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Not only is TWIST a remarkable documentary film, it is also
invaluable social document, charting not only the various
crazes that swept the USA in the 60s, but reflecting too the
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!
I never get tired of watching this great documentary on "The Twist" dance
craze in the early 60's. The film covers the years leading up to it, the
height of the craze, and the years afterwards, finishing up with how the
twist evolved into go-go "freestyle" dancing.
The movie is broken up into eight different "Lessons", and contains documentary and newsreel footage in between interviews with singers such as (among others) Dee Dee Sharp, Cholly Atkins, Hank Ballard, and of course, Chubby Checker. They also interview some dancers from American Bandstand, and one of the go-go dancing waitresses at the Peppermint Lounge, who says they had the fringe on their skirts "clocked at 130 mph" when someone timed it once (how exactly they measured this, I don't know, but in the footage you see, it doesn't look too far off the mark).
I just can't put into words how much fun this movie is. If you love to dance, you'll understand and maybe get a little emotional like I did in parts. You can hear the passion in most of the dancer's voices when they talk about how dancing made them feel and/or how it changed their lives. Even without the narration, some of the footage speaks for itself- watch the faces of some of the couples doing the jitterbug and swing-dancing early in the film. I don't think I've ever seen bigger smiles on anyone in my life- they look like they're having so much fun they would have to look down to see cloud 9.
This movie is not only a great documentary, but educational. I learned the names of some of my favorite go-go dances (I had the The Frug confused with The Watutsi...well, those are harder ones to figure out than say, The Monkey, so sue me), and the week after I first bought this movie for my home collection and watched it a couple times, I won a dance contest using some of the moves from "Twist!". If you want to learn just a couple of basic dance moves (and don't mind them being what some people might think of as 'dated' ones), this is a great movie to watch. Pretty much anyone can do the Twist, as they show you- if you're really having trouble, just imagine you're smashing out a cigarette stub into the floor with your foot.
Whatever you do, don't turn this movie off after the credits start! When we saw it at a film festival, we left early and missed a group they show during the credits that called themselves "The World's Greatest Twisters", 3 men and 2 women that they interviewed earlier in the film. They named themselves that because they would go to every twist contest they could find and win every time- the women look they could have been Ikettes. When I first saw it, I thought the men were the same, but that they'd replaced the females with younger women from the way they were moving. Then I looked closer and realized that it was the same two women- they were probably at least in their early 50's, but watch them go- they can dance better and move faster than most women in their 20's! (partly because they've had much more time to work on it, I guess). Plus, they look like they can still wear their original dance outfits. Prepare to see them out-dance almost everyone in the movie put together.
If you loved "Hairspray", (and not just because you're a John Waters fan), loved dancing at any point in your life, or the music of the time period (especially if you're a fan of any of the artists interviewed), this movie is worth hunting down and owning. Just warm up first if you attempt to copy any of the dance moves in the last 15 minutes of the movie!
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