Tracing the steps that led to America's biggest dance craze, Ron Mann's documentary, TWIST, is fun and occasionally provocative, like the hip-shaking dance itself.
Mixing stock footage and present-day interviews with yesterday's dance-makers, TWIST studies the evolution of popular dance from the 1950s into the 60s. Mann covers many of new dance steps, like the Itch and the Stroll, that emerged as rock 'n' roll began to dominate the radio. But it was
primarily TV, which could suddenly bring new dance steps into the nation's living rooms, that helped turn the Twist into a national mania.
An interview with Hank Ballard, who wrote and recorded "The Twist" in 1959, reveals that the song, originally released as a B-side, went nowhere. It wasn't until Chubby Checker recorded another version and gyrated on "American Bandstand," that the movement took off. Why was it so popular? "It
was the hips," explains Chubby Checker. "You didn't have to be a great dancer to do it." It was "a new concept in dance," adds a former "American Bandstand" dancer, "to break away from your partner."
Aware that a dance craze is more than just the dance, TWIST recaptures the extent to which the dance became part of popular culture. Joey Dee, of "Peppermint Twist" fame, talks about the hysteria in New York, where hundreds of hopeful twisters were turned away nightly from the popular Peppermint
Lounge. A montage of Twist movies (HEY, LET'S TWIST, TWIST AROUND THE CLOCK, and TWIST ALL NIGHT), hairdos, and products shows how the dance became a business. The craze was over by 1963, and attempts to make the Monkey, the Watusi, and the Fly into the next big thing failed. The individualism
inherent in the Twist had taken over on dance floors.
Mann has done a terrific archival job. Whether it's brief glimpses of street dancers in Harlem or Elvis Presley's shaking hips or a silly step called the Elephant, he consistently unearths fresh images. The film's breezy style keeps it from sounding academic, but it does make its points about
the Twist as a liberator of the hips and, by extension, the libido.
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG
- Review: Tracing the steps that led to America's biggest dance craze, Ron Mann's documentary, TWIST, is fun and occasionally provocative, like the hip-shaking dance itself. Mixing stock footage and present-day interviews with yesterday's dance-makers, TWIST stud… (more)