Rediscovering Dance Craze, the groundbreaking 2 Tone concert film

Barely seen since its original release in 1981, Dance Craze bottles the fun and intensity of British ska, using innovative camerawork to capture live performances from the likes of The Specials and Madness.

21 March 2023

By Douglas Weir

Dance Craze (1981)

Capturing the peak of 2 Tone in the early 1980s, Dance Craze remains unique in the history of the concert film. Showcasing live performances from The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, The Beat, Bad Manners and The Bodysnatchers, it’s a valuable time-capsule of the British genre that merged Jamaican ska with punk and new wave music. It also broke new ground for how to film bands on stage. 

Many pop promos and concert films before Dance Craze’s release in cinemas in 1981 were shot on 16mm or early video formats, with occasional expensive exceptions, such as Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz (1978). Something else entirely, the groundbreaking visual concept of Dance Craze was devised by the now-legendary technical innovator Joe Dunton. Dunton’s main objectives were to shoot on 35mm and not make what he called a “third row” concert film: unlike most up to that point, it wouldn’t be shot from the static viewpoint of the audience or the wings of the stage. Dunton wanted the camera to be a part of the performance; to be dancing, so to speak, with the members of the band. 

He decided that the way to do this was to mount the heavy 35mm cameras on a Steadicam, a system invented by Garrett Brown, which had previously been used on Marathon Man (1976), Rocky (1976) and The Shining (1980). Attached to the operator on a Steadicam rig, the camera could glide around the performers with ease, fully immersing the viewer in the performances.

Dance Craze (1981)

Not content with just one or two bright ideas, Dunton also decided that the film should be shot on Super 35. Unlike regular 35mm, Super 35 uses the entire width of the film emulsion, allowing for a larger frame size. Using Super 35 also allowed for the film to be printed up to 70mm stock, which not only produced a beautifully sharp image but also made room for powerful magnetic audio tracks on the prints. 

When released in 1981, Dance Craze was distributed on both regular 35mm, with standard Dolby Stereo optical audio, and 70mm, with a glorious magnetic 6-track stereo sound mix (effectively three front speakers and one rear speaker). 

The film was a big success, touring venues in the UK and colleges in the USA, where enthusiastic audiences were found singing and dancing in the aisles. Yet aside from a brief VHS release in 1988 and the odd screening over the years, it has rarely been seen since.

Original ticket for a Dance Craze screening

In the decades following that initial release, the original Super 35 negatives have gone missing, and only a handful of very worn 35mm prints still exist. But – thankfully – one of the original 70mm prints survives, belonging to Dunton himself. This has been carefully scanned and restored by the BFI at 4K resolution, with the help of R3store Studios in London. Extensive work has been undertaken to recover faded colour, stabilise the image and remove imperfections, such as the scratches and specks of dirt the 70mm print had picked up over the intervening years. 

Chrysalis Records were also able to locate the original audio master tapes in their archive. These have also been fully remastered, under the supervision of The Specials’ Jerry Dammers, and given a new Dolby Atmos upgrade, ready for the film’s overdue return to UK cinemas, Blu-ray and DVD.

It’s been a long time coming, but Dance Craze was finally screened in its newly restored, remastered form for the first time at the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival. Once again, audiences were found singing and dancing along to this definitive audiovisual document of British ska.

Dance Craze screens in selected cinemas, including BFI IMAX, from 22 March and available to buy on BFI Blu-ray and DVD from 27 March.

BFI Player logo

Discover award-winning independent British and international cinema

Free for 14 days, then £4.99/month or £49/year.

Try for free