Serious about pleasure | Bleader

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Serious about pleasure

Posted By on 08.01.12 at 10:31 AM

From Busby Berkeleys Elite Squad: the Enemy Within
  • From Busby Berkeley's Elite Squad: the Enemy Within
Last week the Washington-based critic Trevor Link posted a provocative rave review of Step Up Revolution, arguing that the movie's politics live up to the title. The movie apparently touches on contemporary class struggle, not only in its thin between-the-dances narrative, but in the choreography itself. Citing a climactic scene in which Adam Sevani "[dances] wildly and [bounces] off a phalanx of dancers dressed in crowd control gear," Link makes the case that, in the film, "dance dramatizes the plight of the individual against organized oppression, a sight unmistakably reminiscent of the Occupy protests. This is dance at its most cinematic, using the medium to create unique meanings incapable of being expressed otherwise."

I haven't seen the film yet, though Link has piqued my curiosity. I don't balk at the idea that a dance movie aimed at teenagers (particularly one released by a second-tier studio) would contain subversive ideas, as filmmakers often have used disreputable genres to smuggle radical sentiments into theaters. Consider George Romero's antiestablishment horror films, Stephanie Rothman's feminist-themed exploitation movies, or the experimental stretches of the Monkees musical Head.

I'm also curious to see how Step Up Revolution compares with a recent Taiwanese entertainment called Girlfriend Boyfriend (aka Gf*Bf), which opens at the River East on Friday. That film is another fusion of protest and pop art, depicting the mid-80s student movement against martial law as a John Hughes-like high school comedy. The dramatic content can be tacky (I'm sure the same can be said of Step Up Revolution), but the film's aesthetic pleasures are undeniable. Director Yang Ya-che shoots much of the action as though he were making a musical: if you're the sort of viewer who enjoys a good tracking shot for its own sake, Girlfriend Boyfriend may be one of the best films you see all year.

From Girlfriend Boyfriend
  • From Girlfriend Boyfriend
One of the early climactic sequences has a group of rebellious students staging an elaborate prank at their school assembly. As their classmates stand in a square of rows to receive instruction from their authoritarian headmaster (the setup for a Busby Berkeley tribute?), the rebels overtake the speaker system, blast a pop tune, and distribute their antiauthoritarian student magazine. Order gives way to delightful chaos, and Yang's camera traces lines around it as though this pleasure too reflected a necessary plan. A sequence set a few years later at a Taipei rally is almost as fun.

Where Girlfriend Boyfriend makes a historic movement the stuff of pop life, Step Up Revolution (according to Link) brings political subtext to pop. I wonder if one recipe is superior to the other if both result in the same flavor.

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