The superb documentary War/Dance reveals the redemptive power of music, even in the most horrific places. Focusing on three children in their early teens in war-torn Uganda–stoic Nancy, driven Dominic, and soft-spoken Rose–War/Dance tracks the efforts of the school of a refugee camp called Patongo to compete in Uganda’s countrywide music competition.
The contrasts are staggering; in interviews, the children describe their parents being killed by rebel soldiers, then footage of rehearsal shows them joyfully singing and dancing with their classmates.
Some of the sequences are harrowing (a scene where Nancy grieves for her murdered father is painful to watch), but without them, we wouldn’t understand how hard-won are the feelings of pride and accomplishment as their school performs for the competition’s judges.
The built-in structure of the competition gives this documentary a clear and engrossing storyline, much like Spellbound or Mad Hot Ballroom, but the heartbreaking circumstances and the emotional openness of the three teenagers makes War/Dance even more compelling.
Noted photographer David LaChapelle makes his feature directorial debut with this documentary on a new facet of street culture in South Central Los Angeles. In 1992, after long-simmering racial tensions in Los Angeles erupted in riots following the verdicts in the Rodney King trial, a man named Tommy Johnson sought to spread a new message in a new way to the city’s African-Americans.
Creating a character called Tommy the Clown, Johnson developed an act that combined hip-hop-flavored comedy and dancing with an anti-gang and anti-violence message. Johnson’s performances became wildly popular in South Central — so much so that at one point, 50 different groups inspired by Johnson’s example were performing in the area. In time, Johnson’s loose-limbed dance style inspired a new wave of hip-hop street dancing called “krumping,” a wildly athletic style in which arms, legs, and bodies fly with a frenzied abandon that moves at almost inhuman speeds.
Rize follows the birth of clown dancing and krumping in South Central, and records how many young people have adopted the dance as a style of competition, offering a safer and healthier alternative to the gang culture that has long dominated Los Angeles. Rize premiered at the 2005… (Barnes & Noble)
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The history of hardcore punk–the tougher, faster, and more politically minded stepchild of the ’70s punk movement that arose in the ’80s–is examined in exuberant detail in Paul Rachman’s documentary American Hardcore. Rachman’s cameras careen across the landscape of the U.S. to trace the movement’s beginnings in cities like Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York, and cherrypicks interviews with the musicians that helped shape its sound and impact, including Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn of Black Flag, H.R. (frontman for the highly influential, all-African American outfit Bad Brains), Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat (and now Fugazi), and many others.
Hardcore’s violent reaction against the Reagan administration and the complacent mindset of middle-class America is also detailed in countless performance footage clips and poster-art reproductions, which do much to dismiss the popular opinion of hardcore as nothing more than mindless hooliganism.
Some fans may find the omission of certain bands a considerable oversight (San Francisco’s lethally satirical Dead Kennedys are not mentioned only in passing), but for most punk devotees, American Hardcore will be vital and essential viewing.
The History Channel’s How Bruce Lee Changed the World explores the amazing multitude of ways that Bruce Lee–the first international Asian superstar–has influenced pop culture. Calling Lee “the biggest movie star in history” is a bit of a stretch (though every shot of this hypnotically charismatic performer argues that he might have been, had he not died abruptly before the release of his fourth and most successful movie, Enter the Dragon).
A wealth of interviewees, ranging from filmmakers like Jackie Chan (who was a stunt man on Lee’s movies in his early career), John Woo, and Brett Ratner, comedians like Eddie Griffin and Margaret Cho, musicians like LL Cool J, RZA, and Damon Albarn, athletes like boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and bodybuilder Flex Wheeler, and more, testify to the enormous impression Lee had on them.
The documentary overreaches at some points, but there’s no denying that Lee brought martial arts movies to the West and redefined the image of Asian men in the public consciousness (before him, Asian men were fiends like Fu Manchu, servants, or buffoons).
Lee’s life history is efficiently told and some of the details are delightful–who would have guessed Lee was a champion cha-cha dancer in Hong Kong? His audition for The Green Hornet reveals a movie star just waiting to be discovered. The man himself–lithe and muscular, capable of astonishing speed and grace, radiating both intelligence and passion–makes all commentary unnecessary.