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Step Across the Border

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Nicolas Humbert, Werner Penzel CH 1990 84'

In STEP ACROSS THE BORDER two forms of artistic expression, improvised music and cinema direct, are interrelated. In both forms it is the moment that counts, the intuitive sense for what is happening in a space. Music and film come into existence out of an intense perception of the moment, not from the transformation of a preordained plan. In improvisation the plan is revealed only at the end. One finds it. The other connection concerns the work method: the film team as band. Much as musicians communicate via the music, our work, too, was realized within a very small and flexible team of equals. What mattered was exchange. And movement. Sometimes we started filming in the middle of the night, responding to a new idea that had arisen only minutes before. We had a fundamental feeling for what we wanted to do, for what kind of film this should be. And we followed that feeling. It was all very instinctive...

Do you know a white rabbit who, playing trumpet, circles the world on his flying carpet?

May be you have met him somewhere already, in Zurich, London, Leipzig, Tokyo or New York. That at least was about the route we took and what resulted from it was the black-and-white wink of an eye at the symphonic connection between subways, storms and electric guitars.

An American critic wrote: 'Fred Frith's music makes your jaw drop, your feet dance, and your neighbours move.'

Also starring: several telephones, puddles, scarecrows, saxophones, orchestrated cities and motors.

A music film.

Rock's greatest moment is, well, jazzy

STEP ACROSS THE BORDER the most important mix of music and film since the early '70s

Before MTV unplugged Nirvana or the stage plugged in Tommy, before MuchMusic, or the rest of rock video, before there was such a thing as the "rockumentary" or the sycophantic concert flick - before all that came to pass, the very idea of rock - of popular music of any kind - coupled with something else, caused a stir.

Especially film. Rock and film.

It was the mating of two alien life-forms - no, maybe it was more like cats coupling at midnight; a pretty loud, nasty and memorable business for the listeners as well as, one presumes, for the cats themselves. Renaldo & Clara, with and by Bob Dylan, was the last rock flick that mattered, and that was in the early 70s.

Until STEP ACROSS THE BORDER, that is.

And, not to mince words, it's arguably the greatest sustained bit of popular music on film since Shall We Dance, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in 1937 - and that includes Gene Kelly's heartbreak final ballet in An American in Paris, Jazz On A Summer's Day or Dylan in Don't Look Back.

No question. As Frith connects primal rock with everything from North African Pop to traditional Japanese percussion music to techno art-band stuff from New York in the late '80s when the film was shot, we're given one enormously imaginative extension of the potential of North American pop music.

This, he shows, is where the roots-connected pop of the 21st century has to go. Or, with this film, it has already gone...

Peter Goddard, New York Times