Dance Craze – Blu-Ray Review

Dance Craze is one of the greatest concert films ever made, but for decades it’s only been available as rips of the original VHS. The film was directed, strangely enough, by Joe Massot, who is probably best known for his Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains The Same. Massot also has a couple of interesting counterculture feature film oddities to his résumé, including Wonderwall (George Harrison did the score, Oasis got the title for their awful song from the soundtrack album) and the acid-western Zachariah (only as a writer) in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Reportedly Massot only wanted to do a concert film for Madness after he met them on their first US tour, but agreed to do it about Two-Tone in the end. Madness did, however, star around the same time in their own biopic Take It or Leave It: that’s an interesting document, but doesn’t really work.

The Specials, Madness, the Beat, the Selecter, the Bodysnatchers and Bad Manners—all of the main bands of the Two-Tone movement—are featured. For those of you don’t know, Two-Tone was a merger of punk with ska (particularly the type released on the Blue Beat record label) and to a lesser extent reggae, all with the energy and aggression of punk rock. The term was also a nod to black and white unity and the mixed-race nature of most of the bands. 2 Tone Records was also the label run by Jerry Dammers, and with the exception of Bad Manners all of the bands featured in Dance Craze released their earliest records through 2 Tone. Madness would later develop a more pop-oriented sound somewhat reminiscent of The Kinks, but here they are at their “nutty boys” peak.

The footage is as electrifying as you would hope. The Specials are at their absolute best, with the recently departed Terry Hall doing his best stone-faced Buster Keaton impression while the rest of the band are high energy behind him. Pauline Black of The Selecter’s command of the stage is awe-inspiring, as always. The Beat’s footage was shot in New Jersey in the States because they were on tour over there, they were probably the band of the lot who had the biggest following in the US but were dubbed “The English Beat” so as not to be confused with the also excellent power-pop band The Beat led by Paul Collins—decades later both bands did a tour together as The Two Beats. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is getting to see all-girl band The Bodysnatchers in their glory. They never made an album, but did release two excellent singles on 2 Tone. Madness’s version of “Swan Lake” is also so bonkers, and always worth a listen. I’ve never been a huge Bad Manners fan, but they are certainly in top form here.

Massot directs the film with the flare of a feature film director, with swirling cameras that put you right on the stage with the band to symbolise the breaking down of barriers between band and audience, part of the ethos of punk that was carried over later into Two-Tone. Unlike Stop Making Sense, where the audience is absent till the very end, the shots show that the audience is as much a part of the action as whatever is going on stage. The cinematographer was Joe Dunton, who is mainly known for being a camera innovator working closely with Stanley Kubrick, from A Clockwork Orange to Eyes Wide Shut. It’s spectacular work and is to his own credit as a cinematographer on a feature film. Dance Craze remains a landmark concert film and reminds us that there once was a time where “pop music” could actually have something to say and go to number 1 in the charts.

The Blu-Ray from BFI includes a very impressive restoration, which used a 70mm print for its main source due to the negative being lost and the rough shape of available 35mm prints. The audio has also undergone a new Dolby Atmos® surround sound mix approved by Jerry Dammers, which brings the music even more alive—the original stereo and surround mixes are also included The two main extras are an episode of the BBC series Arena about Two-Tone, which is a fun watch (the scene in the “office” of Two-Tone is comedy gold) and outtake performances from The Specials, Madness and The Selecter. The final extra on the disc itself is a short demonstration of the impressive restoration work, and the booklet includes new writing on the film by author Johnny Mains, the film’s original press release and band biographies, and rare promotional materials.


Ian Schultz

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