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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English - Hearing Impaired

    Bootmen (Rental)

    Fox Searchlight/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 89 mins . M15+ . PAL


    After taking something of a hiatus from cinema screens since the 80s, it seems that dance movies are back with a vengeance of late. Several have crossed this reviewer’s desk on DVD in recent months, from the earnest (Center Stage) to the very, very silly (Mad About Mambo). And now we have Bootmen, an Australian-made film boosted by overseas financing that marks the directorial debut of dancer and choreographer Dein Perry.

    Perry was a steelworker in the industrial city of Newcastle when he came up with the idea of merging the world of tap dancing with the clanging and scraping metal that was also a big feature of “industrial” music in the early 80s, when bands like Einstürzende Neubauten and Australia’s SPK (founded by Graeme Revell, now a film composer himself) employed angle-grinders and the ringing sound of metal on metal to provide the cutting rhythms for their music. Perry’s use of the tools and materials of heavy industry brought tap dancing out of its polite, top-hat-and-tails world and into the mainstream via his shows Tap Dogs and Steel City, aided by rock’n’roll lighting and backing music. And now Perry turns his attention to the cinema - and what better subject for a first movie than the story of your own success?

    Bootmen, loosely based on Perry’s experiences, tells the story of Sean Okden (Adam Garcia), a steelworker and skilled tap dancer living amidst the depressed economy of Newcastle, where jobs are never secure as giant companies shut down plant after plant. When he auditions for a visiting choreographer who’s about to put on a tap show in Sydney, he decides to make the move south to pursue a career as a dancer, against the wishes of his father and just after starting a relationship with hairdresser Linda (Sophie Lee). But things don’t go as planned in Sydney, and Sean returns home to a series of disasters that lead him to question the way he has been living his life. Dissatisfied with the cliquey world of traditional tap dancing, he decides to put on his own show in his home town, much to the disgust of his fellow workers, his trouble-plagued brother Mitch and one of the local gangs. But Sean is, after a tragic event unfolds, determined to put his unconventional tap show on stage…

    As you’ve probably guessed, the fundamental story of Bootmen is as predictable as they come - though, to be fair, Perry and co-writers Steve Worland and Hilary Linstead do throw in some unexpected surprises that give the film a vital shot of real drama. The main problem here is in the way the story unfolds - and it does so very, very quickly. It’s almost as if a good half hour has been edited out of the movie during editing at times, as events proceed at lightning pace almost as though Perry is just keen to get to the next dance sequence. A dancer and choreographer by trade (and yes, he did all the choreography here), Perry often seems uncomfortable directing dramatic scenes, and the often-trite nature of the script doesn’t help. Despite the relative inexperience of much of the cast, most acquit themselves well, and in a way that inexperience lends a certain honest reality to lines that would come across as cringe-inducing if spoken with too much gravity. The three principals are excellent as they navigate the script, genuinely helping to flesh out their characters in the absence of any real background colour in the text itself.

    The dance sequences, particularly the climactic one, are extremely well staged, directed and photographed - this isn’t surprising, of course, but it goes a long way towards making the movie as a whole successful. Basically, this is a simple story propelling a series of dance moments, and if it’s the dancing you’ve come to see, you’ll go away happy.


    Presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and 16:9 enhanced, Fox’s rental-only DVD of Bootmen looks, as a whole, fairly good. Early in the film, some scenes appear to be a little “flat” - there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of depth of field or contrast, especially in daytime shots, and the image seems a bit “soft”. But this is only a problem in a handful of scenes, and looks to have been a deliberate decision by cinematographer Steve Mason, who otherwise captures the atmosphere of the Newcastle setting splendidly.

    Compression artefacts aren’t an issue on this disc, but there are frequent problems with aliasing and moire effects on sharp edges and complex backgrounds. One scene, where Sean arrives in Sydney on his motorcycle across the Harbour Bridge, is literally riddled with aliasing on interlaced displays. But aside from that scene, these problems are relatively minor, and seem to improve as the film progresses. Black level and shadow detail is excellent, something that’s key to the success of the final dance sequence.

    Some edge enhancement seems to have been used throughout, but it never presents a serious problem.


    Audio is crucial to Bootmen’s dance sequences, whether the polite tapping in the early part of the film or the sharp metal clang of the foot-powered percussion later on. And the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix here - the only audio track on this disc - handles the task perfectly, with a wide frequency response allowing plenty of punch on the percussive sounds. Dialogue is crisp and clean, and never difficult to follow even when there’s a noisy background to contend with.

    The various Australian songs used throughout (by the likes of Deadstar, The Living End and Paul Kelly) tend to be mixed into the soundtrack with heavy use of the surround channels, which, while involving, will sound very odd to those listening in Dolby Surround (where the surrounds are bandwidth-restricted), in straight stereo or through headphones; the Paul Kelly song in the closing credits, meanwhile, suffers from some inexplicable channel dropouts that play havoc with channel steering.


    A Fox rental title, this disc of Bootmen contains no extras at all, not even a trailer. The scene access menus are, like most Fox rental titles, clumsy and unhelpful.


    A simple but well-made bit of harmless fun that should please dance fans in general and fans of Perry’s work in particular, Bootmen is almost family fare (and would be, but for the frequent swearing) that makes for uplifting, undemanding entertainment. Fox’s DVD is not available for sale, and once the retail version appears we’ll hopefully see a good set of extra features added - as well as a bit more encoding space for the feature than this single-layered disc allows.

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      And I quote...
    "...if it’s the dancing you’ve come to see, you’ll go away happy."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Rom:
          Pioneer 103(s)
    • MPEG Card:
          Creative Encore DXR2
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Surrounds:
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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