Picks and Pans Review: Twist

updated 08/30/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/30/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT


Forget feel-good movies. This is a feet-good movie, a modest but spunky documentary chronicling the twist, a dance craze of the early '60s that had everyone from preschoolers (me) to grandparents enthusiastically agitating their hips and grinding out imaginary cigarettes with their toes. The twist represented, it seems now, the last gasp of a more innocent era before JFK's assassination, Vietnam and Watergate.

Director-producer Ron Mann uses a mix of interviews, newsreel and TV footage to show how the dance phenomenon began, as so much of popular music did (and continues to), in black America. In 1958 singer-songwriter Hank Ballard wrote "The Twist" and released it a year later. Chubby Checker, a black performer with greater crossover appeal than Ballard, did a cover version in 1960 that teen fans quickly made No. 1. Soon big city socialites were twisting, along with such young suburbanites as Rob and Laura Petrie. The craze didn't die down until the Beatles arrived in '64. Not a moment too soon for former President Eisenhower, shown in this film asking, "What has happened to our concepts of beauty, decency and morality?" As the now 51-year-old Checker recalls in this informative, evocative and just-plain-fun film, "You didn't have to be a great dancer to do the twist."

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