Sunday, March 15, 2009

15 Days 'til NYC: Beat Street

In anticipation for my trip to New York City I will be counting down with some of my NYC movies (and even some that I don't like just for a change of pace). Hope you all enjoy.

I have a deep affinity for movies that get forced into ghettos, but which - I feel - have far more going on than many would give them credit for, especially when it comes to movies aimed at teenagers. I am not a teenager anymore, but I still remember what it was like to be one and since they get so many downright awful movies aimed at them I feel like whenever one comes along that I think is striving for something (even if it's just a little bit) extra then I have to give it props. For reasons that I have never quite explained I thought Step Up 2 the Streets had it in spades last year despite the movie receiving a shellacking from critics and moviegoers alike. Movies like Bring it On and Save the Last Dance had it too. Yes, they may not be true to life, although the latter sure does like to think it is, but there's stuff there that demands to be told and most of the time doesn't have the chance before people decry it for not being made by John Hughes (the master, it must be said). If they're not by him (or Fame!) then they automatically assume they're not trying to say or be anything other than disposable trash, but I don't think that's the case.

And so I come to Beat Street. With it's bright and colourful poster you could be forgiven for thinking that it is nothing more than a throw-away dance movie. And while the dancing is incredibly impressive and the soundtrack is one of the finest of the '80s - now THIS is old school hip-hop, the original and the best, with the likes of Treacherous 3, Africa Bambaataa, Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five, Juicy, Debbie D, Tina B The System, Brenda K Starr and Jazzy Jay amongst others - there is a grit and authenticity to the portrayal of this life that is really fascinating. It also shows us the life of graffiti artists, musical wannabes and those who have nothing left in their life except dance (and not in the "if I don't dance I'll die" sort of fantasised life you often see in movies). The death of a main character is particularly well handled.

Oh sure, the acting isn't much - Rae Dawn Chong is particularly unimpressive in one of her first film performances - but when the movie ends in a ten minute long song and dance sequence featuring Africa Bambaataa and it feels as vibrant and almost life-affirming in a way as this one does it's hard to even notice.

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