After he finished his critically acclaimed road movies Roadkill, and Highway 61 (a trilogy that would later be completed with Hardcore Logo) director Bruce McDonald decided to focus on something a little less travel oriented and a little more community oriented. The result was 1995's Dance Me Outside, a movie that's part comedy, part drama, part revenge thriller and part political statement.
The film takes place on a reservation in a remote area of Northern Ontario. Two friends, Silus Crow (Ryan Black) and Frank Fencepost (Adam Beach), meet up with Gooch (Michael Greyeyes), a pal who has just been released from the prison where he's just spent the last three years of his life and who is keen on reuniting with his old flame Ilianna (Lisa LaCroix), who just so happens to be Silus' older sister. Unfortunately for Gooch, Ilianna has moved on and is now married to a Caucasian lawyer from Toronto named Robert McVey (Kevin Hicks).
While everyone is hanging at the Blue Quills bar one night, one of the young ladies from the reservation, Little Margaret (Tamara Podenski), dances with a thug named Clarence Gaskill (Hugh Dillon). Clarence hangs around the reservation a lot but doesn't seem to want anything from the natives save for cheap beer and the occasional lay but with that said, the entire community is shocked when they find out he's killed the poor girl. Things are made worse when he's not charged with murder, but with manslaughter. A few years later, Clarence is released from prison and Silus, Frank, Gooch and Little Margaret's former flame, Robert Coyote (Selim Running Bear Sandoval), decide to take an eye for an eye and murder Clarence for what he did. While all of this is going on, Frank and Silus are trying to figure out what to do about their girlfriends, Sadie (Jennifer Podemski) and Poppy (Sandrine Holt) and Ilianna is trying to figure out how her husband, who suffers from a low sperm count, is going to give her the babies her mother so desperately wants them to have.
Dance Me Outside is an excellent blend of quirky humor, genuine drama and interesting characters and as such, it's a really enjoyable film. The ending comes at you a little fast and feels a little rushed but the writing team of Bruce McDonald, Don McKeller and John Frizzell (working off of the novel from W.P. Kinsella) have crafted a story that is not only heartfelt but also very believable. McDonald's picture does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of community on the reservation while at the same time exploring the alienation felt by an outsider (in this case a white man in the form of McVey) when introduced to this tight-knit group. Neither side understands one another and the actions of Clarence make the natives completely justified in their mistrust of people from outside their circle, but both sides prove themselves more humane than either realized by the time the picture ends.
Shot on location and using a lot of the locals in the cast, Dance Me Outside also features some beautiful cinematography (look at that shot where Frank and Silas sit beside the lake to reflect) and a great soundtrack (look for contributions from The Ramones, The Leslie Spit Trio, and not surprisingly High Dillan's The Headstones), both of which compliment the film quite effectively. While in the end, Dance Me Outside may not be as eccentric or off the wall as the three films that McDonald had made prior, but it represents a lot of growth in terms of storytelling and character development.
Dance Me Outside has been transferred to DVD in an anamorphic 1.85.1 aspect ratio that preserves the film's theatrical presentation. Detail is usually strong though some of the darker scenes are a little bit murky. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts to complain about nor is there any heavy edge enhancement. Some minor print damage shows up in the form of the odd speck here and there but overall this is a decent transfer even if there is some odd (albeit minor) trailing during a couple of scenes.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is of pretty decent quality even if sometimes the soundtrack gets a little too hot in the mix. Dialogue stays clear and balanced for most of the film and there aren't any major problems with the audio on this disc. No subtitles or alternate language options have been included.
First up is a commentary track from director Bruce McDonald who is joined by crew member Steve Van Denzen who played the 'mean cop' in the film and who helped with casting the picture. The two participants discuss the casting of the film, shooting on location in two reserves near Perry Sound on Georgian Bay, and about adapting the original book of short stories into a film, a project originally started by producer Norman Jewison who eventually took the screenplay to McDonald. There's a good sense of humor to the track (at one point they suggest spicing up the DVD release by supplying some Paris Hilton sex tapes as extras) and Van Denzen talks about some of the hard drinking problematic extras they had to work with on the film. McDonald talks about how Joey Ramone is a good luck charm for him of sorts (he was originally intended to have a cameo in the film), and they discuss the filmmaking process as it applies to this picture. Overall, this track is a little scatterbrained but it does cover a lot of ground in a fairly entertaining manner making this is worthwhile listen for Bruce McDonald aficionados.
From there, check out a selection of vintage interviews with cast members Ryan Black, Adam Beach, Lisa LaCroix, Michael Greyeyes, Jennifer Podemski, director Bruce McDonald, and producer Brian Dennis. These are fairly brief, totaling roughly fifteen minutes, but it's interesting to hear what the actors think about their characters and about what McDonald and Dennis were trying to accomplish with this project.
Rounding out the extra features are bios for McDonald, Beach and LaCroix, the film's original theatrical trailer, a brief still gallery, animated menus and chapter stops.
VSC's transfer could have been a little better but they really have done a nice job on this release giving this unsung gem of a film the proper treatment. Dance Me Outside is charming, well made, and honestly entertaining. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.