Fixing the Apple

If you’ve been swing dancing for any length of time, you’ll have heard of the Big Apple. Most of you have probably learned the Big Apple, or at least part of it. You know – the less fiendish parts, up to London Bridge, before it all gets a bit crazy.

Well – crazier. Anyway – after a recent workshop, and watching various badly synced versions on YouTube, I got it into my head that the source material is in serious need of fixing.

If you don’t know about the Big Apple – well – for all intents and purposes, what I’m talking about is a dance sequence from the 1939 movie Keep Punching. If you want to know more about the dance itself, it’s a fun read, but the thing that started to seriously irritate me about the original Keep Punching video is that the at first glance, the film editors either had no clue about the relationship between dancing and music, or they simply didn’t care… and so long as the dance started and ended at roughly the same time the song did, that was enough for them.

I’ve since changed my mind about that – now I’ve managed to buy a copy of the original film (albeit a pretty poor quality one) – most of it is actually in sync, although the opening is one beat out. The main problem, I think, is that YouTube’s audio sync can be a bit … interesting and has varied considerably over the years – and there’s various versions where the opening seems to be corrected, and everything else is out to varying degrees. Fix the beginning, and it does *not* automatically fix the rest. There’s a mostly correct version at the end of Judy Pritchett’s 2009 documentary Dancing the Big Apple 1937, but some of the YouTube versions have better video quality…

I’ve spent far too much time on this.

Anyway. Whatever the reasons – most versions have something wrong.

So I thought I’d have a go at re-syncing the audio with the video. After a slightly too-quick search to see if I could find a copy on YouTube where this had been done, I fired up Final Cut Pro, and had a go. Actually – this is a vast simplification – I spent far too much time looking for a better quality copy of the film. And failed miserably – my copy of Keep Punching has glitches which make it unusable, the YouTube copies beat the online version of the documentary (and my DVD copy has yet to arrive) – so YouTube it was.

Slightly naively, I thought all I would probably have to do is nudge the video along a bit in a couple of places. If I’d been working off an original copy, I suspect this would have nearly been enough, after fixing the opening… but it quickly became clear that there was a speed issue going on – in that some sections seem to run a little faster than others. One section had to be sped up slightly, while a couple had to be slowed down… it was all a bit of a mess

The sheer speed of the routine can make it pretty hard to tell where something’s a bit off. Actually – I should rephrase that. You know it’s not right. It’s really hard to tell sometimes whether the music is slightly ahead, or slightly behind. And the more you stare at the same short section again and again, the harder it can get.

I had two things in my favour – the first one is the hand clapping. This is a big tell – one of the key goals here is to make sure that all the hand claps occur on even beats. Not just the dancers – there’s a very helpful gentleman sitting just to the right of the stage, who claps on time through much of the routine – and he proved extremely useful to tell when things were slightly off. The second thing is that having learned the routine, I know certain key points, and where they should occur. Watching dancers’ feet go down on the eight at the start of a break, for example. The pauses in the Shorty George sections on 7, 1, 3. The scoot back at on 7 at the end of the “shish kaboom” section. I’m incredibly grateful to all the guys who figured this stuff out in the first place and started teaching it – that made this job much much easier.

Anyway – to round this off, some of the tricks I had to use:

Moving the first section of the routine forward by two beats, because while it was correct, the second section had to go forward one beat to be on time… so I needed to fill in the gap. Two beats of dancing sacrificed in the name of musicality.
Slightly slowing down one of the jumps to help push the next section back onto the beat.
Slowing down some sections where they gradually went out of time. Speeding up one section for the same reason.
Various small nudges. I’m honestly amazed it was even possible.

Luckily, once I got about half-way, everything else did start to slide into place. Which was a relief.

Once that was done, since the video quality is… well – poor, I tweaked the contrast to try and make things a bit clearer. The final touch was to zoom the camera in more on the dancers at each of the points where the camera is taking in more of the room. The point, after all, was to focus on the dancer / music relationship. I’m not 100% sure this was the right thing to do, as it makes things a bit more blurry, but it’s an easy one to reverse if I ever choose to.

And the final problem was that when the results were uploaded to YouTube, on IOS devices the audio sync started to go wrong again. Which took a while to fix. Go figure…

Now if only I could find a better quality copy of the original, I could seriously improve on this version. I live in hope.

Anyway – enough of the rambling. Here’s the finished article. Enjoy!

[youtube_sc url=”mmJ3aYozGMk” width=”820″ ratio=”4:3″]

Full disclosure – at some point in the process, I found that there was an existing clip on YouTube where someone had done a great job of correcting the audio. But you should never let a little thing like that stop you…


  1. Paolo said:

    Excellent work! Thanks for doing this.

    Oct 30th, 2018
  2. […] working for far too long on my last little editing project – Fixing the Apple – I thought it might be a fun idea to try another version of the same routine, but this time […]

    Nov 1st, 2018

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