Motion 2.0

Where movement meets the mind.

Hollywood Parkour or: Why I Didn’t Like Chaps on Tour USA

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The title says it all, but put plainly…I didn’t like Storror’s latest video release, Chaps on Tour USA. I know, f*** me right?

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“How could I not love Chaps on Tour USA?,” you may ask. After all, it had slick editing, pumped-up songs, insanely beautiful locations, fantastic movement, and an epic, sweeping atmosphere with a Jack Kerouac-esque message of ‘live life to the fullest’. How could I, as a self-respecting parkour/freerunning practitioner with a personal love of road trips and exploration not be singing the praises of Storror from every rooftop in the country? Well, give me a few minutes and I’ll try to explain.

For those that don’t know, Chaps on Tour USA (or CTU as I’ll call it for shorthand from here on out), is the latest release from Storror, a parkour/freerunning group based out of the UK that is arguably one of the most well-known and talented teams in the scene today, at least when you ask parkour practitioners themselves. CTU, as of the writing of this post, was released almost two weeks ago and currently has 84,500+ views, with almost universally positive reviews. It’s a sort-of sequel to Storror’s hugely successful first installment in the series, Chaps on Tour, which has just shy of a quarter million views right now. Needless to say, CTU was going to be a big deal when it came out, no matter what.

Now first, don’t get me wrong: as a piece of filmmaking, I thought CTU was incredible. It was on par with any of the top-level sports/adventure videos that have come out on Youtube the past few years, ones that are essentially short films that could give Hollywood a run for its money. But therein lies my issue. CTU was an incredible piece of filmmaking, but I don’t think it’s an incredible parkour video. I don’t think it’s a parkour video at all.

Before I go further, let me explain where I’m coming from as a viewer. The first parkour video I ever saw, the one that lit the fire in my gut and helped set me on the road I’m on now, was Motion 1.0 from Urban Freeflow, way back in 2005-2006. If you watch it, you’ll be smacked in the face by how archaic it is, from the music to the movements to the video quality and editing. Obviously things have evolved since then and videos these days are much more ‘enjoyable’ to watch. There was actually a recent two-part Audiojump podcast about this evolution of PK videos and if you haven’t listened to it, do yourself a favor, go get it now, it’s very cool and very insightful.

One of the things that they mention in the podcast was how videos have started to use better quality cameras and incorporated more B-roll footage of the everyday lives and adventures of the featured people or teams. The ‘best’ parkour videos are no longer training videos, they’re lifestyle videos.

Let’s show some examples. Below is a video from Blane, another UK practitioner who has been around for over a decade now. He had the advantage of becoming very popular in the early days of parkour and his videos now have hundreds of thousands of views.

What is clear from the beginning is that this is a very different type of video from CTU. There are few shots with a moving camera, there are no voices to be heard; everything is focused on the movement and documenting the action. It’s shorter, it’s tighter, this is a training video, pure and simple.

Now, let’s take a look at a video that straddles the line between CTU and Blane, Out of Time from Oleg Vorslav, which came out in 2010.

You’ll see a lot of elements that CTU will use four years later: lots of B-roll, slick editing, camera angles used for effect and not just documentation. But here’s the crazy thing…I love Out of Time. It’s one of my favorite parkour/freerunning videos of all time, and I’ve watched A LOT of videos. I still pull up Oleg today to show to newer practitioners who may have missed it the first time around. I can hear the raving now: “You love Oleg’s weird, nonsensical crap but not Chaps?! What’s wrong with you, they’re practically the same thing!”

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So why am I so enamored with Out of Time and so ‘meh’ about CTU? Well, it’s hard to put my finger on, but as I alluded to up above, to me, CTU (and several other recent big films) crossed the line from parkour-training video to adventure-lifestyle video. When I watch parkour videos I go into them hoping to be awestruck by the movement presented. Whether it’s the size of the moves, the creativity, the pinpoint technique, even just seeing progression, I want to see MOVEMENT. Say what you want about Oleg’s weird scene changes and face slapping, but his movement quality at the time of the video’s release (hell, even today) is top tier. And you can SEE the moves; the camera may swing, the color is saturated and contrasted, but you rarely lose sight of what Oleg’s actually doing.

When the UK and other communities started injecting B-roll and daily life into their early videos it felt like it was to enhance the movement on display. I watched Danny Ilabaca and company because they were fun to watch AND their movement quality was great. The B-roll stuff fleshed things out but at the end of the day I wanted to see parkour, and they delivered.

Nowadays, Storror, Farang, Storm, any of the big names or teams, are still pushing the limits and filming insane movement sequences. But more and more, the videos they release aren’t of their training, the videos are of their lives. The shenanigans they get into, the places they explore, etc, and the film style is following suit. Just as my title suggests, the videos just kind of look…Hollywood. The camera flies around or films from odd angles, the cuts are super fast. Maybe I’m just a cranky old man, but I can’t keep track of things half the time. People fly through the frame and I don’t know where they started from or where they ended or even who was who.

The best example I can think of is a fight scene from a Jackie Chan movie versus a Jason Bourne movie. The Jackie Chan fight will be fast and lively but the camera doesn’t move much. The action occurs in longer sequences and and you can follow the hits and counters relatively easily. The Jason Bourne fight will be just as lively but the camera will shake and fly in extra-close, snap away, bodies will whiz past, and you might not even know who’s winning an exchange. Compare the Jackie Chan fight below…

With this one from the Bourne Supremacy

Do you notice the differences? If you do, that’s how I feel about CTU. The action is still amazing but I don’t get the feeling of raw power and technique that I did from Blane or Oleg, even Storror’s earlier videos. Instead I’m left thinking, “All right, enough shots of fires and vans driving, I want to see more sick flip precisions like I did at minute 3:43! That was a side flip right? Wait, how far was that jump, I couldn’t judge it, it went by so fast!”

It also felt like so many shots, non-parkour shots, were staged and filmed specifically for this video. They weren’t natural B-roll or something setup on the spot, they were filmed with entertainment in mind. I went into this expecting amazing parkour (and wasn’t entirely disappointed when it was on screen), but instead I watched a film that felt like it should have been at Sundance in the documentary category.

I went back and timed how much of the CTU video was what I think could be called ‘parkour training’. If I don’t include the cliff jumping, I clocked roughly 3:45 of ‘parkour’. Only 3 minutes and 45 seconds of a nearly 17-minute video from a parkour team was ‘parkour’.


Again, don’t get me wrong, CTU was awesome. It was fun, it was goofy, it made me want to travel and train with good friends. But I didn’t get what I expected. Maybe that’s my personal problem, my expectations were different than the product was actually meant to deliver. I wanted an ‘old-school’ parkour training video and I got a road trip-music video instead. Maybe I’m just a victim of nostalgia and should shut up and understand that CTU wasn’t meant to be a training video. Maybe I should just enjoy it for what it is.

But if the Chaps series (and it’s style of editing and documenting the action) is the new popular modus operandi, and it seems to be gaining ground when you look at other groups like GUP or Farang, then I’m still leery. It feels like parkour stops being about the movement and starts being about a particular lifestyle. Or, I should say, the presentation and LOOK of the lifestyle. I don’t want new practitioners to view these videos and think they HAVE to live and act the way their idols do or they’ll never be good at parkour or, even worse, doing parkour at all.

It’s a tired comparison, but an argument could be made that this happened with skateboarding. A new group of ‘poseurs’ who adopt the trappings of parkour (as seen in lifestyle heavy videos) because it looks cool. Doesn’t matter whether they train hard and try to progress; as long as they’re climbing bridges, jumping in fountains, wearing the big teams’ T-shirts, and filming every second of it, they’re still doing parkour. When the most popular videos of well-known groups show only 25% parkour and 75% B-roll, can someone from outside the scene distinguish anymore?

Image“Of course I train MMA, bro! Don’t you see my gear?!”

I’m likely just catastrophizing. I know that CTU and the videos like it are the minority in the vast sea of parkour videos released on the internet on a daily basis. The so-called “spirit” of parkour will not die, no matter how marginalized it may appear to ‘veterans’ like me. I just know that what people see in videos will be copied. After all, that’s how 99% of people got started with parkour in the first place, copying moves. So if the most shared, most viewed videos are like Chaps, what happens next?


 

In the end, this post will probably change no one’s minds and make no difference. Honestly, I just wanted to express how I felt after I finished watching CTU, because I have rarely been left with such a mixed, unsure feeling after watching a ‘parkour’ video before. But hopefully, whether you agree with me or not, I’ve made you think about the past, present, and future of parkour films and what they may mean for the parkour world as a whole.

If you have your own opinion or thoughts on this topic, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below.

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Author: Gabe Arnold

A student of Movement in all its forms, I have a particular love of Parkour and Freerunning. Trained as a fitness professional and currently pursuing a masters degree in Human Movement, my goal in life is to find the connections between movement, emotion, and soul.

4 thoughts on “Hollywood Parkour or: Why I Didn’t Like Chaps on Tour USA

  1. Gabe, you pose an excellent point in this blog. The element of training and progressing naturally is fading in many of these videos.
    Even my own videos have taken that turn; I think that is more because of the film maker in me (I studied Entertainment technologies for four years). This video is mostly training, and some clips I thought were funny during my training. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxh2CgWS_rE

    The videos I’m doing now I am looking for a more professional look and while I do not have thousands of dollars worth of equipment at my disposal anymore to use, I’m taking an exponentially longer amount of time to produce a video because I’m being very nitpicky about what makes the cut, and what gets cut as well as which bit of music to use and how to edit each individual part. It kind of shows in one of my newer videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGRtOKx4zEI

    It’s taken a drastic turn in that direction in the one I’m currently in production/post-production at the moment. The music is specific to be enjoyed by a large demographic and the BROLL is in copious amounts so far as well as the over-rated time lapse cliches. I enjoy having the parkour aspect but I also want to make a video that is enjoyable and relate-able to a wider audience, even those that may not specifically be interested in parkour. I don’t plan on being at the level of Storror or Farang, certainly not for many years and by that time, who knows what the “pro” level may be. I certainly loved CTU as a documentary and while the movement is swift, the cuts are specific and in a few cases, not noticeable at all – like a chase scene; that’s the goal in post for most videos.

    What I like most about the video is how much fun they are having on their trip. It’s incredible what they’ve been able to do and I intend to take a similar trip at some point in my life. It wasn’t a video that inspired me to go outside and train – like one of those videos above that just makes you want to move with them; however, it was a video that made me want to get some of my finest friends together, and go for a trip and have a good time, even if they aren’t Traceurs, I’d get some training in everywhere, I’d enjoy the sights, and I’d have a fantastic time with some of my favorite people. That being said, you’re right, it is not a parkour video. It is a docu-series based off of parkour and freerunning. I can appreciate where you’re coming from and while I agree with just about every point you made, I still loved the video and while I am waiting for your blog post on the roof culture video coming out soon, I can’t wait to see that one also. If you want some good solid training videos, especially from little known practitioners – let me know! I’ll send some your way. Hopefully they will renew your faith in PK videos!
    Loved the post,
    Austin

  2. i have an affinity for the old school “pkgen” style of video and training asw well, and as a reader i appreciate that last paragraph where you checked your own bias. I’ve been working on a project of my own called To Build a Traceur where i’m using a portfolio of cross training techniques and holistic nutrition to build myself into the best Traceur i can be. if you have some spare time id like to offer the link of my fb page for your consideration.

    https://www.facebook.com/tobuildatraceur?ref_type=bookmark

  3. I totally felt the same way. I felt so weird after watching it. Just felt like an acted out picturesque movie even though it probably was crazy fun for them. I mean for me at least having a fun time is easy, I can make a good experience out of almost anything with the power of my mind, but it’s being good at a skill, being a master of something, being useful to the world that is the harder thing to grasp in my opinion. So this didn’t inspire me it left me feeling stale. Almost making me feel like the path I have chosen isn’t a serious effort towards progress but more of a play thing. Of course that was a momentary feeling, no harm done to me (I think) so I just decided not to watch videos like this anymore. But… like he was alluding to in the article I felt the videos impact wasn’t very well thought out. and that if videos like this take over it could potentially cause a new wave of people who start parkour for a vastly different reason than those before, and personally it seems to be a reason with far less substance to it.

  4. Absolutely agree with your reaction to CTU – I didn’t even finish watching it, started skipping a few minutes in and didn’t make it to the end. I also agree with you that there’s been a general trend towards parkour/freerunning videos that look more like Club 18-30 adverts.

    That said, Storror have just released the long-awaited Roof Culture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o16CcUauSYA – and I liked it. Shorter, at 6 minutes 16 seconds, and with some impressive freerunning taking the spotlight rather than the ‘b-roll’ shots which they also use very well. Tying into another one of your posts, the freerunning in Roof Culture also has that ‘urgency’ to its style rather than the ‘lazy flow’ style.

    Have you seen it yet, did you like it?

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