Dark City Beneath the Beat is Baltimore’s audiovisual symphony

Still from a dance sequence in Dark City Beneath the Beat

How does one go about telling the story not of a single person, or a group of people, but of an entire city? From an infinite number of moments, characters, and contradicting truths, what does one pick to show? TT the Artist responds to this question in the very first lines of her debut documentary Dark City Beneath the Beat. “There are a thousand ways to tell this story,” it opens. “Let’s start here.”

‘Here’ is an aerial shot of downtown Baltimore, the city in question. It is also, less literally, the Baltimore club music scene, a creative hotbed within the city’s Black community that draws rappers, musicians, dancers, and producers of all ages.

The Baltimore club

Baltimore club (or Bmore) is a music genre that developed in the 1990s, a breakbeat blend of hip-hop and house that pulses around 128-140 BPM, and that has – regrettably, according to TT – failed to gain much recognition outside of its birthplace. For this reason, she left, as shown in the doc, to found Club Queen Records in Los Angeles. She also decided to make Dark City with Insecure’s Issa Rae as a producer. Not only she wanted to spread the word about the Bmore club, but also about Baltimore itself. The city, in fact, had so long be defined by media like The Wire as nothing more than its crime statistics. 

The city symphony genre

It is TT’s directorial approach- her way of telling the story – that makes Dark City something entirely modern and exciting. Not only it is a documentary, but an hour-long music video, not only a viewing experience but a physical, visceral journey.

The city symphony genre has been around since the 1920s (with Strand’s Manhatta or Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis). What TT creates though is more like a DJ set, playing the viewer, keeping their heart rate up without burning them out. She skillfully passes from man-on-the-street interviews to beautifully designed and choreographed dance numbers. Not to mention the moments of startling social protest, accompanied by Baltimore producer Mighty Mark’s original soundtrack. The city speaks through its creators – Uneek, Terry Weddington, Johnny Blaze, Blaqstarr, to name a few- and through its music, its dance: its beat. What lies beneath is a community lacking funding and visibility, but bursting with talent, creativity, and energy: an energy that keeps the blood pumping even after the film ends. 

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What does the chart mean?

DEPTH: How thematically complex and layered the film is.

CHARACTERS: How well-designed and well-developed the characters are.

STRUCTURE: How narratively strong and carefully crafted the movie is.

VISCERALITY: How evocative the sensory aspects of the film are.

INTENSITY: How immersive and emotionally intense is the film for the audience

ACCESSIBILITY: How accessible and appealing the film is to a wide audience.

WORLD: How well-designed and developed the narrative universe is.

AESTHETIC: How distinct and recognizable the audiovisual style of the film is.

IMAGINATION: How inventive, unique, and/or original the film is.

IMPACT: How much the film sticks with you after the viewing.