Will You Dance With Me? (1984)
Directed by Derek Jarman
Time is deeply, movingly sunk in Will You Dance With Me?, some early experimental footage Jarman shot for for a film by Ron Peck, over 30 years ago. Snaring early-80s hairdos, dance moves, and smudgey barlight, slowed down to spirited, half-haunting will-o’-the-wisps by his Olympus VHS camcorder, Jarman prowls, queries, and dances across Benjy’s, a gay club in the Mile End district of East London. All those intervening years have also aged the film, leaving a patina of questions and after-the-fact concerns.
In one, small way, Will You Dance With Me? is a what-might-have-been: what pioneering queer filmmaker Peck’s Empire State, a gangster neo-noir, was planned to be, but wasn’t. (Neutered by funders, that film showed up in theaters three years later.) Or, like the other footage that was taken that same night, Will You Dance With Me? could have also been lost and never rediscovered (and reevaluated) decades later. Instead, it’s a happy, transcendent surprise: an ephemeral night of ebullient seek-and-find that has become its own film.
Drawn by the prospect of being in Peck’s film, a diverse bunch of regulars and some newcomers, straight and queer, white, black and brown, filed into Benjy’s: an older, solitary man, somewhat sad-looking despite his smiles and spins; the handsome, if slow-to-warm young man Jarman asks to dance; a breakdancing crew. Jarman flits between the bar and the dance floor, watching them chat and whirl, before eventually, joyously joining in. It’s a moment of escape and culmination, Jarman’s rhythm (as well as Jarman the man) finding the moment. Will You Dance With Me? is transfixing and insightful; unedited, screened as it was found, the film is a vision of Jarman’s eye for the moment—his bounding, rhythmic immediacy—as well as a siren song for dance. A peculiar experience is to view the film in the afternoon and head out in the full day. The life Jarman captured at Benjy’s is hard to shake, and it’s easy to want to head for nearest party and continue its dream—or at least put off thinking of all that has since been lost, Jarman included. Jeremy Polacek (World theatrical premiere August 5-11 at the Metrograph, showtimes daily, as the centerpiece of “Dim All the Lights: Disco and the Movies”)