Review by Sean Boelman
The directorial debut of musical artist TT the Artist, Dark City Beneath the Beat is one of the most gorgeous and idiosyncratic music documentaries to come out in a long time. Thanks to the filmmaker’s unique vision, this hybrid performance film and documentary is hypnotic and fascinating beyond belief.
In the film, TT the Artist takes a look at the Baltimore club music scene and the impact it has had on the people of Baltimore, both of the artists that call it home and the community at large. This is by no means a traditional music documentary, as it is much more concerned with the context in which the music was born than the music itself.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this film is the way in which it indirectly explores the political climate of Baltimore through the music that it inspired. Arguably the most interesting sequence in the film addresses the 2015 death of Freddie Grey and the consequences that it had, both short-term and long-term.
TT the Artist serves as the de facto protagonist of the film, although the city itself is the subject. Although she was not born in Baltimore, that is where she met a majority of her success because of the city’s music scene. Through interviews with other artists and producers, the filmmaker fills out her message about creativity in the city.
Of course, if one isn’t partial to Baltimore club music, it is likely that the film won’t resonate as much because the film is heavily rooted in that sound. The film’s narrative momentum is pushed along by performance scenes in which dancers perform some thoroughly impressive choreography to the type of music to which the film is a love letter.
By blending these elements of information and performance, TT the Artist is able to deliver a cinematic experience that is immersive and entertaining. While it doesn’t follow a traditional narrative structure, it never fails to lose the audience’s attention. Clocking in at just a little over an hour long, it’s a short but sweet film.
On a technical level, TT the Artist has made a phenomenal work of performance art under the guise of a documentary film. The cinematography of the film is gorgeous, highlighting the beauty of both the choreography and the settings in which it is performed. Surreal dance sequences also permeate the film, making the film even more spellbinding.
Dark City Beneath the Beat won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who can get behind the film’s abstract nature will be awestruck by the amount of artistry on display. TT the Artist has a phenomenal voice that deserves to be heard, so hopefully this film will make its way to the people sooner rather than later.
Dark City Beneath the Beat was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.