By Gary M. Kramer.
One of the highlights of Awesomefest’s summer line up is the free July 3 screening of the irresistible documentary, Living Stars, at 9:00 pm at Clark Park , 4398 Chester Ave, in Philadelphia. This infectious, plotless film is an hour-long assemblage (by directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat) of various home videos of Argentine people dancing to popular music. The film opens with Fabián Biscione, a dentist, grooving to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” in his office. His animated expression belies a joy that shows how music and dancing is not only a form of self-expression, but also a form of escape from his work. Biscione encourages his daughters to perform for the camera as well, as he accompanies each of them in separate dance routines later in the film.
Most of the dancers in Living Stars perform in their kitchens and living rooms. Rosita, a housewife, is arguably the most ingratiating dancer. Two of her friends perform an enjoyable backup routines as she dances away in her foyer. Usually, when other friends or family members are in the frame, they tend to be expressionless, sipping mate, or even trying to appear otherwise engaged. This aspect adds a layer of voyeurism to the activity on display. Meanwhile, one of the more impressively choreographed performances belongs to Ivan Pacek, a student who performs cartwheels, splits, and other gymnastic contortions in his backyard as “Titanium” by David Guetta (featuring Sia) plays on the soundtrack. He may not quite have rhythm, but he is amazingly limber.
The short videos strung together here are typical of the YouTube clips that have propagated in our digital/internet culture in this age of twerking, but amateur performance has also been encouraged by the success of (American) TV programs like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and Dancing with the Stars (which have Argentine iterations). The filmmakers here are presenting their “Living Stars” without irony; these are joyous celebrations of people just having fun in their homes. Any inference otherwise is up to the viewer to ascribe.
This lack of judgment on the performers may be why it’s more amusing than creepy to see a young girl dance interpretively to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” or a young boy kick up his heels to the Weather Girls’ gay anthem “It’s Raining Men.” Likewise, it is highly entertaining to watch a pizza delivery guy perform Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in drag—especially when his wig falls off. Britney Spears is a popular singer for the Argentine dancers in Living Stars. Her hit “…Baby One More Time” is performed twice in the film: once by Santiago, a student, in a precisely choreographed routine, and later by another student, Sofía, whose rendition in her kitchen is more free form. In fact, Sofîa cannot help laughing when her mother starts to steal the spotlight and gyrates to the music.
There is a thinly veiled sexual component to all of the dancing, but songs like “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred, as performed by Luciano, a handsome actor, proves his failure to grasp the lyrics’ meanings. In contrast, a realtor’s rendition of “I’m Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO is actually somewhat seductive. As for two students dancing in their underwear, this vignette plays more as a goof than any kind of erotic (or homoerotic) gesture.
The “costumes” the performers showcase are another fascinating aspect of the film. From sparkly black hot pants to tight-fitting silver pants, or a guy dressed up like a cowboy, the way the dancers construct their looks reinforces much about their identities and performances. Similarly, the interior designs of the performance spaces are fascinating, and often more interesting than the dancing. The backgrounds, like the outfits, reveal subtle cues about class and gender. The choice of songs and dance style is also quite telling.
Significantly, the performers are mostly unselfconscious—whatever their level of talent, they all dance with heart. And this is why Living Stars is so enjoyable. Seeing Sebastian, a young man, dance to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” it is clear he put considerable thought into his routine, which he no doubt practiced. He is obviously having fun, even if he is performing moves that might make the Material Girl cringe. And while a boy named Marcos does a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” that is far from the King of Pop’s graceful moonwalking, he exhibits a good sense of rhythm. Such is the jubilant nature of the film.
While Living Stars does have a repetitious quality to it, and some of the vignettes get a little tedious, the film never really wears out its welcome. Perhaps this is because the music is mostly upbeat and varies between Latin music, rap, and American pop hits such as Elvis’s “All Shook Up,” which prompts a retired couple to swing, and Kim Wilde’s 80s classic “Kids in America,” which a young woman named Aime performs on roller skates. Living Stars certainly offers viewers a good time watching these dancers. And audiences may be laughing with them as much as at them. Moreover, this film may even prompt folks who see it to go off and create a video performance of their own.
Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and co-editor of the recently published Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.