Thanks to a reporter friend (you rock, Alligator!), I saw an advanced screening of the Outkast vanity project "Idlewild" on Wednesday. (This is not a movie review, but if you are dying to know, the movie was just okay.) As an amateur lindy hopper and hip hop dancer, I was excited about the prospects of seeing some real fusion of the two styles in the film.
Unfortunately, the film was shot in that infuriating music video style where the camera can’t sit still for more than half a second before moving to the next shot. Not surprising, since the director was Bryan Barber, whose only other claim to fame has been directing all of Outkast’s music videos.
I’m sure there are lots of other disciplines, from martial artists to musicians, who can not stand to see their art depicted in film and television. It’s one thing if you are shooting actors who aren’t trained dancers/martial artists/musicians. You don’t want the camera to linger, or the jig is up.
But if you are going to go the trouble of getting actual professionals to do their craft, hold the damn camera still! You don’t need to intersperse shots of the sweat rolling down their arms, or their shoelaces or someone in the audience gawking. If the dancers are worth their salt, the cinematographer should just have to plant the camera center stage, wide-angle and hit record.
The hit show "So You Think You Can Dance" seems to have figured out how to shoot dance sequences in a way that respects the dancers while providing enough camera work to keep the TV audience engaged.
You can see the difference when you watch the guest musical artists perform. Suddenly, the camera goes into full spastic mode, with pull-backs, tight-shots, zooming and spinning effects. Everything to distract you from what the singer is actually doing onstage, trying to simulate a "live" music video.
Not that I didn’t enjoy the dancing in "Idlewild." Seeing b-boys and swing dancers throwing down to a blend of hip-hop and jazz music was blissful to see on the big screen, even for a few fleeting seconds. Another dancer friend tells me that choreographer Hinton Battle worked hard to get authentic jazz and swing dancing integrated into the movie, and Ryan Francois, a legendary lindy hopper from London, is one of the featured dancers.
It’s just maddening that there wasn’t more dancing footage. Maybe there is a b-roll of just the dancers that could be made available on the DVD or the internet. This was actually done on the DVD for the b-boy movie "You Got Served" , which provided as one of the DVD extras five different camera angles of a particular dance sequence that you could control with your DVD remote. That’s the kind of control that would make owning the DVD truly worth it.