Sunday, September 15, 2013

GIRL WALK//ALL DAY (review by contributor Simon Opitz)

Every week, we will feature a written review by contributor Simon Opitz. These reviews will be of a film the hosts of the First Time Watchers podcast have not discussed recently on the show. You can find more of Simon's reviews at

Girl Walk//All Day 2010

[Rating: 4/5 Stars]

A contender for one of the top 10 most fun movies ever made, GIRL WALK//ALL DAY is unfortunately too inconsistent to achieve perfection.

Appropriately funded by Kickstarter donations, this film is dedicated to the idealist notion of democratic art. While the dancers are clearly very skilled, their ability seems to come directly from passion rather than classical training. The heart of the film is the idea that anyone can make great art, as it is inherent in our being regardless of race, creed or gender. We were meant to move, and to bring joy to others by doing so is easier than it seems. 

The dance in the film is an explosion of exuberance rather than searching for meaning through gestures. There isn't much more meaning in it other than being a representation of complete joy, though it does sometimes go beyond that. It's so infectious it plays more into Tolstoy's definition of art than Goodman's, meaning it's more concerned with communicating emotion than symbolism. Art can and should infect everyone.

There are underlying means to further this end buried within the film. It takes place in New York City, the world's melting pot. A point is made to depict many peoples of many nations, cultures and ethnicities uniting through dance. The film's ultra-white protagonist will dance in hip-hop styles in a way that feels included and not alien. The male character known as "The Creep" executes some feminine moves at one point (actually maybe two, that may or may not have been a completely random half naked, pole dancing man wearing high heels on the subway). This very simply means that there should be no societal barriers to joy.

This point is accentuated by a brief makeover segment in which the titular "The Girl" is dolled up with extravagant clothing. She parades ignorantly in front of Occupy Wall Street protesters to quickly create an image of the still existing class divide that the film aims to take down. A young sad girl she meets sitting on the street refuses all offers of material goods as a means to cheer her up, instead settling for outright silliness. This remedies our heroine's fleeting state of vapid consumerism and its meaning is readily apparent even from that brief description: money does not buy happiness. While this may seem obvious, this notion of unity through the art of our similarly human bodies is pretty cool.

A second point made through dance is actually about the notion of dance itself. Human bodies partaking in corporeal pleasure usually refers not to dance, but to sex. This film's more sexualized dances are a simple reminder that we are there to provide pleasure in at least one obvious way, aside from the joy of movement. This isn't played in a hedonistic way though; it's just the product of the film's function as a celebration of the human body. The Girl's self-sexualization is in fact empowering. She is in reality counter to society in every frame; no one is forcing her to dance this way (from the feel of it, not even the director). The sex aspect of our being is usable for more artful means of expression than merely gettin' it on. Exercise the body to exorcise the soul.

The cinematography is Dogme, at least in ethos. This is a big boring looking world that you can be happy in nonetheless. It's not even all visually bland; whenever nature is glimpsed it's beautiful, suggesting civilization has drained our capacity for the primal joy of physical expression. It aims for a backdrop of a reality that has forgotten this basic happiness, positing the idea that it really doesn't have to be this way. (The fact that it's a pseudo-documentary helps fuel the atmosphere).

The actual music for which the project was created fits rather perfectly. While I personally find the whole point Girl Talk's "music" to be rather idiotic, this film gives his one-note "wouldn't this be cool" mashups a much more substantive point. The basic gist of Girl Talk's act is to take a song's vocal section and put it on a DIFFERENT song's instrumental section because why the hell not. The film takes that base concept and elevates it to achieve moments of transcendence. The music plays further into the core theme of cross-creed art. Its Dionysian qualities result in a film about all art as our shared human experience, and how it can be aggregated to elevate our very species. Too bad the unavoidable game of "recognize the sample" becomes distracting to this end. 

The film's biggest issue is editing. It's purposefully messy, striving to achieve a big happy carefree blurt of a film. This becomes sometimes problematic, as we get sections of dance that feel thematically flat when it feels the film should be more of a procession of its ideas. It wears itself thin by about the 2/3 mark, since a film like this really has no leeway for digression. Basically, it needed to better organize its chaos. 

A deceptively minor point that harms the film more than it should is the film's noncommittal decision to maybe sort of half-ass a plot. It shouldn't have bothered, and instead focused solely on ideas, so this really drags it down. This decision to include three scenes that form an awful running narrative serves to do nothing but undermine the point of the aforementioned editing choice.

The Girl sees The Gentleman dancing. She and he dance as The Creep looks on in a familiar melancholic jealousy. They dance on a subway too and she loses him in one of a few massive bits of contrivance. Later The Creep catches up to her and they dance, but he picks her up by the waist, which she does not like and she runs. He pursues her, The Gentleman attempts to stop him, and they face off but The Creep gets away. He catches up to her, she crosses the street and walks away to do some more dancing. There is no resolution.

It could be argued that this is not actually a narrative at all, but the fact that the recurring characters are interacting and playing into what they were named at the outset makes it feel enough like one to hold it against it. Even if the intent was for these to have no semblance of story, they feel too connected by the stated nature of the characters. While this sparseness feels like it could translated into extrapolated meaning, that interpretation disregards the diminished surface level enjoyment the film is so primarily concerned with. I'll entertain this theory though.

The dance with The Gentleman signifies the transcendent connection this happiness can bring. The violation The Creep makes is a transgression against her body and womanhood, constraining it and therefore suppressing it. It is a clear comment on tropes of the dance genre, and its stripping away of everything but the dancing exposes the fact that the real meaning is in the supposedly hollow sections. It's often the "meat" of those films that's so much less substantive. However, the narrative is still too poorly executed to excuse it entirely. There's just not enough here to justify this baffling and ruinous choice. It really could have been avoided if it just bothered to wrap it up (plus some tonal adjustments), but they never reunite after that. The film instead concludes with a respectably sized crowd of people (rounded up by The Girl's multilingual "Dance With Me" campaign, which was previously thought to be unsuccessful) parading into the night with sparklers to represent their souls. It's a welcome sentiment and an appropriate happy end, but the fact that The Gentleman and The Creep don't even appear to be present is confounding. Another viewing may expose their characters and arcs as being more fully formed through their movement, but it felt like quite a mess on a narrative level initially. 

GIRL WALK//ALL DAY is a triumph of the human spirit and a beautiful comment on the purpose, origins and ease of art. It WILL make you dance along. It evokes a sense of fun so exciting even the starchiest will be forced to give in. The fact that it can simultaneously provoke thought about exactly why the fun being had is so awesome makes it a great film. I believe it could've topped even Singin' In The Rain if not for some very basic limitations. 

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