I have always found the body-contorting dance form of street dancing,
contemporarily known as “flexing”, to be a creative and exhilarating
art form. The documentary Flex is Kings, directed by Deidre Schoo and Michael Beach Nichols, manages to reaffirm those original perceptions of the very competitive urban dance movement. However, aside from showcasing “flexing’s” relevance as a formal art form, Kings didn’t exceed my expectations as a feature documentary.
Set in Brooklyn, East New York, Kings focuses on the lives of Jermaine “Flizzo” Clement and Jonathan “Jay Donn” George. Flizzo, a bearded, heavy-set dancer, distinguishes himself with a ‘punchline’ trick of a having a bird flying from his mouth. The film also documents Flizzo’s homelife: an unstable relationship and a newborn daughter. What resonates with his story is Flizzo’s passion for dancing and battling against all odds, especially when it comes his economic and personal woes.
Jay Donn, another icon of the dance movement, lives with his mother and very supporting girlfriend. His story is the most touching and fascinating. Donn is hired by a dance company to star in a new adaptation of Pinocchio and gets a chance to tour Europe for the play. Donn is thrilled about the opportunity, and through practice and determination, he’s able to learn a choreographed routine and adapt to different styles of classical dance.
One thing I have been curious about and which wasn’t covered in the documentary is the origin of flexing. I thought Flexing had its roots in hip-hop and 70/80’s breakdancing (although it certainly has to influence flexing); however, upon further research, “flex” is said to have evolved from the Jamaican dance “bruk-up”. The filmmakers missed an opportunity to make a more thorough documentary about the art form itself. Another frustrating aspect while viewing is some of the editing, which cuts away to the crowds throughout some of the most thrilling dance sequences during battle scenes.
I would have also appreciated to have seen addressed, especially since
the documentary is set in New York City, the lives of dancers who try to
make ends meet dancing in trains, which is quite common. The documentary could perhaps serve best to banish stereotypes surrounding those who decide to partake in this subculture. They are hardly gangsters; this lifestyle helps these young men to escape a life of selling drugs, gang and street life, and hence allow for them to channel their emotions and express themselves creatively.
It is unfortunate that the filmmakers didn’t delve more into the foundation and background of “flexing”. It would have also made for a more compelling documentary to showcase the dancers’ detailed footwork and overall technique.
Yet, Flex is Kings is still recommended viewing. The dancing and ardent fervor of its subjects are enough to keep you engaged. Along with the documentary’s competent score and cinematography, Kings brings the “flexing” underground movement to mainstream audiences, who should be enlightened by the passion and ability of its main players.