Review: ‘Contemporary Color’ shines a gleeful spotlight on flag-waving, rifle-twirling artists

Singer St. Vincent with color guard team Field of View from West Chester, Penn., in the documentary "Contemporary Color."
Singer St. Vincent with color guard team Field of View from West Chester, Penn., in the documentary “Contemporary Color.”
(Oscilloscope Laboratories)

As exhilarating and moving a concert film as you’re likely to see, “Contemporary Color” documents David Byrne’s giddy, passionate melding of hip composers and recording acts (St. Vincent, Lucius, the Tune-Yards) with what Byrne considers an underappreciated folk art: those flag-waving, plastic-rifle-twirling school dance squads known as color guards.

As captured by Bill Ross and Turner Ross (“Western”), the 2015 hybrid performance Byrne staged at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center becomes a sustained ecstasy of vitality, synchronicity and emotion. If you aren’t bingeing color guard videos on YouTube afterward, you might not have a heart.

The movie’s own blend is behind-the-scenes vérité and concert cinema, stripped of any fame-anoints-farmland/inner-city shallowness and focused instead on the innovative, joyful rightness of the enterprise. If anything, the star acts, which include Nelly Furtado, Ira Glass and a proudly beaming Byrne himself, are usually shown offstage in awe of their young collaborators — some even try to spin a sabre themselves. (It’s as tough as it looks.)

“Contemporary Color” is not the strictest of performance movies: The Ross brothers augment the teams’ richly choreographed, competition-tested routines with slow motion, superimpositions, and separately shot material with individual color guard members. But these artful divergences feel naturally expressive, the filmmakers’ way of honoring the expressiveness, and wanting in on the inspiration.


Byrne, clearly a proud father, contributes a wrenching, original song called “I Was Changed,” and in providing a beautiful platform for this more-than-just-a-halftime-show outlier art, you understand the sentiment.


‘Contemporary Color’

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes


Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language

Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood

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