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In the Groove 

Director debuts with look into the rave scene

Groove, the latest in this summer's series of films inspired by the rave scene -- about a decade old in America -- teeter-totters more like a kindergartner than a 10-year-old. Trying to document a youth culture is like watching those scenes of jerky, grainy home movies, complete with voiceover, that serve as flashbacks in other films. With a culture this young and, for the most part, undocumented, everything is ripe for over-explanation and examination.

So Groove faces the pitfall of helping define a subculture; the film has to be visually compelling but aware that most people will need an introduction to the subject matter that doesn't disrupt the narrative.

While the primary narrative of Groove centers on two couples and their exploration of their feelings of (and on) Ecstasy, the film does some deeper needling in the groove of rave attendees.

Appropriately set in San Francisco, home to a certain other cultural epoch that embraced a love ethos and shared hugs and drugs, Groove touches on, for brief moments, topics akin to every subculture: substance abuse and skepticism.

"I never was conscious of a political agenda when I was writing the film," says 31-year-old Greg Harrison, making his directorial debut. "My only goal was to try to capture pieces of truth that I saw in the scene ... For example, that scene [where two characters share the following exchange]: "Do you know anybody that has any GHB," "No, I'm not doing any drugs tonight," and he lights up a joint. I met so many people that were well entrenched in the drug culture so much that they thought pot wasn't even a drug. It was something they just did every day as their baseline. ... I didn't really intend to be political at all, I just wanted to represent all aspects of it.

"You also have the guy who says he doesn't get the rave and tells his friend he's gonna go get drunk and pass out in a gutter like a normal person," continues Harrison. "Again, that was just another point of view I saw showing up at a rave. And I just wanted to explore the complexities and the gray areas of a rave through all the different characters."

But to be able to adequately show the gray areas of a subculture, first you have to define black and white. While the hippies were a social movement documented while disrupting the mainstream, the rave culture is still underground. The image of a fading hippie saying, "Peace, man," like the picture of Dorian Gray, grew older before the nation's eyes. Raves, however, are being documented at a point, some might say, past their prime, where they are about to become mainstream.

So films like Groove are forced to walk, repeating the alphabet backwards, a thin line between presenting views and making news, juggling the politics involved with giving a first glimpse inside an underground movement in a medium meant primarily for entertainment.

To facilitate that need for the audience to identify with and enjoy the subject matter, Harrison augmented the obligatory bare-bones story of people finding themselves and one another with a more appropriate and universal glimpse at what rave culture, regardless of the location, is supposedly all about.

"I kind of distilled the similarities down to one," says Harrison. "The essential joy and connection with the music on the dance floor. And I really wanted to capture that in the film: the communication between the DJ and the crowd; the participatory nature of electronic music; the emotional experience you can have on the dance floor. That's one element I thought, regardless of the rave, was a central element. And then, two, I think I wanted to capture the sense of community that grows out of that kind of experience."

Unlike Human Traffic, which was more about good mates than the music, in Groove the parts that resonate the most are those that capture the frenzied haze of the dance floor. The way motion is blurred and color is captured and held as Harrison slows down the scene at pivotal moments of hands-in-the-air euphoria, forces a collective holding of breath and a universal sigh of release when just the right beat kicks the action back in. As the DJs change, so does the tempo, and the crowd's reaction is testament to how the right track is what really sets rave participants in the Groove.

"The DJ needs the dancers as much as the dancers need the DJs," believes Harrison. "It's very participatory ... it's not a concert where primarily the product is presented and all you have to do is show up and sit down and the event goes off. The intention here is very much more participatory. To understand the music, you have to be participating."

While Harrison claims his goal was to show the human face behind the scene, it's very telling that the best scenes are a mass of faceless participants simply enjoying the music. Ideally, that is what Groove, with its sweet but simple story, will become known for: helping pack as many, if not more, dance floors as theaters. u

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