FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Club Celluloid: Why Can't Filmmakers Get Dancefloors Right?

Clubs are pretty cinematic places to begin with. Please try to not fuck it up so badly, so often.

Nightclubs and cinemas are pretty similar spaces. Both are dark. Both implicitly promote and normalise voyeurism. Both are means of escaping workaday worry and quotodian questions. Both are full of bored couples who're there because they've finished Netflix and want to endure each other's company in silence somewhere that isn't their bedroom.

There's an air of romance about them though, even now when cinemas show digital files and not films, even when clubs are more about selfies than fostering communality. We still want a trip to the cinema to transport us somewhere beyond our own life, we still queue for a club expecting to leave ourselves behind for a night. That's why we continue to line the pockets of Odeon and Oceana, and we probably always will.

Advertisement

When the two collide, when the silver screen drapes itself over the red velvet ropes of clubland, it should be magical. Sadly, as we learn more and more every day of our lives, expectation and reality are polar opposites. There's something saddening about the sight of a 360p quality movie projected onto an old curtain behind a DJ. When we're out on a big one, ideally we should be looking at the crowd, watching ourselves watching and being watched. Having Pulp Fiction playing silently in the background doesn't instill punters with confidence in the promoter or the club's ability to pull off a night to remember really.

Here's some of the worst offenders, some of the most soul-sucking and lifeless club scenes ever committed to celluloid.

The Matrix Reloaded

History won't look back kindly on the early 00s. All that pre-millennial tension, all that fear laced with hope for potential prosperity squandered by Celebrity Fit Club, Jade Goody's kebab and The Matrix. Fucking hell, The Matrix, man. The film that gave us a generation of basement dwelling pseudo-philosophers in leather coats and a endless supply of achingly-hilarious bullet time spoofs is a stain on humanity. I'm not bedridden or brain-damaged so I've not seen the sequels but this scene from the second film in the sequence is just absurd. I mean, it could be kind of cool, if your idea of cool is the sight of slow-motion glistening bodies twirling to shitty tribal house while Keanu gets his fuck on and shows what a sensual sensitive lover he is despite being dotted with rank body mod implants. Just imagine how bad the whole scene smells. It's like the ending of Avatar, which I thought was the most embarrassing moment in film history, but somehow more embarrassing because Avatar is a children's film – albeit a problematic, racist children's film – and this fucker had a 15 certificate slapped on it.

Kevin and Perry Go Large

This is shocking on a number of levels. Firstly, it's from Kevin & Perry Go Large, a film that surely marks the nadir of British comedy, the moment when coked-up excess became a bit, y'know, tawdry – a feature length adaptation of an unfunny one-note gag. Secondly, despite having been filmed in one of the world's most renowned clubs, Amnesia, it still looks like someone took a Handycam down to the local rec centre on a Friday. Thirdly, the soundtrack is total 4am taxi-trance aka the worst kind of music ever made. Fourthly, the club scene also features a fucking awful sex scene that's only funny if you're the kind of doughnut who thinks the idea that, gulp, parents having… sex is inherently hilarious. Lastly, just think about what you're watching: Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke playing a pair of teenagers who get stiffies on the beach while Rhys Ifans pretends to play records.

Human Traffic

Actors unable to accurately portray the face-disrupting effect of a cheeky few pills on a Saturday night? Check. Corny chat about the glory days of rave, hoary reminiscing about how all this used to be fields of blokes sucking on dummies to the sounds of Altern-8? Check. Sudden shift to E'd up snoggers slurping on each other on the dancefloor? Check. Pallid, sweaty, corned beef and grey flesh on display as extras try really, really, really hard to convey the feeling of communal ecstasy that's fostered by the best nights out? Check. Everyone involved looking a bit embarrassed and sad? Check.

Collateral

Collateral is one of those movies that I don't think anyone's ever actually sat down and watched. Like Knocked Up, King Kong, The Holiday and 2 Fast 2 Furious, Collateral isn't so much a film as a hugely expensive bit of filler used to plug the gaps in ITV2's schedule. It's the kind of movie that plays out joylessly while you're rolling the second joint of the night after five pints in the pub. So it's fitting that it features a club scene that makes clubs look like how you feel after those five pints and two joints. It's drab, functional, untouchably expensive, a night spot for wealthy Russians and their unsmiling, silent mates. Even before you get to the preposterously boring sight of a white-haired Tom Cruise stabbing his way through henchmen, you've got to contend with the N64 FPS soundtrack and a gang of stoical non-dancers who even make a grumpy cunt like me look like Bez. This is the club as purgatory.

Rise of the Footsoldier

Real talk: Green Street is one of the low-key most watchable films ever made in the UK. Every other 80s football film is an orgy of sentimentalised hooliganism. Rise of the Footsoldier, based on the real life Rettendon murders, is no exception. In a scene that somehow makes Lil Louis's previously un-fuck-with-able "French Kiss" sound like a sloppy bedroom demo rather than a precision tooled peak time bomb, a cunt-happy heavy lad bouncer reprimands some silly sod in a tank top who's dishing out ecstasy like Parma Violets. A terse, tense, horrifically stilted stand-off follows, culminating in the clubber telling the meat-headed doorman "Its not a drug mate – this is love." Love, he replies, is just "silly bollocks", before stomping off and deciding to have a taste of the confiscated wares. He's immediately battered. He surveys his newly loved-up kingdom: a sparsely-filled dancefloor is hidden by horribly jumpy camera work. He stands there, a water-swigging, jaw-clenching ubermensch on the verge of melting into the second summer of love. It's a scene that takes something that was vital and necessary, fresh and culture-changing and makes it look like something that happened once in a community centre.

It's not just that the clips above share a similar lack of creativity, or that they all make clubbing look about as enjoyable as a trip to Carpetright, it's that these things can be done well. They should be done well. Think of the near limitless possibilities afforded to you by occupying a setting that contains hundreds if not thousands of individuals gathered in a unique space – name me another place on earth designed purely for hedonism and pleasure.

Advertisement

Happily some films get it right. Blade might be a schlocky piece of trash but its opening scene is a fairly lifelike, if stylised, take on the grim, grinding intimacy of a peak time paranoia. Well, until the sprinklers explode and the entire populace is drenched in blood, which should just be silly but actually, somehow, looks cool as hell.

The thirty deep blue seconds of minimalist violence in the start Hype Williams' Belly, a movie that I watched when I was so high that I spent the night being kept awake by the goblins hovering in front of me for hours on end, are worth infinitely more than the crashing bore of the aforementioned Collateral sequence.

Steve Coogan in 24 Hour Party People threatens to steal the show, but the real star is the club that started it all: the Hacienda. This scene, in which Coogan's character, Tony Wilson, explains the genesis of that venue in a suitably playful meta-filmic way, looks like Manchester's most famous nightspot in the full throes of bliss in spite of the comedian turned press privacy crusader's excruciating dad dancing.

Sometimes actually asking someone to pick a decent dancefloor track rather than a nauseatingly generic techno-thudder as a soundtrack can make all the difference. This scene from Spike Lee's Summer of Sam slips thrillingly into all-out disco fantasy courtesy of Machine's towering, imperious, all-time classic "There But for the Grace of God Go I".

Not only does this bit in Robocop actually look a bit like a real night in a real club, it also features Robocop stomping about and Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks trying to deck a robotic policeman while a record by a Ministry side-project pumps away.

Hopefully, these five clips comprise a kind of mini-syllabus on how to shoot nightclub footage properly. To do it well one needs a genuinely great record playing; the club needs to actually look busy; the dancing should look feasible and not consist entirely of boneheaded fist pumping or disco ducking. Clubs are pretty cinematic places to begin with. Please try to not fuck it up so badly, so often.