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Woodend’s Summer Flick Picks: Skaters, Supreme and Stirring Dance

Our culture editor on what to watch this season. Vin Diesel is optional.

Dorothy Woodend 22 Jul

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor of The Tyee. Reach her here.

The latest instalment of the Fast and the Furious franchise wasn’t perhaps the best way to re-enter movie theatres, but one has to start somewhere, so why not at the new VIP Cineplex at the "Amazing Brentwood” mall in Burnaby?

I don’t know how amazing Brentwood is — it mostly seems amazingly under construction — but the new Cineplex theatre is open and offering a plush experience. How plush is it? I’m glad you asked.

The VIP model of theatres is more akin to a restaurant/lounge/bar/lazy boy experience than old time cinema-going, when the best you could hope for was a bag of greasy popcorn and some flat Coke. In the upgraded version, one can order a cocktail and a full rack of ribs from the comfort of a giant recliner-type seat.

Turn on the butt warmer, swivel up the footrest and chow down while you watch Vin Diesel fly muscle cars into outer space. I exaggerate a little — the outer space car is actually driven by Tyrese Gibson — but everything else is pretty factual.

The effort to lure folks back into theatres might be better directed (zing!) into making films that possess an ounce of sense, but that’s not why one goes to a Fast & Furious movie after all. We’re here for fast cars, hot ladies in short pants and fisticuffs in spaaaaaace. Also, ribs.

At some point, maybe four minutes into F9: The Fast Saga, when the Toretto family (Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, his brother Jakob, sister Mia, and a couple of distant cousins) have gone full Bond international super spies, I thought: how did we get here? Didn’t these folks used to be just a gang of humble street racers? When were the upgrades installed to the lunkheaded story of a man and his muscley car to take it into superhero territory?

Maybe it matters not, but the impulse to pump hype, hot air, bum warmers and a full rack of ribs into something — whether a movie theatre or Vin Diesel, so that it is barely recognizable from its former, more modest self — is everywhere at the moment.

Strangely enough, a similar thought occurred while watching another, very different film. All the Streets Are Silent is a documentary about the convergence of hip hop and skateboarding, two cultural movements that intersected in the late 1980s and early ’90s in the U.S. It opens at Vancouver’s Cinematheque theatre on July 30.

There is a lot packed into this story — the gritty urban culture of old New York City, the rise of skateboarding, the beginnings of hip hop, director Harmony Korine and Larry Clark’s Kids, and that’s just a first take. As the film notes, what started as a small band of punk skaters in NYC became a global phenomenon.

The list of folks interviewed from actress Rosario Dawson to hip hop radio pioneers Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito recall an era when New York was still cheap, dirty and outta control, and that’s how everyone liked it.

Between 1987 and ’97 the linked communities of hip hop and skateboarding, fuelled by dire poverty and the necessity of blunt survival, fought for recognition and respect. To say the period was a cauldron of creativity is putting it mildly. It was more like a thermonuclear explosion. From the initial blast radius, the scene radiated out, going full diaspora around the world.

Amid the fallout, there was no bigger or more surprising story than that of Supreme.

The clothing brand started as a tiny skate shop on Lafayette Street and became a $2.1-billion corporation. The Supreme saga has been well-documented, but some of the lesser-known figures in the scene are equally fascinating, especially Yuki Watanabe, who was instrumental in creating a venue, Club Mars, where skating and music could mix.

Director Jeremy Elkin does an impressive job of knitting together multiple and often converging stories, helped along by narrator Eli Morgan Gesner, co-founder of the skateboard company Zoo York. Gesner’s archival footage forms a big part of the film along with a dope soundtrack from Large Professor.

Although several of the original progenitors of the scene died young from drugs, suicide or simply too much, too fast, the survivors went on to stratospheric levels of fame and money. It is interesting and strangely poignant to see them in nascent form in the documentary, like baby chicks in baggy pants and gold grills.

Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters is screening online through the Vancity Theatre.

Another take on New York City and the culture it birthed can be found in Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters, which documents the beginnings of the dance company that Jones co-founded with his lover and creative partner, Arnie Zane. The film is screening through the Vancity Theatre, which reopens to the public on July 30 but continues to offer online viewings in the interim.

Can You Bring It brings together the seminal American dancemaker with original members of his company to resurrect a time and place when creating art was a do-or-die proposition. In the early 1980s, anyone with a creative bone in their body made a straight shot for New York, and Zane was one of them. Zane met Jones at a State University of New York event and it was love at first sight. The pair soon fell into a creative and romantic partnership that gave rise to their eponymous dance company.

A good portion of the film is given over to Jones and company members talking about the early heady days of dance making in New York. It was a period of incendiary creativity that gave rise to an explosion of art.

Artforum described the moment: “In the old days, when Alan Suicide played CBGB’s and Nan Goldin showed slides at the Mudd Club and Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane performed at the Kitchen on Broome Street, the downtown dance scene and the art world/music scene were part of the same geography. Visual artists, performers, choreographers, and musicians made up one another’s audiences; each group saw in the others’ work reflections of its own conceptual strategies and found inspiration in the way high art, low culture, and punk music were a part of everyone’s special blend.”

From such fulsomeness came a dance language that helped define American choreography. But the moment of creative liberation was short-lived. The AIDS crisis not only devastated NYC’s creative community at large, but also took a deeply personal toll on the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.

When Zane died of AIDS-related lymphoma, paramedics refused to take his body and members of the company were left to deal with the remains. Not long after Zane’s death another member of the company, Demian Acquavella (the D-Man of the film’s title), also developed the disease.

D-Man in the Waters premiered in 1989 in the midst of a raging torrent of suffering and tragedy, but from the depths of grief emerged one of the most profound works of contemporary choreography. The film parallels the creation of the original work alongside a remounting by college dance students. Director Rosalynde LeBlanc, who teaches dance at Loyola Marymount University, combines her own history (she joined the company at age 16 after seeing a performance of D-Man) with her current understanding of the piece.

With support from co-director/cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, LeBlanc brings a dancer’s eye to the story as she coaxes her students to channel the heartbreak of the original choreographic piece. But it isn’t until the young dancers bring in their own sources of grief and anxiety that the work comes fully alive. Some of the most affecting scenes are also the quietest, as the music of Mendelssohn’s String Octet falls silent and the performers are forced to face each other and express their true vulnerability and pain.

Can You Bring It is a reminder that art can remake grief into something not only beautiful, but perhaps even immortal.

Tomorrow: More summer films to come including 'Roadrunner,' the new documentary on the life and death of Anthony Bourdain.  [Tyee]

Read more: Film

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