The Loews on 84th Street abhors me - or at least the basement-level terrordome that is Auditorium 5 does. First the audio was blown in Miami Vice and now...a shirt-tearing brouhaha that busted out during the climactic scene in Idlewild a few seats away from me. While this gives me ready-made excuses to view these fine works of art again, I prefer to leave my brushes with bodily harm to subway rides and drunks at Shea Stadium. This was no mere instance of macho posturing - the haymakers were flying with malicious intent. After about 5 minutes security broke it up and the gasps subsided - but my view of the screen had become unfortunately oblique. The stated cause of attack was a request to cease knocking the back of a seat - followed by a smack to the back of a head.
I'll mark it down to the energy created by the boisterously imaginative film - a musical scared to fully embrace the joyful excess of the form - but which shows great boldness within its own limitations - the boundary of which is the speakeasy, Church. Most of the singing and all of the dancing take place inside of it - as it provides a narrative reason for all the emoting. One of the only number that takes place in the waking world outside is a rendition of "Church"(off '03s Speakerboxxx) by Big Boi and an animated rooster as he races away from pissed off mobsters (deliriously intercut with with hopped up jitterbuggers at the club). It is what the whole movie should have been - had it not been for a fear of kids cracking up at guys bursting into song at random. God I hate kids. Anyway - that sequence is one of a few expert instances of parallel editing which director Bryan Barber peppers in (another fine example: cutting between Andre and Big Boi meeting their respective loves - their styles in perfect counterpoint). One wonders how so many clunky exposition scenes are dropped in when the narrative is pushed forward so fluidly otherwise. It is his debut film, after all, though.
Much of the soundtrack is off of The Love Below/Speakerboxxx. In addition to "Church", there was "Bowtie", "Rooster", "She Lives in my Lap", "Vibrate", and "Take Off Your Cool." Curious - because that's more than what appears from the recently released (and quite good) album sdtk.
Anyway - the performances inside of the club are hyperactive but, to me, appropriate. Barber gets antsy cutting between the performers on-stage and the astonishing dancers in the pit- but it's all done with a fine sense of rhythm. The sense of space may not be there - but its suffused with musicality, so I forgive its breach of good film form.
A small thing - the use off-screen sound. There are a number of jokes shouted out by characters out of frame as the main action is being filmed - as when lead chanteuse Paula Patton is struggling on-stage, we hear Macy Gray's floozy yelling at her to stop repeating the same lyric (with more curses thrown in). Normally we'd see a cutaway to her saying this - but Barber establishes her in the space earlier, and then her voice recognizably shouts the putdown with Patton firmly in frame. It creates a fuller sense of a rowdy crowd, and of crowded space, than a normal cut-in would.
And it has, quite possibly, the greatest end credit sequence of all time - as Andre Benjamin sings "PJ & Rooster" on a big white stage made famous by set designer Van Nest Polglase and all those Astaire-Rogers movies. There's tap solos, dancing girls, and an OutKast tune. All I could ever ask for.