Monday, 5 March 2012

Top five unexpected film dance scenes

5. Damsels in Distress (2011)
The tremendous Whit Stillman is back after a 13-year hiatus with only his fourth feature (the first, Metropolitan, came out in 1989). There's a musical element to his latest as Greta Gerwig's character, Violet (pictured above, far right), aims to cure her fellow students' suicidal impulses with the therapeutic influence of tap dancing. Violet, too, dreams of creating her own international dance craze - Sambola! - to match the Charleston and others. But the cast breaks into an impromptu number, reminiscent of (500) Days of Summer (below), that ends atop an ornamental pond - look out for the campus security guard.

4. Inland Empire (2006)
I was inspired to write this post after catching David Lynch's three-hour mindbender in the BFI Southbank's February season. Inland Empire boasts an outstanding central turn from Lynch fave Laura Dern but such is its opacity it would sit happily alongside anything by Christian Marclay, Douglas Gordon or Matthew Barney in an art gallery. Just when the film's flagging Lynch throws in a roomful of finger-clicking, dancing prostitutes (or former loves of Dern's husband, perhaps) doing the locomotion. The director certainly knows how to end on a high. Sweet!

3. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Posting a link to a North Korean military parade, Douglas Coupland once commented on Twitter that he imagined such scenes every day when he left home. It's not quite the same level, but greetings card copywriter Tom (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) has a fairly whacky walk to work the morning after he finally cops off with the kooky girl of everyone's dreams, Zooey Deschanel. Instead of military music, there's Hall & Oates, workmen, a marching band and a cartoon bird.

2. Simple Men (1992)
'I can't stand the quiet!' Whit Stillman's contemporary Hal Hartley likes chucking a snappy dance sequence into his movies out of the blue, but none is as good as seeing Elina Löwensohn frug out with Martin Donovan and company to Sonic Youth's Kool Thing, which is pretty cool in itself. Look out for Donovan dancing in character - as Graham Fuller writes of a brief dance in Hartley's earlier Surviving Desire, 'the dancers wear no Gene Kelly smiles; here is the quintessential American music number, shorn of classical artifice and genre tropes.' And it owes it all to...

1. Bande à part (1964)
The ultimate unexpected dance scene occurs in Jean-Luc Godard's movie. Robin Wood suggests Anna Karina and co's impromptu dance in the café has 'the classic function of dance numbers in a musical, that of giving expression to dimensions of the characters which can only be hinted at in naturalistic action...' For him: 'The dance suggests our final separateness. Although the dancers are linked by the beat and steps of the routine, each appears entirely self-absorbed, unaware of the existence of the others...'

Damsels in Distress is out 27 April.

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