Earlier this month the timelessness of Girl Talk’s appeal was again reinforced by Houston’s OG Ron C who delivered a ridiculous chopped and screwed version of 2010’s All Day with his Purple All Day reinterpretation. For fans of the original, Purple is a must listen. But perhaps more satisfying than its syrupy sounds might be its call for fans to rediscover other works which have utilized the source in creating something unique and exciting. My memories quickly led me to a variety of video mashups that have surfaced in the 20 or so months that have passed since All Day‘s release (BDLFilms’ is rather fantastic), but the derivative project that remains a standout is the performance art piece developed by director Jacob Krupnick titled Girl Walk // All Day.
The story of how the 70+minute film was developed revolves around its position as another of Kickstarter’s many success-stories, but in brief it happened like this: In the span of about five months beginning in December 2010, the full-length feature project was conceived and the $4800 needed to produce it was fully funded (the online support following the release of a demo trailer was massive, eventually bringing in nearly $25k). The entire production was filmed and produced in the following seven months before the first chapter was released via Gothamist, with new installments coming quickly before the complete film eventually screened in its entirety at such events such as Bonnaroo, SXSW, and the Munich Film Festival. (For a complete history check out this Kickstarter video.)
Three things about Girl Walk initially drew me in: the release model, the unusual performance techniques of lead dancer Anne Marsen, and the surviving theme projected throughout. “I’m also really aware of how short the attention span is for Web videos and how difficult it is to presume how much people want to watch,” explained Krupnick in an interview with the NY Times’ Arts Beat blog last year. “Rather than release the film in full, it seemed like an interesting thing to do to release it in short serialized segments.” And, at least in my case, it worked: While I didn’t hear of the series until a few weeks in, once I was caught up I kept up, following the story with each subsequent short. Complementing the nature of Girl Talk’s music, which can also be exhausting when consumed for any significant period of time, chopping Girl Walk up left each individual chapter feeling energetic.
Marsen, who caught Krupnick’s eye in a previous project they worked on together, was selected to star because she incorporates a variety of genres “in one fluid routine” which is obvious mere moments into the film. That said, her energetic delivery is also one of Girl Walk‘s lightning rods: Early feedback was riddled with skeptics and haters, with the spectrum of criticism ranging from relatively civil name calling (“the dancing seemed spastic“) to violent (“I want to punch her in the throat“). Admittedly, there is something off-putting about the style, with hard-wired cynicism kicking in mere moments into the video as an endlessly positive dancer freak-funks her way across the screen. If you can put aside any critical focus though, Marsen’s energy and confidence remain unwavering throughout, offering an intangible depth to her character as the role shifts from geeked-out to sexy chic and back again.
That’s not a characteristic exclusive to Marsen though, as the entire cast of performers do well in accepting the challenge of performing to an unsuspecting public. Such moments of risky public interaction include the flaunting of shopping excess at an Occupy Wall Street protest, a brush with security at Yankee Stadium, an aggressive Grand Central Station breakdown, and a risqué subway pole dancing scene. To find out a bit more about the dangers the cast experienced with filming I connected with Krupnick via email.
“I was often concerned for the dancers’ safety while we were filming in the streets, but their risks were all calculated and made with care and confidence. I don’t feel like we created any particularly dangerous situations for passersby — that would be pretty mean-spirited, and counter our mission — but Anne, John, and Dai all performed pretty amazing feats of coordination and creativity every day. If I danced as hard as they did for a single minute, I’d probably roll an ankle. On our first day of filming, Dai tap-danced on the Wall Street Bull, performed on top of a phone booth, and slid around a subway stop — I was astonished by the performance, but also crossing all my fingers for his good health… The variables in the filming days were numerous: crowds, storefronts, the weather, street merchants. We came to embrace the unexpected in New York and incorporate chance into the filmmaking process in a way that’s generally reserved for documentaries.”
Awkward as her style might appear, Marsen’s ability to connect each chapter of the story, serving as an adhesive that holds the film together shouldn’t be overlooked. And despite the ringing sound of any B.S. detectors, the theme that her work articulates is one of resounding positivity. In fact, the only lines of dialog in the entire film speak to this, coming during her interaction with a couple of unsuspecting rabbis. “Why are you dancing?” one asks as she approaches him. “Because I’m happy,” she replies. “You should always be happy,” he answers.
Speaking to this in our conversation, Krupnick continued, “The film is optimistic at its core.” He continued by elaborating on how the project changed thematically over the course of its production. “There are a number of themes we’re trying to project with Girl Walk, and our intentions definitely evolved while filming, and gelled during editing. I was interested in making a film in public space to prove that there is still a public space — and that it’s something that needs to be used and celebrated for it to be recognized and protected.”
The enduring beauty of Girl Talk’s music is that it, too, celebrates public space, utilizing standards and oddities alike to help redefine how we appreciate music. Mashups on the whole ask us to wave our flags, no matter how geeky our influences might be or how embarrassing our passion might appear to others. Girl Walk does this as well, challenging us to celebrate our passions in the face of an apathetic public or a set of listless onlookers. One of the reasons it has stayed with me isn’t because of the often goofy dancing or the visuals celebrating New York City’s magnetic landscape, but it’s message encouraging us to be ourselves.