Art You Can Dance To
It was summer recess in 1986, and we schoolchildren had been looking forward to the much-needed break. But as the days turned into weeks, boredom set in, and the oppressive heat, 40 degrees centigrade and 80% humidity, only served to compound our desperation. I was hanging out at home with my best friend, Assaf. Going outside would be unbearable, and even inside it wasn't much fun (that was before air-conditioning units became ubiquitous). That's when Assaf came up with the brilliant idea to escape to the local workers' cinema and theatre complex, for a matinee. It offered a very affordable ticket price, well within our pocket money budget, and we hoped the cool air conditioning would provide a pleasant respite from the heat.
We opened a newspaper to look at movie listings and saw that the day's film, a music documentary, had received a modest two-star rating. It was deemed "watchable only for fans of the band." But since we didn't know the band, we didn't know if we might be fans, so with nothing better to do, we decided to take the leap. We marched for half an hour under the blazing sun to the theatre. After purchasing tickets and a bottle of juice, we settled into our seats in the dark, cool auditorium. The anticipation grew as we waited for the movie to begin.
The film opened with some abstract shots, opening titles, and soon a man appeared on stage, carrying a tape recorder and a guitar. He nonchalantly announced that he had some songs to play for us and started playing a tune, accompanied by a drum machine sound emanating from the tape recorder. As he strummed his guitar, he was joined by a bass player for a beautiful ballad. For the next song, a drum set was rolled onto the stage, and together with a drummer, they launched into an upbeat tune. Then another guitarist, and then singers, percussionists and other musicians joined one by one. And as they went on, the music grew increasingly complex, sonically and rhythmically, filled with strange synthesiser sounds and African drumming. I had never heard anything like this before.
There were only about seven other people in the theatre, and as the music became ever more infectious, we all couldn't help but spontaneously rise from our seats, approach the screen, and start dancing. It was as if the music itself compelled us to move. And as the performance intensified with complex lighting, projections, captured beautifully with opinionated and emotive camera angles, we completely lost ourselves in the experience.
Being 10 wasn't easy. Life was a struggle, and I didn't understand yet who or what I was. I had some notion that I might be into art, but the art I had been exposed to thus far was stuffy museum variety or the boring classical music my grandparents played from the radio. But here, in this dark theatre, I discovered something for the first time, not intellectually, but through my body: my kind of art is art you can dance to.
The movie was Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme and documenting the band Talking Heads during their 1983 tour at the height of their success. I've since watched and danced to it countless times. A few years later, Assaf passed away. I still miss him.
Stop Making Sense is being released in a restored edition for screening in theatres. This might be the first time I return to a cinema in years. To dance.