Strong devotees of any “subculture” (for lack of a better word) are usually involved for a reason. The scene might appeal to them in spiritually or intellectually, address an emotional need, or be remembered as the site of an individual transformation. Deadheads used to say, “There is nothing quite like a Grateful Dead show.” What they meant was that at these shows, they experienced personal, social and sometimes political revelations, they developed a different way to be in the world, and they were allowed to be different in the world. Such difference isn’t always cutting-edge or rebellious, and it doesn’t always involve drugs or music. The new film Bingo!: The Documentary presents a subculture that has thematic elements that are similar to what I’ve described above—the players feel accepted for who and how they are, share a purpose (at least every Tuesday, or whatever), anticipate possible transformation (Bingo!), and enjoy needed social interactions. Ah, but back to music and drugs!
Like Bingo and Grateful Dead concerts, raves have avid devotees who feel transformed by their experiences and live for more. And like Bingo and Dead shows, raves—or at least full, subculture-creating rave devotion—may seem puzzling to those of us who haven’t experienced them, or who haven’t felt “transformed” by them. It is very often difficult to describe the importance of an experience to someone who doesn’t “get it.” Even a film cannot replicate the experience (by definition, ravers view raves as essential, visceral, sensory, none of which can be translated onto celluloid). It can only recount it. So, though the film’s mission of “creating an authentic portrayal of the rave scene” (as Groove‘s promotional material asserts) is probably impossible, I do think that writer/director Greg Harrison does a pretty good job of trying. Which is not to say that Groove is a particularly good movie or that it delves profoundly into anything, but it does make me feel like I have some feeling for the rave scene and it was pretty fun to boot.
Lola Glaudini, Hamish Linklater, Denny Kirkwood, John Digweed, Steve Van Wormer, Rachel True
(Sony Pictures Classics)
Groove serves as a kind of rave primer for newbies. (Its appeal is not limited to those folks though—it features enough nods to experienced ravers and, of course, a groovy soundtrack that any raver would appreciate.) It takes place during one night in San Francisco as various characters prepare to put on and/or attend an underground rave. We mostly follow David (Hamish Linklater), who is attending his first rave (and experiencing his first ecstasy trip) at the request of his brother, Colin (Denny Kirkwood), who is planning on proposing to his girlfriend Harmony (Mackenzie Firgens) during the night. Along the way David meets seasoned raver Leyla (Lola Glaudini) and they teach each other a few things about life and renew their faith in its possibilities. There are also relationship bumps for Colin and Harmony, lame boys hitting on chicks, a squabbling gay couple, and a clueless youngster who apparently o.d.‘s regularly at raves (this is far from an anti-drug movie though—the message here is to do the proper drugs in the proper manner). But none of these mini-plots are the main story, and thank goodness for that, because they are very thin and cliched (a celebrity appearance by DJ John Digweed is fun, but about as realistic as Davie Jones taking Marsha Brady to the prom), as are the characters, who are mere sketches (or stereotypes). The dialogue is corny and the actors seem almost too eager. We don’t come to know or feel for them; they function more as a place for us to rest briefly, as we move through the rave experience—we catch bits of their stories or conversations as we wander about, but the real story is the rave itself.
Finding rave space, getting the message out, out-foxing the cops, getting busted by the cops, and managing to party in spite of the cops are all just things you have to do for a party. All the participants have their own lives and hopes and needs and problems (and, according to this movie, pretty stereotypical ones), but they all come together on certain nights to make something really special happen despite, because of, and along with their own baggage. From Andy Hardy on down, movies about kids who get together and, no matter who tries to stop them, gosh-darn it, have their party (show, dance, drag-race, lemonade stand, etc.) are cheesy.
But the naive optimism, earnestness, and joy that contribute to the cheesiness are sometimes very real emotionally. This is true especially early on in one’s “subculture experience” before one has become all jaded and cynical about things, which is almost inevitable (she says jadedly and cynically). So, even though I felt like saying, “Oh brother!” at many points in the movie, I also felt a little mean when I did it. I had no real feeling for the characters, but I had a hard time dismissing Greg Harrison’s earnestness, which was a little bit charming. And his passion, not that of any character, is the emotional center of the movie. Groove is detailed, but not deep. The words don’t mean much, but it has got a good beat and you can dance to it.