Turn It Loose

Turn It Loose


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

For many Brits the idea of breakdancing will conjure up faintly comic images of kids attempting – and for the most part failing - to windmill and headspin in shopping precincts up and down the land throughout the Eighties, only to disappear into obscurity more than a decade ago.

In fact, although those sights may be a lot less common nowadays, the ‘talented’ end of what is now termed b-boy culture, endures and, each year, the best proponents of it come together to do battle for the title of world champion. Alastair Siddons film tracks six of the 16 finalists in the run up to and during the breakdancing championship BC One.

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Just as this documentary will make you think again about any preconceptions you may have about b-boys – the often touted image of them as brash, sub-rappers couldn’t be further from the truth, on the strength of this – it will also challenge your expectations of this sort of music/dance ‘knock-out’ documentary, as there is a lot more to this than the ‘extended music video’ you might expect.

The b-boys we follow are French-born Lilou – who, though still resident in France, represents Algeria (“I live Algeria,” he says); sweet Senegalese Ben-J – who can barely believe he is to represent his country and still less contain the sense of responsibility he feels has settled on him as a result; shy Japanese youngster Taisuke, who, as we meet him, is just finding his feet after moving to Tokyo; driven Korean and former champ Hong 10; and Ronnie and Roxrite – both from the USA but with very different personal stories. For them, this isn't a matter of life and death... it's much more important than that and, by the end, you'll be rooting for all of them.

The 2007 BC One is held in a disused power station in Soweto, a slightly eerie place but whose urban jungle edginess perfectly suits the dance aggression of these modern-day warriors. Each of the 16 face-off against one another in the breakdance equivalent of a boxing ring, with baying crowds cheering them on, as they spar through dance, each giving it his best shot, then laying down some serious macho posturing as his opponent takes their turn.

Just as watching each ‘battle’ forms two halves of a whole, Siddons achieves an enviable level of balance, both in terms of the stories being told and the way that he tells them. By letting the boys do their own thing and adopting a style which combines some interview footage, with lots of observational shots, you are able to contrast the ‘real’ people – their life, loves, history and unbelievable dedication to their art/sport – with their more in-your-face persona in competition. Plus, this loose approach means an audience is able to draw their own parallels and contrasts between the competitors.

There is a real sense that these men are athletes of the highest order – producing a sort of tribal martial arts aggression within the artistic confines of breakdance. But Siddons is also at pains to show they are brothers in arms, who admire one another’s work… just not in those few minutes when each of them go ‘head to head’.

Siddons also finds beauty in the stillness of the power station, away from the battles - each loser, for example, is shown walking a bleak corridor, flanked by painted eyes on the wall – which contrasts well with the frenetic atmosphere of the dance. And when it comes to showing us the battles themselves, he employs an amazing amount of variation on a theme, without ever getting overly showy. Sometimes movements are slowed down, so we can admire them, or stopped in mid-twist, to let us appreciate the athleticism and the aggression. At other times the music is stripped away, so the gymnastic elements of the breakdance are able to shine out.

The only small gripe to be had is that one or two of the scenes in Senegal are rather confusing. Ben-J talks to a man, who may be a religious or village leader and an explanatory caption or two would not go a miss. This small piece of head-scratching certainly won’t mar your enjoyment, however.

Importantly, this is a film for everyone to enjoy – not just fans and other b-boys. Siddons shows you the moves, but doesn’t get into technicalities, making this entertainingly accessible. This is a documentary to seek out on the largest screen you can, where the slick editing and equally slick moves can be appreciated in all their glory.

Reviewed on: 19 Jun 2009
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A high-energy look a the world of breakdance.
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Director: Alastair Siddons

Year: 2008

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2009

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