Monday, April 22, 2019

Dance Craze (1981)

I recently had my attention brought to Dance Craze, a 1981 film depicting British ska bands on stage in the height of the second-wave 2 Tone revival. It's appropriate that I just saw The Specials live; the 2019 incarnation might not quite match the original 1981 version, but it got close. In any case, it's amazing to see the original lineup in full force, playing a bunch of their early classics.

Madness, still thickly steeped in ska, are also given a lot of screen time, and they earn it, particularly with their hilariously hyped rendition of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake". The Beat are also given a prominent place and perform at their peak.

The real highlights are The Bodysnatchers and The Selecter, two bands fronted by Black women that didn't last as long as some of the others. The Bodysnatchers are the only band in the film that are all women, and they only released two singles before dissolving. Considering the relative lack of available material from either band, the footage here is perhaps the best opportunity to experience them.

The only band that didn't speak to me was Bad Manners. Even they weren't particularly bad, but their stage antics and songwriting were conspicuously less refined. The film also inexplicably contains a six minute long interlude with old newsreel footage from 1959 about dance crazes. Presumably that segment is there to contextualize the wild youth of the day or to legitimize second-wave ska as the latest in a long string of ever-changing trends. Whatever the intention, it acts purely as a distraction and can safely be skipped entirely.

Other than the interlude, there is nothing to the film except the six bands performing on stage. Director Joe Massot made a solid choice to focus on the high-energy live acts and keep out (most of) the filler. The film is a blast, and almost every song and performer is solid. It reminds me of Urgh! A Music War from the same year, but it is far more focused and serves as a great document of a scene that splintered and shifted shortly soon thereafter.

Score: A-

Thanks to Slicing Up Eyeballs for their article!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Saw this film last night at a festival, a digital transfer from a VHS tape. HOW in the world is it not readily available?? I must say I found the late 50's early 60s interlude a hoot; as a female I thought to myself: I'm glad I didn't have to wear those stiff formal dresses and lacquered hairdos that made everyone look a decade older than they were. A couple of slightly slower songs would have been nice but it's up there as one of the best concert films I've ever seen, totally crackling with energy. Let's all hope for a reissue of the fully restored 70mm original