Noble color guard doc could use more shading


St. Vincent (pictured) is among the major recording artists collaborating with color guard teams for a lively Barclays Center performance. Photo by Jarred Alterman & Wyatt Garfield.
St. Vincent (pictured) is among the major recording artists who collaborated with color guard teams for a lively Barclays Center performance. Photo by Jarred Alterman & Wyatt Garfield.

BY RANIA RICHARDSON | While spinning batons, rifles, sabers or flags in the air, the color guard performs a joyous dance to celebrate school spirit during a football halftime show, to the tune of the high school marching band. Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne stumbled upon the art form and “was knocked out,” and so, to bring it to a wider audience, matched 10 color guard teams chosen from national competition with 10 established composers.

The yearlong collaboration culminated in a performance at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2015. The motion of the props, the synchronized choreography and the fresh music — as well as the exuberance of the youth — created a lively spectacle that drew crowds.

With Byrne as producer, sibling filmmakers Bill and Turner Ross turned the event into the documentary, “Contemporary Color.” Lucius, Nelly Furtado, St. Vincent, How to Dress Well, Zola Jesus and other artists of profiles both high and low worked with the troupes, many of whom were performing their final color guard and saying goodbye to their team forever.

It was an emotional time for the student performers, who exhibit diversity in body size and ethnicity, and some appear to be social outcasts. Color guard provides a skill, a community, and, it seems, a safe space for misfits.

The Ross brothers choose not to adhere to the standard structure of similar films, which usually follow the stories of a few characters closely, document rehearsals, and build momentum towards an exciting main event. Instead, they use camera tricks, such as superimpositions, to add interest, and zero in on some interesting moments, such as the girlfriends who lean on each other for support, the “dads” who pitch in with set building, and a pair of eccentric boys bursting with excitement.

Without the typical pattern, though, the film is unfocused and the trajectory falls flat. In the final minutes, all performers come together for a powerful and uplifting group number that hints at what could have been with a more traditional form of storytelling.

Not every concert film can be a pinnacle of achievement. For that, we have the Talking Heads in “Stop Making Sense,” directed by Jonathan Demme in 1984.

Directors: Bill Ross, Turner Ross. Runtime: 97 minutes. Thurs., Apr. 21, 8pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park (102 North End Ave., at Vesey St.). Tickets: $20 plus $3.50 phone & web processing fee. Visit tribecafilm.com or call 646-502-5296. For more info, visit contemporarycolor.com.