David Byrne, former frontman of the Talking Heads, makes for an unusually dignified rock elder statesman as the force behind Bill and Turner Ross’ new concert film “Contemporary Color.” Looking healthy and active at 63, his commitment to the documentary, which depicts a color guard performance he put on at the Barclays Center last year, comes across not as an attempt to get back in the spotlight but the result of a genuine, likable enthusiasm for a neglected art. The film premiered last week at the Tribeca Film Festival, with Byrne, cast members and the Ross Brothers in attendance afterwards for a Q&A.
“Color” is, more than anything, about the art of color guard. For those who are unaware, color guards are groups of high school and college students performing in a way resembling both ballet and cheerleading. The movie showcases the performances of 10 different color guards from throughout the country at Byrne’s production from last year. Each one is accompanied by music from a bevy of artists, with St. Vincent, Ad-Rock, Nelly Furtado and Byrne himself among them. The result is an emphatically emotional spectacle.
After the premiere, one color guard member, Mary, spoke about the intensity of work involved in the sport. It is normal for those involved to devote 20 hours a week to practices, with most spending additional time practicing at home, made all the more impressive given that the sport occurs during the school year. While some know the sport only as something performed at halftime during football games, Mary hoped for much more.
“In the color guard world we have come along way, and one day we hope to see the sport in the Olympics,” she said.
Another performer, Ryan, spoke about the pleasure of performing non-competitively at the Barclays. Like all sports it can be agonizing, with so much emphasis put on winning a competition. But this performance was more relaxed, with the emphasis put on celebrating the sport itself.
“My favorite part was getting to be friends with the other groups without getting nervous or feeling like I was being fake,” Ryan said.
This sense of kinship is brought home in the gigantic final scene, in which all of the teams perform together.
Visually, the movie is packed, with something happening on every inch of the screen. In between performances we are given short clips of the different schools and performers in the vein of “American Idol.” The directors spoke about their very interesting influences.
“We started to think about stuff from our childhood that was on stage like The Muppets and Wrestlemania and then we spent lots of time with everyone involved to get a sense of the various communities,” said Bill Ross.
This time spent with the communities involved shows in the film. There are many charming shots of coaches, family members and friends looking on nervously but proudly as they watch the performers. This heartfelt documentary brings to life performances on screen and is a wonderful highlight into a world not often acknowledged.
Email Tony Schwab at [email protected]