Turn It Loose
directed by Alastair Siddons
(United Kingdom/France, 90 minutes)
June 8, 9:20 PM, SIFF Cinema
June 11, 9:30 PM, Kirkland
When I first got into local hip-hop duo Mash Hall (when they were known as They Live! last year) I knew that djblesOne (Bruce Illest) was a rap renaissance man, and beyond his superb rhyme-crafting, visual artwork, and DJ mix tape skills was also the fact that he is a main jolt for Massive Monkees, the legion of B-Boys who bounce the asphalt underground in Seattle. Lauded and loved by fans of the highly athletic, fiercely frenetic hip-hop dancing popularized in the 80s, as I wrote the bio for TL! (still unfinished, shit keeps happening) I had no idea how internationally immense this scene was. (And we have these warriors in our own NW midst!)
Well, now I have a visual, and so do you, with the showing of Turn It Loose at the Seattle International Film Festival. It doesn’t bother much with the history of American break-dancing, has no time for a wind-up of “Breakin'” or “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” and doesn’t even muss with the vocabulary (“downrock,” “uprock,” “suicides,” et al), it is all about show and little about tell. I wish there were more hip-hop in the line-up at SIFF this year (were there more documentaries made and submitted? I don’t even know), but as this often overlooked yet utterly essential element of the milieu is present, it shows the keen taste of the festival selectors.
The faster than the speed of life physical dialogue of power versus style of B-Boy matches are played out scene by scene in “Turn It Loose,” and the poetic sliver of biography of dancers Ben-J (Senegal), Lilou (French-Algerian Red Bull 2005 champion), young Taisuke (Japan), and others are sweet icing between the sumptuous cake of tasting their skills. Watching a dancer not able to return the Red Bull belt due to his pride of it makes you identify with him more than the game; the discipline it takes to tackle physics and the hubris of the scene is both physically and psychically inspiring. Getting the elders involved in their villages, drawing upon mentors for knowledge and encouragement, getting bored with moves and attempting to evolve in spite of strains and pains, director Siddons doesn’t just put you in front of the action, he makes you want to share in their struggles.
Whether Ben-J is struggling with making a name outside the Dakar ghettos he comes from, Hong 10 is humbly holding to his title-holding with as much grace as he can under vicious pressure, Taisuke defies his parents by running away from his home in Nagasaki and taking on the life of a B-Boy, both gracious acceptance and grim determination play out behind the stirring, unbelievable break dance moves you can barely follow. The film’s tone of importance for these struggles may seem a little pretentious and ominous, but these matches mean everything to these young men and their communities, and for those of us who despise corporate sports, it’s hard not to be swept up by the honoring, the humiliation, the expertise on display.
Turn It Loose will probably be a break-out hit for young people at SIFF, and is probably the most significant commentary of the human body changing reality from within. If all the other films about nuclear destruction get you down at SIFF this year, Turn It Loose makes you realize that in our own individual bodies we have the means to change everything around us by how we move. This is where the activism of the spirit starts.