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

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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