Everybody Likes Romance (as long as it's spectacle)

By now, everyone who lives now, will live, or ever has lived, has seen “Isaac’s Live Lip-Dub Proposal,” the choreographed invitation to marriage featuring two cameras, one unsuspecting girlfriend, and 60+ friends and family. Placed in the hatch of a slowly crawling van, the proposee (Amy Frankel) watches with sheer glee as people dance past her field of vision, swooping and mugging and miming their way through a song that only she can hear. Eventually the vehicle halts, the crowds part, and a man in black (Isaac Lamb) approaches her and gets down on one knee.

What occurred to me, on the second or third watch, was that the experience may be thrilling for her (and entertaining for us), but for a passerby or a neighborhood resident, the spectacle must have looked incredibly strange: a group of people dancing and mouthing words in complete silence as a car moves slowly up the street (the only sound, as Schmutzie pointed out, would be the laughter of Frankel in the car). Someone approaching from the wrong angle would assume that the dancers were making a silent film instead of staging an elaborate proposal.

The thing that makes this so fascinating is that Lamb and his friends have combined the spontaneity and structure of the flash mob with the aesthetics of a Glee episode, underpinning the whole with the formal structure of the tracking shot. It is this last that distinguishes the action from any other creative live performance: the movement of the vehicle and the frame of the open hatchback. The performance is constructed to take advantage of this fixed frame.

The other formal trick that I particularly admire is the picture-in-picture insert of the girlfriend’s face as she reacts to the various tableaux. It serves as commentary on the action and situates us in a virtual space between the performers and the audience. It also presents us with two different experiences: one rehearsed, the other spontaneous; one slick and almost commercial, the other with the rough but clinical aesthetic of a hidden camera. It’s this second camera that turns a clever dance into such an affecting piece.

At the resolution of the video, when Lamb emerges from the crowd of performers and beckons his girlfriend to remove the headphones and come forward, they move into the exact space that, up until now, we have been inhabiting. We are kicked out the privileged position and become just another member of the audience. Lamb’s actual proposal is audible but muted. The suddenly homespun audio* introduces a sudden note of privacy in an engagement ceremony that, up until that moment, has been as public and choreographed as a church wedding. It turns out that there are degrees of intimacy after all, even for someone as gregarious as Lamb.

One thing I know for sure: from now on, the standard bent-knee proposal is going to look awfully lame.