Dancing On My Own: A ‘Girl’ & A Creep Mash Up Manhattan

girl-walk-all-day-anne-marsenAs usual in the midst of awards season, my cinematic viewings lately have been pretty heavy. And now it’s time for something completely different.

Girl Walk // All Day is one of my favorite films I’ve seen lately, except that I’m not sure it’s a film at all. It used to be that movies came in pretty much one format — you went to the theater and watched them all in one go. If it was a super long movie, maybe you’d get an intermission, but that was it.

But times have changed, my friends, and so has cinema. What separates the stuff we watch on YouTube from the stuff we’d watch in a theater? Quality and budget, mostly — but not necessarily. Girl Walk // All Day is feature-length with pretty good production value; it takes place all over New York City and is quite competently shot and edited, which is more than you can say about the majority of stuff currently floating around the internet. And yet, content-wise, it has more in common with the flash mob videos your mom still posts on your Facebook wall than it does with Zero Dark Thirty.

Girl Walk // All Day is essentially a 71-minute music video set to Girl Talk’s album All Day. There’s a loose story about three strangers who are inexplicably possessed by the spirit of Girl Talk’s music, presumably, and wander New York City dancing all the while, occasionally joined by passersby and sometimes crossing paths with one another. The most memorable of these is The Girl, performed by Anne Marsen, who clearly has some talent but is far from a technically perfect dancer; her go-for-broke moves are relatable, and what make her so compelling to watch.

There’s also a guy dubbed The Creep (John Doyle), so named because he exhibits some minor stalker tendencies and is dressed like a skeleton. He’s another compulsively watchable dancer, and again, not too polished. The least interesting figure is The Gentleman, who is probably the most technically proficient dancer but also the least interesting of the three. That’s because the other two, in some ways, come across as if they’ve never danced before — or at least, never like this. There’s a spontaneity to their movements (even if there must have been a fair amount of rehearsal to get this film right), a sense that this is one crazy day in their lives. But in the case of The Gentleman, it feels like he’s been doing this his whole life.   girl-walk-all-day-cemetery-creepIt hardly takes away from the fun of watching any of them perform, though. Girl Walk // All Day is a true New York City movie because most of the passersby by stride right past the dancers without so much as a glance of acknowledgement. That’s Manhattan, a place where you often will see people vigorously dancing on their own, perhaps for profit, perhaps as a result of insanity. (There’s even a delightful accidental cameo by New York legend Bill Cunningham, snapping photos as ever.)

The film moves through enough different locations and scenarios to keep things interesting; briefly, there’s a hint of romance, but that storyline never bogs down the rest. There’s also some Occupy Wall Street political commentary, as well as a couple moments when The Girl tries to get real people to dance with her, with mixed results. The film is divided into twelve segments, all of which are distinct. There’s a real progression here, if it isn’t in the service of a conventional narrative.creep-girl-walk-all-day

It’s all set to Girl Talk’s album, a radio-friendly collection of pop and hip hop hits that should be at least 90% familiar to most casual listeners of music. It’s where artists like Ke$ha and Waka Flocka Flame meet U2 and John Lennon, which is exactly why All Day is the perfect album for a film like this, and why New York is the perfect location. From the interior of an Apple store to the Apollo in Harlem (my old stomping grounds), somehow Girl Walk // All Day manages to capture the New York experience in total better than any other film in my mind. As The Girl and her pals dance through the city, we brush up against all the same people you do every day in Manhattan, which is why New Yorkers, I think, can find a special affinity for this film.

After all, if ever there was a city built for mash-up culture, it’s New York — a place where people from all walks of life are smooshed together, everybody bringing a little something different to the table. And somehow, all those disparate noises become homogenous, even harmonious.

Like Girl Talk’s album, Girl Walk // All Day is available online in its entirety (because obviously the music rights would cost millions of dollars). In some ways, the do-it-yourself, sell-it-for-free approach feels rather revolutionary, like we’re catching a glimpse at the future of filmmaking. And since I watched chapter after chapter like a junkie in desperate need of his next fix, I’d be just fine with that.

Pitch-Perfect-Anna-Kendrick

Which brings me to another surprisingly good movie I caught up with recently — Pitch Perfect. The summer release was unfortunately marketed as some sort of unholy cash cow lovechild of Glee and Bridesmaids, which doesn’t nearly do it justice. (That’s the reason I avoided in theaters… if only I’d known.) Mercifully, this movie has much more in common with the latter than the former (namely, Rebel Wilson and one major gross-out centerpiece), and even goes so far as to slyly poke a little fun at the Fox debacle it will inevitably be compared to. Pitch Perfect is smarter, though, primarily because characters only burst into song when performing (and with more inspired music choices, generally).

Anna Kendrick stars as Beca, a moody mash-up artist who’d rather skip college to move to L.A. and be a music producer. (It plays less awful than it sounds.) Thanks to a fairly contrived situation with her father, Beca gets roped into singing along with one of four campus a cappella groups, headed by Anna Camp and Brittany Snow. There’s also a geeky love interest played by Skylar Astin, who sings on a rival team… and, okay, now that I’m describing it, it sure doesn’t sound like a good movie. But I promise: the writing is sharper than usual, the supporting characters more winning than your average college comedy, and the script has a self-aware quality that avoids taking any of this very seriously. It’s one of the most quotable joke-a-minute comedies since Mean Girls, even if a few conventional trappings (mostly with the romantic subplot) stop it from truly transcending every cliche of the standard teen comedy.

pitch-perfect-skylar-astin

Pitch Perfect manages to make almost much use out of mash-ups as Girl Walk // All Day. The song selections don’t feel like such shameless “you’re going to go to iTunes and download this now, right?” commercialism behind them, a la Glee. (Plus, Beca’s “Cups” is just awesome.) Both films use other people’s music to great effect and have the same endlessly rewatchable quality of musical/comedy greats.

I know I’ll be watching them both again, as soon as possible. Maybe even right now.

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