Dance in white Middle America up to the early 1950's was traditional ballroom, where dance moves were standardized. It was more a technical exercise than an emotional one. White youth of the period began to look toward the black community and rhythm and blues music, which gave them the sense of wanting just to move in a whole new way. For white Middle American youth, this music morphed into rock and roll. Despite establishment deeming rock and roll to be Satanic and/or Communist, it took off amongst the younger generation. The combination of rock and roll and dance was presented to American youth through New American Bandstand 1965 (1952), which told youth what the trends of the day were. However, much of the dance shown on network television was Caucasians trying to dance like black Americans, but with no hip movement. This changed with the dance "The Twist", which also revolutionized the concept of not being reliant on what one's dance partner was doing. Although it had its ... Written by
Not only is TWIST a remarkable documentary film, it is also an invaluable social document, charting not only the various dance crazes that swept the USA in the 60s, but reflecting too the social attitudes of the dominant ideology of those times.
As a European, it is amazing to me that on a cultural level, white and black American seemed in those days to inhabit two separate planets, and equally amazing that when white folks finally came to embrace `Rock 'n' Roll', so few of them were aware that this indigenous music of black America had been on their doorsteps, (those of the back porch, sadly) for many years already, only it was known as `Rhythm & Blues'.
To some extent, this documentary goes some way in redressing this cultural injustice, and had more footage of R&B performers been made at the time, no doubt they could have done it even more cogently. But time and again, this documentary shows that white folks repeatedly appropriated black culture as if it were their own invention, and even to the bitter end of the era, seemed to prefer the diluted over the authentic and the real. This was well demonstrated by the well chosen recordings used which were performed by black artists - not only were the rhythmic patterns more complex, seductive and compelling, but the sheer musicality was nearly always vastly superior to the ersatz white versions.
Apart from illustrative clips of the many dances that first sprang from the streets and then from the executive offices (which of course spelt the beginning of the end), the comments from those who lived to dance and who made the records, are always revealing and lucid. Although these dances were called decadent and immoral, towards the end of the film we see glimpses of Nixon, Kruschev, missile launches and other decadent and immoral items, until finally we see the ultimate appropriation and theft of black American musical culture, the British musical invasion.
Although in the main the film is a glorious celebration of dance culture, it also left me saddened, because beneath the smooth surface of American Bandstand and The Peppermint Lounge, it seemed to suggest that no matter what black folks do in America, they're never going to get the real credit all the while others can leach off their creativity and musical genius. For revealing this truth alone, this film deserves the highest possible praise. And to this day, what a great record The Marvelettes' `Please, Mr. Postman' is!
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