Like a few other people, the ‘90s films Swing Kids and Swingers introduced me to the world and machinations of swing dancing. But little did I know that the swing community has been sustaining itself nicely since then past the wave of nostalgia, as the Susan Glatzer documentary Alive and Kicking shows us.
Glatzer herself is a swing enthusiast of almost two decades, so she has a familiarity with and passion for her subject, and she is comprehensive in her approach to it, looking at it from its origins in the early 20th century to its rise through the years, and the various substyles of swing dancing that exist (the film focuses primarily on the Lindy Hop, for the record). Interviews with some of those who have made an impact on the dance are shown too, from historic ones like "The Queen of Swing" Norma Miller, to present day dancers like Stephen Sayer and Chandrae (Chanzie) Roettig. They all talk about their love of swing dancing, and why dancing provides such a powerful emotional connecting, and why it may lead to happiness in life.
There are also some other interesting people within the film, such as Rebecka and Emelie Decavita. Born in Sweden, the two share the same last name and are sisters, but have no genetic relation. They are friends who decided to adopt one another and take the name ‘Decavita.' Another dancer named Evita Arce almost reminds someone of a Lea Michele or Idina Menzel in terms of charisma and eloquence in terms of her discussion about swing dancing, and she could serve as ambassador for it if given the chance, as could Sayer and Roettig.
With Glatzer being so involved with the material, it could have been very easy to almost be preachy in terms of how Alive and Kicking could have unfolded. Instead, she lets the interviewees talk about the challenges involved with it, how it really is a passion and not one where scores of money are made (though it appears one could certainly live off of successes in swing dancing). Almost all of the dancers to a man or woman come off as optimistic, upbeat, happy, downright giddy, and they explain why in such a way that makes the emotional experience tangible, and that's part of the secret to why Alive and Kicking works.
I'll readily admit I came to the film a bit jaded; look at the cover of the DVD, it looks like a knockoff for La La Land for goodness sake. However when you dive into the source material you see that the joy shown by those interviewed in Alive and Kicking is palatable. After seeing it you can understand why swing remains so popular among those who come in contact with it, why it's stuck around for as long as it has, and why it may just stand the test of time.The Disc:
Magnolia gives us a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer which for the modern scenes looks fine. It uses a variety of film sources as well as some stills from one of the dance pairings, and it all is accurate with little in terms of crushing or other issues, and interview subjects appear natural with no noise or post-processing work when you watch them. To Glatzer's credit she talks about some of the challenges scenes played for lighting (read: the dance sequences) so those problems do appear, but they aren't much of a distraction to the viewing experience.The Sound:
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround which gives the source material enough room to stretch its legs. Lots of music is played and sounds clean and the immersive feeling during the performances is quite convincing when the crowd noise comes in into the rear channels. Interviews are consistent in the center of the theater and the soundtrack is devoid of hissing or other artificial noises during the quieter moments. The disc does a good service to its subject.Extras:
There is quite a bit of material here, starting with a commentary from Glatzer and Director of Photography John MacDonald. They talk about the challenges of avoiding telling a story and showing off the subject, and get into some technical choices for shooting and some production choices like obtaining a certain piece of video or music. But it's mostly about dancing and the interview subjects for the film, and gets into some breakdown of dancing and thoughts on some of the interviewees who are no longer with us. It's an involved and active track, and more than a sufficient complement to the film. Glatzer sits down for a separate interview (13:57) about the film and some of the larger moments from it, how she came to direct such a project and on swing dancing in general. Three deleted scenes (13:49), mostly dance-centric, follow, along with the trailer (1:44).Final Thoughts:
In Alive and Kicking you can't help but find yourself enjoying this coverage of swing dancing and the interviewees and the action puts a smile on your face. Technically the disc is solid and has a bunch of worthy bonus features attached to it. If you've found yourself far away from swing over the past few years or are just not familiar with it whatsoever, the film serves as a perfect gateway drug and very much worth your time.