On Friday morning, word filters through San Francisco’s silicon subculture. By e-mail, by fax, by Palm Pilot, the digerati hear the klaxon call: The party is on! By Saturday night, 200 people will secretly converge on an abandoned building somewhere in San Francisco’s warehouse district for their weekly dose of rave culture. What stories will come from this magical night? What pairings are in the offing? What break-ups in the brewing? One thing’s for sure: By the crack of dawn on Sunday, the party will be over, the workweek will loom and the revelry will be on hold–at least until next weekend.
Having perked up Sundance audiences earlier this year, filmmaker Greg Harrison’s rave culture time capsule, Groove, is now bouncing its way into theaters. Groove aspires to be an energetic American Graffiti for the techno set. With its ensemble cast and saturation of hip tunage, Groove looks to be on track to capture ’90s pop culture the way Graffiti captured ’50s culture, or the way Dazed and Confused nailed the ‘70s zeitgeist. Unfortunately, the show hits a few sour notes along the way, resulting in more of a curiosity piece than a film for the ages—think more Beat Street and less Saturday Night Fever.
The story centers largely around a pair of brothers. David Turner (Hamish Linklater) is a recent Midwest transplant who moved to the big city in hopes of launching his literary career. Four years down the line, he finds himself an overworked, overstressed technical writer with a string of computer instruction manuals to his credit. Colin Turner (Denny Kirkwood) is a “try anything” party boy with a “work hard, play hard” ethic. On one fateful night, Colin talks his pent-up bro into taking Ecstasy and diving head-first into the world of the San Fran underground.
While the underground rave scene is undeniably colorful (the BPM-obsessed subculture has already sparked two other films this year, including the documentary Better Living Through Circuitry), the major question remains: Does rave actually merit all this cinematic attention? It certainly looks exciting, but is there actually anything of substance behind the boom-tsss-boom-tsss-boom-tsss of the turntables and the retina-searing clothing of the dancers? So far, filmmakers haven’t exactly answered the question.
Groove has all the elements in place; but there just isn’t much at stake here, dramatically speaking. David meets a cute girl (Lola Glaudini) from New York. They spend the evening talking about all kinds of really deep stuff—like “what do we really want to do with our lives?” At some point, they lose each other in the crowd. Will they ever find each other again? Colin, meanwhile, proposes to his girlfriend, then chooses this rather inopportune moment to experiment with his sexuality. Will she ever forgive him? For comic relief, a gay couple spend their “anniversary” evening searching for the party, but their constant bickering keeps getting them lost. Will they ever make it to the rave?
That’s about it for storyline. The rest of Groove is filled with colorful costumes and fantastic music, which is probably the main reason to come to the theater anyway. Writer/director/editor Greg Harrison apparently spent a good deal of time in SF’s rave scene, and certainly has an insider’s ear for it all. That Groove is an authentic portrait is never in question. The god-like power of DJs to electrify a crowd is well-limned. The ambiguous morality of drug use is properly explored. Even the divisions between electronic music fans are pointed up to amusing ends (“What happened to you, man?” complains one unhappy attendee. “You used to listen to Nitzer Ebb.”) Electronic music aficionados will certainly be jazzed to see numerous cameos by such knob-twiddling notaries as DJ Polywog, DJ WishFM and DJ Digweed (all of whom, thankfully, aren’t asked to utter more than a line or two). In the end, those who can actually explicate the difference between jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, happy house and other assorted electronic sub-sub-sub-genres will be this film’s most receptive audience. Those who cannot probably won’t get into this Groove quite so deeply.