Moving with speed, grace, and precision they work through each round in hopes of knocking out their competition. The pressure nears its boiling point as the judges take note of each jab and the zealous crowd cheers for their favourite combatant. The two individuals in the ring have spent hours rigorously training for this exact moment. Each one aware that one mistake could cost them the match. The fire in their eyes is a mixture of confidence and hunger as they know their time in the square ring, while brief, could make them legends. While the chance at nabbing the title would be nice, leaving a legacy is the ultimate goal.
Though this may sound like a recount of a Pay-Per-View boxing match featuring Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, it is actually a fight of a different sort. This is the world of B-boying, a style of street dancing that was commonly referred to as “breakdancing” or “breaking” in the 70s and 80s. Considered to be one of the four key elements to hip hop, along with the MC, the DJ and the Graffiti artist, B-boying has evolved into an art form that, thanks to Youtube, youth worldwide participate in. It is not only a way to express and showcase dance abilities, but also a non-violent tool to settle disputes (a.k.a.“beefs”).
The mixture of skill and competition that is crucial to B-boy culture is highlighted in Robert Pilichowski’s wonderful film, All Out War. Though “urban” dance is receiving more notice in mainstream films, used mainly as a plot tool to give ballet trained dancers an “edge”, none have been as captivating as Pilichowski’s film. He not only crafts one of the best films to ever be made about the B-boying culture, but he also gives an honest look at the individuals who have dedicated much of their life to the art form.
All Out War follows four B-boys from different parts of North America as they prepare for the 2006 King of the Ring competition in Toronto. A bracket style battle tournament, King of the Ring pits the world’s best B-boys/B-girls against each other until one ultimate winner is chosen. Each pair of battlers has only three rounds to out dance the other before a panel of judges declare who will advance. Unlike most films that focus on sporting competitions, do not look for any rise of the underdog type tale here. Pilichowski gives each of one of the four B-boys equal and objective footing throughout the entire film.
It is a smart choice considering that Pilichowski hits the jackpot in regards to the charismatic individuals he chose to document. There is Alien Ness, who hails from the Bronx and sees B-boying as a way to steer his life away from his violent criminal past. In San Francisco we meet Machine, a skilled dancer who left his home in the South in pursuit of achieving something greater than his hometown could offer. Traveling to Los Angeles Pilichowski introduces us to 17 year-old Casper, a Canadian born B-boy whose family struggles are always on his mind as he chases after the bright lights of Hollywood. Lastly, we journey to Toronto where we meet Dyzee who wants to take a more positive approach to breaking while struggling to deal with an old “beef” that is becoming increasingly hostile.
Besides their love for breaking, each young man is bound by the struggles that they and their families have endured. Whether it was violence, poverty, or drug use, each individual has their own issues they are striving to overcome. Instead of dwelling on the hardships, Pilichowski focuses on the passion and overall drive to succeed that breaking has instilled in the B-boys. It is also refreshing to see the strong family bonds that the B-boys have with their loved ones. The positive support that their families offer only helps to make the viewer even more invested in the outcome of the King of the Ring tournament.
It should be noted that aside from the fascinating characters, Pilichowski brings a lot of style to the overall production. He adds another level of beauty to many of the already jaw-dropping dance sequences. The King of the Ring tournament is filmed in a way that provides maximum intensity, and genuine surprise, to the proceedings. One can only hope that Pilichowski takes his visual flare and skilled storytelling abilities to other aspects of hip hop culture. There is no doubt that he could provide an unique take on something like the King of the Dot battle rap competitions that have taken Youtube by storm in recent years. Regardless of what Pilichowski does next, he has a bright future ahead of him. All Out War is an exceptional, and inspiring, film that perfectly captures the world of B-boy culture unlike any other film. This is not only one of the year’s hidden gems, but one of the best as well.
All Out War screens at NXNE tonight at 9:15 PM at The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.