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Canada, 1992 (MIFF 1993, Documentaries)

Director: Ron Mann

It was the dance that changed a generation. Never before had white America played so loose with its body. Coming along right when rock and roll needed a new jolt, the Twist fast became an international phenomenon, and the bell tolled, signaling the end of America's WASP reserve. It was scary.

Ron Mann (Comic Book Confidential) brings us his new feature documentary, Twist, which captures the whole mad whirl of the era. In a fast-paced mix of interviews and rare archival footage, this film brings back all the lewd fun of the dance. From Harlem dance parties to Dick Clark's American Bandstand to celebrity hijinxs at the Peppermint Lounge, Twist makes it pretty clear that no corner of society escaped the infectious groove of the dance. Taking America by storm right in the middle of the Cold War, proper folks all across the continent denounced it as a corrupting and possibly communist influence. And that's not the only controversy.

Everyone knows Chubby Checker as the man behind the Twist but his fame came at the expense of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, who recorded the song shortly beforeChecker's version hit the charts. The difference between what each got out of the Twist craze - Checker got stardom, Ballard zip - highlights another of Mann's concerns. Not only was the Twist a turning point in American youth culture, it also pointed to the way the white music industry so often raided African American culture for new styles.

Mann roots Ballard's song in a whole history of risque rhythm and blues records and traces its movement toward hula-hoop status! As full of insights as it is of music and hip-shaking fun, Twist is a delight.

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