Concrete Circus was guerrilla television at its best. Director Mike Christie’s feature-length documentary was shown as part of Channel 4’s Street Summer. The film challenged four outstanding urban athletes and their producer/directors to make new films in the UK to follow their viral video successes.
Urban athletes use skateboards, BMX bikes and just trainers to perform in the urban concrete jungle. Nothing seems to be an obstacle: height, distance and surface are exploited for acrobatic or dance stunts that are thrilling to watch and all-but impossible for the rest of us to contemplate. In combination with a sympathetic video producer/director, they make for stunning videos that have partly defined and refined the medium of viral video. The tricks speak for themselves: the original YouTube videos don’t rely on massive sound tracks plus occasional natural sound.
The challenge to make new videos proved a tall order and showed some of the weaknesses of the viral filmmakers. I happened across one of these teams in Brighton earlier this year around Brighton West Pier and up around the railway station: one camera operator with a lightweight handheld camera rig and another camera operator crouching on a skateboard. And another crew shooting when I was out on London’s South Bank. Clearly organised but not in the traditional crew roles. Tracking shots but not a track in sight.
Kendy Ty chose to try to show us the mind of BMX flatlander Keelan Phillips in his film Release. The many dark sequences and deep moody close-ups were not as revealing as Mike Christie’s documentary sequences showing the athlete’s family home back on the Isle of Skye.
Stu Thomson’s “Industrial Revolutions” was outstanding, showing “urban trial-rider phenomenon Danny McAskill” apparently at play in a yard of abandoned railway goods wagons and locomotives: jaw dropping and the other the cliché superlatives run out far too quickly, you have to see these sequences. Mike Christie’s documentary showed us that the athleticism doesn’t come easily with much practice and the inevitable breaks; also that the cinematography and choreography are carefully planned. The design, costume and the video look were all carefully crafted as well. Even with exceptional performance like this, a story is still essential. The care shows through on the screen and although maybe some raw immediacy is lost, the payoff is that the viewer's attention is held for longer.
“Concrete Circus climaxes with an action-packed scene shot at The Barbican in London and directed by Christie, featuring Danny, Kilian, Blue, Phil and Keelan together on screen for the first time.” says Channel 4’s website. Mike Christie’s short justifiably topped the bill and again showed that a story really is necessary to hold the stunts together: in this case the urban athletes come together in what appears to be any old concrete jungle but is shown to be the London’s Barbican Arts centre. Just one or two reaction shots of astonished and/or outraged arts patrons would have added a further layer here.
In the best tradition of nanny television, Channel 4’s website assures us that professional risk assessments were performed, and the programme was transmitted after the 9pm watershed and the clips online on forbid viewing by anyone under-18 but that’s as likely to be disregarded as a London cyclist confronted by a red light.
The commercial breaks also showcased some of the best in current commercials: I particularly like the Skoda Fabia vRS “Mean Green” TV commercial which aired here in the London region.