These past couple of weeks have certainly been exciting ones for film lovers with the long-awaited DVD release of Step Up 3D. As for myself, I fucking tore the plastic off my copies just a few days ago hence and have been watching nearly nonstop ever since. With every movement brimming with such ecstatically fun energy, (which I’ll refer to hereon out as “funergy”), Step Up 3D is certainly my pick for movie of the year. The big story, for most reviewers, of course, was the showcase of brand new 3D camera techniques, such as in the Glyphing scene and the Bubbles scene and that wonderful Slurpee Scene (which, I have to be so bold to say, was so truly beyond a traditional theater experience that I’ll prophesize that we’ll soon see a whole Hollywood bankroll full of 3D movies just on the strength of these few seconds alone). Don’t get me wrong, these ARE a big story. But, due to the large shadow cast by its more obvious material excellence, many viewers have missed that the movie is also quite novel in its narrative technique as well. Above all else, Step Up 3D is an exploration of a method of storytelling that is performed entirely through the medium of dance, a goal reached-for by the previous Step Up films but finally here implemented in perfection.
What does it mean that a story is told through dance? Its not just that the plot itself is utterly meaningless babble, as it was in the previous installment, broken up by some wicked fucking dance numbers. The failure of Step Up 2: The Streets proved that a crap-story with cool dances will still be crap if the audience fucking hates whoever it is up there dancing. No, the paradox here is that, crucially, there needs to be a connection with the characters to make any dance meaningful, but any time developing the characters actively sabotages the project. The writers of Step Up 3D offers a critical technical innovation to make this possible, something that I call narrative embossing, possible with full colour foil and all. (A concept reminiscent of China Meiville’s The City & the City, except transposed across Media and from theme to direct collaboration.) That is, its as if a big fucking metal stamp, heated enough to steam but not burn, has been slammed down on this movie from on high, in order to create an effect that delineates the dances from the exposition so that the viewer becomes cognizant of two distinct, yet concurrent, experiences within the same film.
The trick of it is in creating some of the most vile, irritating characters that have ever graced the screen. Characters that are pushed so beyond the limits of the absurd in the extent of their repulsiveness that your understanding of them becomes disconnected from their status as actual human beings. They’re props now, objects kicked out and tumbling down the uncanny valley. That means when its time for their real performance, in the dance, you can consider them again with new eyes as something that’s just now come alive, as if by magic… or perhaps always was alive, beyond normal sight. That’s the reason you can feel such a genuine emotional connection to the people that speak from their heart in the Born From a BoomBox documentary excerpts, and why you can feel so vibrantly connected to them when they dance, but still think of them as big doodoo head geekazoids when they finally deliver their sparse spoken lines. Consider how pathetic some of them are; reflections of the worst parts of ourselves: the harribly bland Camille (who fans might remember as Tyler’s kid foster-sister from the original Step Up), the Disney-Channel conjoined constructs, the Santiago Twins, that exasperating plauge of a personality, Moose the Poose (the break-out substar of Step Up 2: The Streets), and a whole host of other rich and snobby brats. In short, utter caricatures of the most neutered suburban trash. But, up above the plane of clouds and harps, the characters transform – Camille is once again your delightfully whimsy kid sister, the Santiago Twins channel Elvis, both Young and Old, Mousey Moose becomes a Man, and the rest of the cast resembles a community that you’d like to become a part of. So in short, don’t be fooled – the surface is only the shadow. Step Up 3 is the story of the American Experience, a dynamic dialectic of sex and violence in the elemental forces of nature. And like any dialectic, this one is constructed by three major parts, fittingly dubbed as Battles of The World Jam to describe the spiritual war that American ideology is fighting across the globe, and each one is represented by one of the three major battles of the movie.
The Battle of Red Hook represents the root subject of the American Experience, a sort of spiritual schism – the World As It Is vs. the World As It Was. The ancient traditions of the Middle East, from Assyria to Egypt and, most especially, beyond. The Desert Dwellers. Against the barbarians, we define ourselves by that which we are not. Civilization may have come a long way since it was born in the Middle East, but they were just as human as we… used to be. Whatever that’s supposed to mean.
The dancers of Messopotamia emerge from the dust in the drab aesthetic of an age gone by, with tribal overtones of Max Max shrouding the secrets of the Ancient Nile. Their dance is primordial, as old as life itself, and the dancers, dirty and bestial, squirm through the dust as if still trapped in the memory of a slime that has long since congealed and crumbled away. But this is all part of the birth of civilization; the part we rise, slowly but steadily, and become self aware. The desert is unforgiving to those that oppose it; proud monoliths of posture offer no protection against its sandstorms, but proof of the inner-strength of its inhabitants’ souls. If the desert builds higher and higher, pyramids into the sun, then that is where it searches for heart of God.
A sandstorm can erode even the heaviest and hardest of stones, but without its dust, violent winds rendered impotent. That was the theory that the Great Engineer had for a different sort of cradle of civilization. And so America was born of the wild dryads of the forest, conceived in a rite of spring. Some of that ole Ohh, Ahh. Ooohh Ahhh Ahhh! and a little a bita that wing dang, walldalla bing bang. (Ha ha, if you know what I mean, fellas!) Rain falls and is absorbed into a fertile hummus of the underbrush. Life takes hold, building upon itself layer after layer: bushes and foilage, a thick pattern of trees, and, at the center, a single mighty pillar of Oak, breaching beyond the ceiling and into the sky. When all interlock together, so the theory goes, an impenetrable shield is formed. If America builds outward and inward into a tightly woven fabric, an oscillatory cycle of both the loom and the womb, then it searches for God within itself.
Two opposite foundations yield two opposing civilizations, but between them there is but The One God and there can be only one communion with Him. It comes down to this: the desert spends its era focusing a prayer into a single scroll, with Gylphs that beg YHWH WE BEESECH YOU! – which looked ridiculously fucking cool in 3D, btwtw – but the prayers go unanswered. But for America, the prayer IS the era. An era enjoined to a techno-organic complex operating in a synchronized harmony, an era where we worship the sun of our own creation, pumping out rays of cold blue fusion to every head, every arm, every foot and finger of single unified being. The unstoppable drive of progress.
It’s often been remarked by roboticists that building a robot capable of motion is fairly easy; it’s making one capable of falling down that’s difficult. So too it is in the dialectical process; developing a capable antithesis is not so much about finding opposites as it is about unrolling the abstract unity of the thesis through time…
And that’s why The Battle of Gwai might as well be called the Battle of Bubbles – not because of the visual metaphor of Set Theory done with Venn Diagrams but rather because this a study of two societies under stress, water vs air. The American Experience is pit against the mystical warriors of the Orient, whose grand entrance envelopes the floor as if from a cloud of heaven. But formless, wispy stuff is not a weapon to threaten; the Orient must thicken and homogenize in order to wield its thunder. And so each dancer, emerging from the mist, begins a journey down to Earth to fetch a pail of water, slam-waltzing through the air like a bunch of heathen Jesus-Jinns, flaunting self-control as if it were bling and blang.
Outside (or is it Inside?) of its element, and against such a focused foe, America is clearly outmoded, outgunned and outmanned… and how exactly, you might wanna tell me, could such a disjointed being ever hope to match against the Harmonious Society? Tactics, consisting wind mills and wind chimes, seem aimed at only holding their foes at bay, treading time, as if unconsciously-knowing that their every move is part of futile attempt to hold out for some hero to save us all…
Then, in one of the most rationally impossible scenes ever put forth in a movie – in one of the most fucking absurd and ballsy moments ever put to screen by any director, comparable in audacity perhaps to only the showdown from The Good The Bad and The Ugly – is catastrophe. If inside becomes outside and back again, then I guess we’ve inadvertently found a solution to Smale’s paradox, for the bubbles have become inverted. We be talking that aggressive reterritoralization, baby. (Ooohh Woooooooo!) An unconscious dam has been breached, and a flood of chaos has been unleashed. The warriors of air now find themselves nomads under a great sea, trapped in a tiny sphere that seems to flutter every which where but the where that their wills demand. They try to climb out, desperately, but only too late do they learn the lesson that the rigid hierarchy of heaven is inherently unable to adapt. And so they flounder! America revels in this up-swelling of energy, showcasing the might of a heterogeneity: a body without organs can rotate to flow with the fluid, like a sail catching a wind, or it can partially everate to direct the flow into a long horizontal toroid, like a fire hose blasting a protesting audience. *POP!*
And so now the static has been set in motion. Maybe there is no foe on Earth that can match The American Experience for what it is, but what about an enemy beyond the material realm? Master Yoda always said that the greatest dangers lie inside the mind itself, on the plane of immanence… so how will America fair against the dark side? This time… its personal.
Clad in black, imprinted in gold and led by a child of the Aristocracy, The House of Samurai clearly represents Greed for the sake of Greed. Their dance is violent and cruel; penetrative, even, and based on the rule of the Might of the Master over his servEnts. Watch how they mock our freedom so! Watch how the newly purchased slave mewls in obedience even in front of his former comrades. He wallows in his sin! It is truly disgusting, an exposition of the corruption that taints men’s souls! Vain with wealth and glory, the only virtue held by this so-called dark-side seems to be POWER and its favourite hobby is showing it off. Chained beasts of burden (a hint at their barbaric past and probable future) are kept only for display, for they hunt only for sport and leisure. None of us are men any longer, they say. None of us want to be. None of us have a right to be.
In the face of such self destruction, we have a duty to be wary, we who still consider ourselves men, men of good will, and a right to form a defensive phalanx in the face of Captial’s thrusting spears. Their methods of control are indeed insidious: “Get-down-Get-down-Get-down-Get-down,” the Orwellian speakers blare. The only response to something like that is to act as a spring, and thus up from the underground rises a bit of that Ghetto music. David Foster Wallace couldn’t have been more wrong. Subversion and Irony can be just as every bit patriotic and every bit as strong as service ever could hope to be.
Let’s make this clear: a defensive front is not cowardice. A crash of Yang will bring Ying down with it, and then they’ll both piddle in their own shit, indistinguishable forever. Only the healing power of family can lead us outta this mess… For it is not tribal loyalties but the Holy Family, and its roots in the mixing of blood, that leads to the Not-Forever, to the release of tension and accreted emotion. “This is my family now!”, she sez, must say. (and said better in 3D) And so this dance is one of marriage consummation, an act of incorporating the Other into itself, and through that final leap of faith (and well-timed cry) is brought forth a new born child. Or, rather, new born children, a next generation. Lil’ shorties, ya see. It is the sublimation, the black emergence where Simba holds up Scar to the Savannah for all the Animal Kingdom to see. child’s seemed to have inherited the genes of both its mothers and fathers: black skin, a little button nose, streaks of gold and crimson in its hair… but vibrant now, a living symbol a better tomorrow. The union is complete. Through this dynamic dialectic, tribal bonds can evolve and begin anew… so We’re both a little bit country… and a little bit rock-n-roll! America! Yeah! We did it! We did it together!
Rating: 10 thumbs WAY up!