18 Jun 2004
It's all heel clicks and toe taps, you know. And it's wonderful.
Lately, I've seen a great amount of self-important stories on the screen involving young people who wax on nervously about the problems with their lives--lots of talk, talk, talk, and ultimately not much meaning. "Tap Heat" takes a different approach, eliminate the dialogue altogether and replace it will the sound of tapping.
Now, I'm not talking Morris Code here, no, the language employed is that of dance and specifically the loudest dance of them all, tap dancing. No one utters one word of a spoken language, but the story is literate and clear. An urban street tapper, Dancer (played by the mega talented dancer Jason Samuels Smith) manages to win over other street tappers with his unique, inventive, and aggressive form of dance. This gains the interest of the Dance Police and Dancer finds himself confronted by a detective with the Tap Squad.
The detective is played by Lawrence Welk regular Arthur Duncan who belies his 70 plus year age to put on a demonstration for Dancer that shows that the urban aggression Dancer is venting can be channeled into something more sophisticated. In time, the two are dancing together and Dancer is better for it. And so are we.
There are many messages that can be gleaned from the simple 10 minute story (with the tap tapping closing credits the entire film lasts closer to 14 minutes), but I was surprised by how things worked so well without any spoken dialogue. The musical score excellently sets the tone but the sound of the shoes and all those moving body parts tells the narrative. In a time when most filmmakers are trying to mix up narrative telling and populate their stories with catchy dialogue replete with one-liners that are more suited for a half hour episode of "Will and Grace," movies like "Tap Heat" can go far by introducing us to unique but hardly new ways of conveying a story.
While at the Tribeca Film Festival, I saw a short film in which an older couple danced the tango; although the dance sequence was preceded by dialogue, the real story was told by the dance moves. I heard Steven Spielberg say in an interview this morning that he wanted to make a musical next. If he follows up on that desire, I would encourage him to look at innovative films like "Tap Heat" for ideas. We all know that "Chicago" won the Oscar, but since that time, no mainstream musical has hit the theaters. I suspect that that has to do with the difficulty in making a film that is hip enough to hold current audience attention. Hopefully, a filmmaker like Spielberg will find a story and hopefully it will feature more than a few heel clicks and toe taps.
"Tap Heat" looks great, the cinematographer, Steve Poster, having utilized a new Kodak technology in order to replicate digitally things like "bleach bypass" that are normally created through the photo-chemical process. The cinematographer achieves a look they call "a Japanese tea house" for one scene and the look and feel of a Broadway musical in another. Often digital technologies have problems with color management (particularly with white and black hues) and the processes used in this film take on the problems well. Of course, I have hardly a trained eye but this Kodak Look Management System should be considered by filmmakers wanting to work in the digital medium (Steve Balderson are you listening?).
In watching "Tap Heat," I realized that as a child (growing up in a small Southern town) I was practicing my cross-over tap before I knew how to cross-over dribble. After watching this film, I was gleefully tapping a little soft shoe the rest of the day.
Jonathan W. Hickman