Thursday, April 7, 2011

Boy's own adventure

Justin Bieber ... the kid that learnt how to dance from YouTube. Justin Bieber ... the kid that learnt how to dance from YouTube. Photo: Getty Images
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never was a revelation, writes George Palathingal
You know his name. You know young girls love him more than life itself. You know his overproduced R&B-lite music and ridiculous haircut. And you would be within your rights to think that's all you need to know about the slightly terrifying phenomenon of ''Bieber fever''.
Yet the documentary-cum-concert movie Justin Bieber: Never Say Never gives the average sceptic some surprising insights into the 17-year-old Canadian superstar of the title, who was merely Just Another YouTube Sensation only two years ago.
Even the film's teen-friendly director, Jon M. Chu - who helmed two of the popular Step Up movies - wasn't sure what he would find when he signed on to track Bieber's every move in the weeks preceding his sold-out show at Madison Square Garden in New York last August.
Inside story ... director Jon M. Chu was surprised by what he discovered. Inside story ... director Jon M. Chu was surprised by what he discovered. Photo: Getty Images

''I also thought that maybe I would find a kid who was a puppet, who was being surrounded by people who were using him in some way,'' Chu says. ''When I saw that they were taking care of him and that they would not kowtow to him - they would actually say, 'Justin, you're being a brat right now,' or 'Justin, you can't treat people like that, you're not that special' - it really opened my eyes.''
Having been initially approached to make a straight-up concert movie, Chu was thrilled to get the opportunity to dig a little deeper into Bieber's world. The film is, of course, a glorified advert for the young star in 3D (and, handily for his Australian promoter, his coming tour) but it is also undoubtedly a fascinating - and very modern - tale.
''I don't really love concert films,'' Chu says. ''Unless you're a huge fan, that's the only people that are gonna watch it. But I do love the Justin Bieber story … that he was chosen by kids in their living rooms watching YouTube.
''Kids being empowered by technology was such an interesting thing for me. [Fans] feel like they've been along for the whole journey because he responds to them on Twitter. If he tells them to bring glow sticks that night, they all bring glow sticks; if he told them to wear purple, they would wear purple.''
As exciting as this interaction was for Bieber and his disciples, it also proved helpful to Chu.
''We did discover the story as we made it,'' he says. ''I had an idea of a structure but as it was unfolding and seeing him interact with his audience - to see him go into shows being sick, tweeting about being sick and then seeing them bring him flowers that night - was such a conversation that I was trying to figure out how do we incorporate this into the story?
''We realised because they were a part of every chapter of his life - finding him on the internet, choosing him, buying his albums… then also at these concerts - when he had never opened for anybody, never done a concert before, selling out these concerts in 48 hours… it's like they are the Greek chorus of his life and they've always been there.
''So we wanted to visually incorporate that in the movie as much as we could.''
Chu even gained Bieber's trust over a YouTube bonding session, which ties in nicely with the video-sharing website's importance to the singer's life story.
''I know. It's weird, huh?'' the director says, laughing. ''But that's the thing - he's the kid that learnt how to do Rubik's Cube from YouTube. He's the kid that learnt how to yo-yo and beatbox and learnt to dance from YouTube videos. That's of this generation to its fullest.
''So I really wanted the idea of when you come into this movie, it's gonna be like a Tuesday at four in the afternoon and you're at work and it's boring, you get this email from your friend and you click on that one video that you remember for the rest of your life.
''If we can get an audience who didn't even know who Justin Bieber was and can experience that moment - which we've all sort of experienced at one point or another - to get us into the story, then I felt like people could understand what it felt like to be a fan discovering him.''

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