I’m kind of ashamed to admit that as far as movie musicals go, I’m a bit of a novice. Growing up I was too caught up in sci-fi and horror to delve into the classics and I haven’t really been trying too hard to catch up either. I have nothing against musicals, I just haven’t seen very many. “NY Export: Opus Jazz” is the kind of film that has inspired me and will inspire you to seek out the movie musical. This is exactly the kind of film that not only sparks desire for more in the viewer, it’s one of those films where you just find yourself completely enraptured by what you’re seeing on-screen.
I mentioned my general lack of movie musical knowledge because as “NY Export: Opus Jazz” started, I sensed it was a kind of homage or throwback to late 1950’s/early 1960’s jazz and dance. Lots of finger snapping and crazy, freestyle looking improvisational dances criss-crossing the screen with a lively jazz score backing it all up. Plus there wasn’t much in terms of overly dramatic ballet moves which was a bonus because lets face it, to the uninitiated, that stuff is kind of boring. I honestly didn’t know what was going on but it was incredible to watch. The expression, color, physicality and backgrounds in the film held me completely in it’s gaze almost begging me to crawl closer to the screen to get enveloped in music and dance. I wanted to know more about what I was seeing, where its roots were and what it all meant. Luckily, after about 45 minutes of amazing dance routines, the film kind of evolves into a quick explanation of the questions I had.
As it turns out, the film is a restaging of a man named Jerome Robbins and his ballet of the same name. Originally conceived in 1958, Robbins brought this “Opus Jazz” to the masses, touring the world and even appearing on Ed Sullivan. Here’s where I had one of those “so you think you know a lot about film” moments as the film explained Robbins co-directed “West Side Story.” Duh. Just goes to show you never can know enough about film history. While the last part of the film does involve a nice explanation of Robbins and covers some of his work, the brevity of it left me wanting more. Yet the film, like most great art, has inspired me to seek out more information on Robbins as well as more of his film work and choreography. To call this film inspiring would be an understatement. Am I gushing? You’re damn right I am.
Directors Jody Lee Lipes and Henry Joost have created some of the most vibrant and beautiful images I’ve seen in a film in some time. These guys own the golden hour and virtually every dance number takes place in a natural setting that has a certain rough-hewn beauty in it. Dirty warehouse floors and New York rooftops overgrown with weeds are as much a part of the dance routines as the dancers themselves. Speaking of, the dancers in the film are fantastic. Wearing street clothes and mostly dancing in dirty sneakers, there’s a certain flawed nature to what they’re doing which gelled perfectly with the imperfect surroundings they dance in. Please note that in no way am I saying these dancers are not great at what they do.
In fact I loved the way a held pose might cut to a close up of a trembling foot or a woman being held in the air might show signs of sweating rather than stone cold perfection. All the stagy, perfected boredom one might feel towards ballet is cast aside and rendered fresh in “NY Export: Opus Jazz.” The film is just awesome to watch and simply made me happy to have seen it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.