'Jig' is about the cutthroat world of Irish dancing. No really, it is. Cutthroat I mean. It's like that barbaric reality TV series 'Toddlers and Tiaras,' but with lightning-fast dancing. Irish dancing, for those of you not in the know, is that leg-flailing stuff that Lord of the Dance made famous.
The object of documentaries, usually, is to take a subject people know little about and shine a light on it in such a way that what seemed like just another boring, mundane thing, is suddenly interesting beyond belief. That's what happened with 'King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.' Before that movie I had no interest in knowing who owned the all-time Donkey Kong high score, or who was trying to break it. By the end of the movie I couldn't stop myself from rooting for the underdog all the while cursing the cocky leader. While 'Jig' isn't the new 'King of Kong,' Sue Bourne's documentary about the grueling world of Irish dancing does capture your attention.
There's no money involved when it comes to winning. Even the most prestigious championship, The Worlds, has no monetary prize attached. As a matter of fact parents the world over spend small fortunes to put their little girls (and some boys) in lessons. They buy them outrageously expensive costumes. The girls wear ridiculous wigs, because it's a tradition. And then they go out on stage putting their years and years of non-stop practicing on the line for a few minutes of dancing. Hopefully they get called back by the judges, but only a small fraction ever does. This is a merciless sport ruled by the very few. A collection of champions who end up winning year after year, and another collection of kids who are always on the outside looking in. Trying in vain to dethrone the perennial champions.
'Jig' tells a myriad of stories spread across the globe. In Ireland a young girl deals with the loss of her grandma by being the best dancer she can be. A California boy, named Joe, has up and moved to England. His parents uprooted their entire lives in order for him to get the very best teacher money can buy. He's become a perennial powerhouse. Winning title after title, year after year. Other stories of kids across the globe intersect as they all try and become the best. They spend eight, nine, or ten hours a day practicing their moves. Making their form perfect. For something that has no monetary gain involved, these kids sure are putting in a lot of investment. So are their parents.
I would be lying if I didn't say I was somewhat fascinated by the movie. Had it had a tighter narrative and a better construction I'm sure I could've gotten even more into it. However, Bourne squanders her surprisingly interesting subject by packing the movie with so many different stories, that it soon becomes far too many to keep track of. You find yourself thinking, "Wait, so who is this again?" Seriously, there are only a handful of interesting storylines, and you have to suffer through the dull ones in order to get back to the ones that really matter.
By the time the big world championship rolls around we're already too spent. Our attention has gone kaput after the onslaught of stories that seemed to have no narrative connective tissue save a couple here and there. The championships lack drama due to the pacing problems presented by the oversized cast of characters. I'm not saying that each one of these kids isn't important, but Bourne would've done well to trim it down a bit. Make if flow a little better, creating a more tense finale.
Nevertheless, I was still interested in the few stories that were worth screen time. I became interested in Irish dancing in general, whereas before I had absolutely zero interest. I had no idea that the life of an Irish dancer was so demanding, and that these kids sacrificed whole childhoods to perfect their craft. I guess like any other sport or dedicated hobby, you get out of it what you put in. I just had no idea what these children went through for such perfection. Even though Bourne can't really keep the narrative thread taught, the children keep the movie engaging.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
For some strange, unexplained reason, this Screen Media release has been constructed suspiciously to look like a Disney release. Complete with blue border around the cover art on the case and the slipcover. If you didn't know any better, and you saw this on the shelves at the store you'd automatically think it was a Disney release. This is the way most Disney Blu-rays look. Was this intentionally done as a marketing ploy? Or is it purely innocent? I don't know, but I have my suspicions. Included inside this suspicious looking case is a DVD and Blu-ray copy of the movie. The Blu-ray is a 25GB disc. It's purported on the case to be a Region A release.
It's a mixed bag when it comes to the visuals for 'Jig.' It's 1080p picture can feature some strikingly clear as crystal images, but having been filmed digitally the darker scenes really suffer.
Most of the well-lit interview scenes offer a great amount of detail. Whenever the scene is sufficiently lit the detail flows. Every hair on the outrageous wigs, every puff of blush applied to the cheeks, ever scuff mark on their well-worn shoes is visible. Conversely, when the lights go down detail fades away. Blacks are noise, especially during the final scenes as the contestants wait in the stands to hear their scores. The darkened auditorium doesn't provide a lot of light so crushing is a big factor during these scenes. The shots become soft and indistinct. It's understandable though, since this is a documentary and the visuals really are at the mercy of the filmmaker's surroundings. They have little control over the lighting of the places they visit, but it doesn't change the fact that every time the lights are turned down the picture loses its pizzazz.
'Jig' features a lossless, but somewhat documentary-standard audio mix. As you will have guessed the movie is very front-heavy. Even the music is centered up front. Rears are subdued, but do get quite a bit of echoing as dancers stomp around on stage in cavernous auditoriums. The clapping and cheering from the crowds is also placed nicely in the rear speakers.
Dialogue during the numerous interviews is always intelligible, even the strong Irish accents are discernible after you become accustomed to hearing them. It does take a bit of acclimating though. Like I said very standard fare for a documentary, nothing flashy, just a straightforward presentation that gets the movie's point across clearly.
I never know Irish dancing could be so engaging. Had Bourne been able to reel her movie in and make her narrative more streamlined, this could have been a great documentary. As it stands it's a good one. One that draws your attention to a world that I previously never really knew existed. These kids are dedicated, and it's fun watching them succeed and a bit heart-breaking watching some of them fail. The video and audio are serviceable. All in all, this is worth a look.