“We all from the same bricks,” proclaims one New Orleanian, before being seen dancing down his street to a brass band beat. For sure, his statement can be read in many ways, but the one I will go with relates to the culture of his city. A city defined by its culture, which itself is defined by its celebration of/with/by song and dance, specifically and often recalled as originating from black slaves. Boiling things down, the “bricks” of New Orleans were formed and put into place by a whole community that has been under attack in America for hundreds of years. Through thick and thin, this community bucks authority every year through an expression that cannot and will not be controlled, no matter how some have/will try to claim for themselves.
There’s a story in that.
Buckjumping is a story of dance in New Orleans and the various styles that go about. We go from Second Lining to Bounce and everywhere in between, watching grown men and women pass down liberating traditions to wide-eyed youth, jaws dropped and inspired. Years back, another documentary titled We Won’t Bow Down was released, covering the Mardi Gras Indian culture. Both films make a point to stress the importance of speaking truth to power through dance and costume, through an expression of the body, of the physical, of movement. While We Won’t Bow Down was a study/lecture almost, Buckjumping is most assuredly more than passing fancy. While We Won’t Bow Down was informative, it was delivered as if straight from the textbook. And Buckjumping? It’s the fun video you get to watch in class.
It’s a movie most intrigued by its subject certainly, but not inquisitive enough on its own, or at least not in the best places. Yes, the dance numbers are treated with reverence and are cut together masterfully by Jane Geisler, whose eye for manipulating chaos into a threaded sequence made for some astonishing if momentary revelations. No, filmmaker Lily Keber’s direction is not flat or fake, maintaining an affection throughout that let those being captured to be honest and open. Her previous documentary Bayou Maharajah was a most exceptional portrait of a musician, the times he lived in, and the legacy left behind. Here, with Buckjumping, she’s much more subdued. Not weak, but perhaps hesitant. Perhaps too careful.
At just over an hour, Buckjumping doesn’t wear out its welcome nor does it feel at home. It may be the story of a city, but it’s one we’ve heard/read/seen before, though I suppose not as pretty as this time. The camera team of Zac Manuel and Allendra Freeman both go for intimate close-ups and tight squeeze shots during the main attraction action of dance, making for some beautifully rendered imagery in the process. It is in their work that the unexpected becomes life itself for the film, finding magical compositions from otherwise unseen fragments of time and space.
I’d love to see an extended cut of Buckjumping, as I bet there’s something meatier going on in the neighborhoods covered. One, featuring drag queens and lesbian couples performing lip sync stylings to a small crowd at a probably under the table bar, made for some of the more compelling and human storytelling in the whole picture. Strange, as the crux of Buckjumping is in how a community communicates with the world and expresses their very souls to the universe. There should be something deeply personal in all of us about that.
“We all from the same bricks,” the man said. There’s a story in that.
RATING: 3 / 5
Buckjumping screens at The Broad in Mid-City starting August 26th.
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved.