Gene Anthony Ray, watch Flashdance for Irene Cara, watch Dirty Dancing if you honestly don’t think Patrick Swayze is a bit shit – just resist the facile charms of anything where the protagonists have silly nicknames, wear hats indoors and insist on calling competitions ‘battles’. Or better yet, go to the fucking ballet.

By Alice Sinclair and John Underwood

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