Glagow Film Festival Review – ‘Contemporary Color’ (2016)

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David Byrne invites ten different color guard teams performing alongside musicians including St Vincent, tUnE-yArDs, Nelly Furtado, and Byrne himself. The film acts in part as an Access All Areas pass to this concert, which took place at the Barclays Center (an arena style venue in New York). There are interviews with the performers, the artists, and footage of each performance. In between the performances there are videos on screens showing some pre-recorded interviews of each color guard team in the run up to this event. There are then cameras on some audience members who have radio mics, to feed their reactions to the whole spectacle.

Contemporary Color‘ almost immediately describes the definition of color guard; a highly stylised choreographed routine completed by high school / college age young adults. This usually takes place at half time of football games. So, to have this take centre stage is considered a big deal by all involved.

The camerawork is impressive. As the audience we feel as if we are inside the venue at times; on stage, in the audience, and backstage too. There are close-ups of performers in the seconds before the start of their performance. In the other extreme, we get wide shots showing the scale of the performance, and physically how many people are involved.

What’s really great about the film is that on a handful of occasions, the camerawork and lighting is used to focus our attention on one individual performer and then shows that person continue their routine alone in an external location – a suburban street, a gymnasium, et al. The audio of the live performance (the music, the sound of the applause) continues whilst this happens. The transition between these shots is seamless, and imagined perfectly on screen.

As a fly-on-the-wall, we are made to feel like we have taken a firm step back as the audience of the film. We see lots of detail. Whilst the color guard teams are bursting with energy and enthusiasm, the arena staff and security are stood in an either bored or apathetic stance – the juxtaposition often results in humour. Though we are made to feel separate from the art of color guard, the people involved in it are clearly full of joy and this translates well to screen.

Although Byrne set up all of the event and invited the color guard teams to perform, this film isn’t established as a full endorsement of it. The framing is deliberately unknowing, allowing the audience to experience it all first hand. This can be confusing at times, but ultimately creates a more positive viewing experience. There’s lots of footage left in the edit that is deliberately there to be nonsensical or tongue-in-cheek.

David Byrne has bags of enthusiasm for the performances, this is very evident. ‘Contemporary Color‘ is honest in displaying the emotions of those on stage and the scale of the event. The result is a film that is very eccentric, yet a joy to watch.

[rating=4] | Zach Roddis

Documentary, Music |USA, 2016 | 12A | Glasgow Film Festival | Dir.Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross |David Byrne, Nelly Furtado, St.Vincent, Ad-Rock