Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tribeca ’16: Contemporary Color

It is surprising the intolerant forces of political correctness have not attacked color guard competitions yet. After all, the precision drill teams invariably employ representational rifles. Kids and guns—that ought to be good for a few days of moral outrage on CNN. Color guard has been justly spared so far. After all, it has long been the art and sport of high school underdogs. Yet, they found a maybe-not-so unlikely champion in David Byrne, who organized a ground-breaking collaboration between of-the-moment recording artists and ten top color guard teams. The Ross Brothers (Bill and Turner) documented their concert performances in Contemporary Color, which screens during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

Granted, Brooklyn’s Barclay Center is no Madison Square Garden, but it is still a relatively noteworthy venue. For the ten color guard squads selected, the Byrne conceived and produced “Contemporary Color” revue would be the triumphant conclusion to their performing careers. With college looming for the seniors, this represents the final time many friends will march and twirl together. The Ross Brothers take that bittersweet theme and run with it.

The tempus fugit leitmotif is most pronounced in the Connecticut-based Alter Ego’s collaboration with composer Nico Mulhy and Ira Glass, whose interviews with the color guarders supply a revealing interior monologue throughout their performance. Frankly, it is surprisingly moving. From a dramatic perspective, it comes far too early in the film, but it serves as a sort of shortcut for the Rosses to establish the color guard personality types, within a performance framework.

To their credit, the sibling documentarians capture a sense of inclusive and democratic nature of color guard. It seems like the entire spectrum of race, class, gender, orientation, and body shape are welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, their ability to convey the scope and grandeur of the routines is rather spotty. It is rather perverse to suggest, but they might have checked out video tape of North Korea’s ostentatious propaganda pageants to see how they are filmed. Lord knows those cameramen have to get it right, or else.

It is always cool to see young people bring such passion and dedication to their art and craft. It will remind jazz fans of what a great loss the late, lamented IAJE conference truly was. However, they will also notice the talented musicians of the Contemporary Color Band get short shrift and practically zero screen time, even though they seamlessly back-up disparate headliners, such as Nelly Furtado, Saint Vincent, Lucius, Dev Hynes, and of course Byrne himself. That is a musician’s life, isn’t it? Still, Contemporary Color is definitely recommended as sympathetic showcase of a vital but misunderstood form of Americana culture. It screens again today (4/16), Wednesday (4/20), and Thursday (4/21), during this year’s Tribeca.