Friday, October 14, 2011

Everbody Cut Gab-loose!

Werth: Hi, Wise!

Wise: Hi, Werth. Nice parachute pants and jelly bracelets.

Werth: This week they're releasing the re-make of Footloose so I can't decide which decade I should be dressing for.

Wise: My guess is the new Footloose will update its fashions, but maintain the theme of self-expression and freedom through dance.

Werth: With Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell in the cast, I'll bet we see some feathered hair or, at the very least, a scrunchy.

Wise: I'll definitely be peg-rolling my pants this weekend as I succumb to the the subtle charms of Step Up (2006).  

Werth: Step Up?  Um, isn't there a Judy movie you'd rather talk about?  

Wise: Judy was a great dancer, but I don't know that any of her movies could really be called dance movies.  Besides, Step Up is clearly the offspring of both the great MGM musicals of the 1940's and Footloose.  

Werth: I'm willing to entertain that possibility.  

Wise: Channing Tatum plays Tyler Gage, a Baltimore street tough with a heart of gold and quicksilver feet.  After a party one night, he and his pals break into the Maryland School of Arts to commit some good, old-fashioned vandalism.  Unfortunately, the cops show up and Tyler is sentenced to 200 hours of community service at the school.  
Once there, he meets cute with snobby rich girl Nora Clark (Jenna Dewan), and after her even snobbier dance partner/boyfriend Brett (Josh Henderson) sprains his ankle in a freak plié accident, Nora is forced to take Tyler on as her dance partner.  Of course she's horrified by his urban inflected moves, and he finds her classical training preposterous, but eventually, they grow to respect each other's talents and fall in love.  

Werth: The plot is equal parts The Band Wagon and Breakin'

Wise: Exactly.  Plus, both Tyler and Nora have quirky best friends who also fall in love, so Step Up basically shares the same structure—  

Werth: As just about every musical made before 1950.  

Wise: But there's no singing in Step Up, just a lot of dancing.  And a lot of that fancy footwork focuses on the contrast between Tyler's street rhythms and Nora's ballet school formalism.  Director/choreographer Anne Fletcher has a lot of fun blending their disparate styles, as well as using the tension between the two to build toward the climactic final number: a kinetic routine filled with hip hop flash modulated by traditional forms.  

Werth: So, you really like Step Up?  

Wise: I wouldn't go that far.  It's not a particularly good movie, but it is a rousing one that makes you want to throw aside your cares and hoof it like there's no tomorrow.  

Werth: One of my favorite dance movies is less hoof and more hankie. Dancer in the Dark (2000) on paper doesn't have the pedigree that you would associate with a musical. Director Lars von Trier is known for his heavy, oppressive dramas with realistic filming techniques like handheld cameras and naturalistic dialogue and acting. With Dancer, von Trier decided to bring some Dogme 95 "realism" to the Hollywood musical.

Wise: Which sounds a bit like bringing a dead fish to a candy shop. 

Werth: Dancer tells the story of Selma (the semi-intelligible Icelandic chanteuse Bjork), an immigrant worker in the Pacific Northwest in the 1960's who toils at a metal fabricating plant and in odd jobs to save up enough money to pay for an eye operation for her young son. She knows how critical this operation is because the eye disease is genetic and she herself is going blind.

Wise: Wow. No "raindrops on roses" or "whiskers on kittens" in this one.

Werth: Selma's one escape from her punishing life is her love of Hollywood musicals, so she is thrilled to be cast as Maria in a chintzy community theater production of The Sound of Music.

Wise: Being blind is going to make climbing every mountain a bit more difficult. 

Werth: As usual, von Trier turns the world against his fragile, reality-challenged heroine and without uttering any spoilers, let's just say Selma does not make it to "Edelweiss." But through his over-heated sense of tragedy, von Trier creates a character who is both healed and destroyed by song and dance—questioning how much fantasy is good for us. 
Bjork is the perfect muse for von Trier (even if they wound up hating each other on set) with her naturally childlike personality infusing the role with an ethereal quality. She seamlessly transports us from her job on the factory floor to a musical daydream where she is whirled around by stomping and clapping co-workers. 
Her final scene is horribly tragic—perhaps because, suddenly, this elf-like creature is made human by her un-Hollywood musical ending. Bjork's Oscar-nominated score is lyrical and percussive and the final song, "New World," is so beautiful it's worth sitting through the final credits for. 
Fine supporting work from Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare and irrepressible musical icon Joel Grey make Dancer in the Dark a must-see... no matter what you thought of Bjork's avian-inspired Oscar dress.  

Wise: I'm feeling pretty inspired to go cut a rug.  

Werth: Just as long as you roll up next week for more Film Gab.  

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