Two Cousins

This clip is brilliant.

Video for ‘Two Cousins’ by Slow Club, featuring Ryan Francois and Remy Kouakou Kouame

I have so much to say about this, but I have to just start here, and perhaps get back to it later.

I think it’s great! I must have watched it a million billion times already. I LOVE that you can see what they’re doing clearly – there’s so little footage of Ryan around it’s really cool to finally get a good look at his action. And I’d never seen Remy before!

I like the editing and composition a LOT. I think it’s a bit jarring if you’re used to the usual dance footage, which is just one camera at one angle, filming a whole-body shot. Great for watching and rewatching and learning choreography. Rubbish for creating a complex, involving narrative. This video clip is constructed for a different reason: to sell a song. Video clips have a long history of telling mini stories and working with narrative in interesting ways. This simply isn’t a dance clip like the ones we use every day. It wants to be read in a different way. Having said that, I think this clip also echoes the things Mura Dehn did in Spirit Moves: a white background; dancers framed in a strange, unnatural environment; inappropriate music; etc etc.

I think the editing and composition are wonderful for showcasing the movements. I really like (for example) the way the scarecrow is in slo-mo – it really emphasises the _feel_ of a scarecrow, which uses that long, slow slide back into a SNAP! I also love the close up on their hands. And the slow change from the gaze to-camera to the itches. I love that bit. Itches can feel kind of cheesy, but that deep, slow gaze reminds me that itches are old, old movements, their roots in Africa, funny on one level, serious on another. These two men – ancestors from Africa, living in modern Europe, dressed in the sharpest, finest suits are modern artists and professionals. They immediately trip up any orientalist impulses. This isn’t a romantic recreation of black dance; it’s a deliberate engagement with the dance (and the camera) by savvy professionals.

I like the way the editing and framing cut the movements into pieces and emphasise the jerky staccato-ness of them, but then slow them doooown, making them smoother and more fluid with the slo-mo. I also like the way the dancers turn around, so we see their backs. All that unrelieved black fabric in a high-contrast black and white film. It’s a relief when they turn around and we see their faces and hands and white shirts and bits of white cuff. Throughout this clip we see so many little bits of their bodies (which emphasises those bits and makes us think about them), I just get so impatient to see their _whole_ bodies. So when we do see them, full-length, framed carefully and completely on the screen, it’s almost a relief. I have to keep watching and rewatching, hoping I’ll see just a bit more of them each time.

I think this is only shot from one side, so the dancers _can_ turn their backs on us. They can choose to look _away_. It’s not quite a fourth wall, because they return our gaze, so levelly and clearly, and breaking the illusion of an on-stage performance.

I don’t mind that the choreography is cut into pieces. Isn’t that how we experience archival film anyway – films are cut up into pieces, the dancing bits excised and put onto youtube? And when I think of the Al and Leon stuff on youtube, it all sort of blurs into a melange of pieces, just like this clip. Editing is about cutting up and gluing together footage to tell a story in a particular way. I think the editing in this allows the dancers to engage with the viewer in a way Al and Leon never could in those television performances.

In this video clip we finally get a chance to see just how _seriously_ these dancers take their work and their craft. Those moments when, in slo-mo, Remy and Ryan gaze into the camera… it’s exciting. It’s intense. It reminds me that the light hearted surface of those Al and Leon clips is really just the very first and most superficial part of what they were doing. All those performances are the product of so much work and practice and training, all of which require an intense, passionate commitment and determination. When they look into the camera their stillness and intensity contrasts with their energised bodies and remind me that the performance _is_ a performance. They are _more_ than just this routine. It also reminds me that this is a _recreation_ of iconic choreographies (and television performances), where two men are recreating or performing something which dancers like us all know, but which the average punter hasn’t a clue about. They are putting on a ‘costume’ when they do those routines (including their literal costumes), but they are – as people and dancers – more than this. I especially like the way their level gazes contrast with the grins (which could be fake!) later on. Returning the gaze is an act of agency and power. It also allows you to connect with the people who inhabit those bodies in a different way.

So far as the song itself goes: booooring. But then, that action is popular with the young people these days, and perhaps it’s a gateway drug. :D To badarse dancing and eventually music. I do think the song is useful, though, because its lighter, simpler structure only emphasises the complexity of the dancing. I guess I see this contrast mostly because I’m so very familiar with the original choreography and musical context for the dancing, and not everyone might see that (especially if they didn’t know anything about jazz dance). But to me it’s kind of thrilling to see such amazing dancing so clearly, and showcased in such an interesting way. For me, the song recedes and becomes a sort of bland background for some really impressive, wonderful dancing.

I’m also fascinated by the presentation and performance of race in this clip, how it compares with footage of black dancers in the 30s/40s/50s, the fact that the Slow Club are white British musicians, but I don’t really want to make this post any longer. Although I bet Stuart Hall would have some really interesting things to say…

NB I’d like to talk about how the long, full-length shot without cuts was used by feminist filmmakers in the 70s to alienate the viewer from the narrative, and also to emphasise the tedium of housework. This is relevant to a discussion of how dancers use footage of dance performances – long, unbroken scenes, full-length shots. The story is deliberately broken down by rewatching as well as framing, so that dancers can figure out dance steps.

NB2 Of course, when I see this post next to the last one, all sorts of other ideas leap into my brain.

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