By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 16, 2023)
Dance Craze (BFI; Region ‘B’ locked)
In the book Reggae International, a collection of essays compiled by Stephen Davis and Peter Simon, sub-culturalist Dick Hebdige writes about the UK’s short-lived yet highly influential “2-tone” movement of the early 1980s:
Behind the fusion of rock and reggae lay the hope that the humour, wit, and style of working-class kids from Britain’s black and white communities could find a common voice in 2-tone; that a new, hybrid cultural identity could emerge along with the new music. The larger message was usually left implicit. There was nothing solemn or evangelical about 2-tone. It offered an alternative to the well-intentioned polemics of the more highly educated punk groups, who tended to top the bill at many of the Rock Against Racism gigs. […]
Instead of imposing an alienating, moralising discourse on a popular form (alien at least to their working-class constituency), bands like the Specials worked in and on the popular, steered clear of the new avant-gardes, and stayed firmly within the “classical” definitions of 50s and early 60s rock and pop: that this was music for Saturday nights, something to dance to, to use.
In 1981, a concert film called Dance Craze was released. Shot in 1980 and directed by Joe Massot (The Song Remains the Same), it was filmed at several venues, showcasing six of the most high-profile bands in the 2 Tone Records stable: Bad Manners, The English Beat, The Bodysnatchers, Madness, The Selector, and The Specials.
I’d heard about this Holy Grail, but it was a tough film to catch; outside of its initial theatrical run in the UK (and I’m assuming very limited engagements here in the colonies) it had all but vanished in the mists of time…until now.
This film is nirvana for genre fans; all six bands are positively on fire (this is music for Saturday nights-I guarantee you’ll be dancing in your living room). Thanks to cinematographer Joe Dunton’s fluid “performer’s-eye view” camerawork and tight editing by Ben Rayner and Anthony Sloman, you not only feel like you are on stage with the band, but you get a palpable sense of the energy and enthusiasm feeding back from the audience.
Luckily for posterity, Dunton originally shot the film in super 35mm. Coupled with the meticulous restoration (using 70mm materials), it looks and sounds superb (especially for a concert film of this vintage). Extras include a 34-minute episode of the BBC program Arena examining the 2-tone movement (from 1980), outtakes, previously unseen interview footage, and more. (Please note: This is a Region ‘B’-locked Blu-ray, and requires an all-region player!).