Film Review: Flashdance (dir by Adrian Lyne)


Instead of getting any sleep last night, I decided to stay up and watch the 1983 dance film, Flashdance.  As a result, I’m not only very tired but everyone I see today, I’m just like, “You’re not really a welder, are you?”

In the film, that question is asked by bitchy Katie Hurley (Belinda Bauer) to 18 year-old Alex (Jennifer Beals) and the answer, by the way, is yes.  Alex is a welder.  Judging by the way the film handles the topic, it appears that audiences in 1983 were really stunned that a woman could be a welder.  (I kept expecting to hear someone say, “She’s one of those lady welders, like you read about in the Reader’s Digest.”)  Myself, I’m more amazed that an 18 year-old in Pittsburgh could get a high-paying union job.  Then again, we never really see any evidence that Alex is really doing much as a welder.  We do see her at a construction site holding one of those torch things but that’s pretty much it.  Last night, I started Flashdance with no idea what a welder does and I ended the movie with even less of an idea but then again, the movie really isn’t about welding.

Instead, it’s about dancing!  And love!  And holding onto your dreams!  And living in a big warehouse with a dog and a handsome boyfriend!  As one character puts it, when you give up your dreams, you die.  Of course, most people have multiple dreams so what happens if you only give up one but hold onto the others?  I guess you just lose a toe or something.  But anyway….

Actually,  before we move on, how much money did welders make back in 1983?  Because seriously, Alex lives in a gigantic and very nicely decorated building and her only roommate is a dog.  As Alex explains to her boss and boyfriend, Nick (Michael Nouri), the building was an abandoned warehouse before Alex moved in.  So, does Alex own the building?  Does she just rent it?  It’s a great place and I love what Alex does with it but seriously, it’s hard to believe that any 18 year-old — even one who is working two jobs — could afford it.

Yes, Alex has two jobs.  Such is the price of independence.  When she’s not welding, she’s dancing at a dive bar.  Her routines are amazingly filmed and a lot of fun to watch but they’re also so elaborate it’s hard to believe that they could be performed in such a run-down establishment or that the bar’s blue collar clientele would have much patience for them.  She’s an exotic dancer, which means she doesn’t take off her clothes.  The sleazy owner of local strip club (Lee Ving) keeps trying to encourage Alex and her friend, Jeanie (Sunny Johnson), to come dance at his place but Alex has no interest in that.  Jeanie, on the other hand, accepts the offer.  Fortunately, Alex is there to run into the club and yank her off stage and then yell at her.  Alex spends a lot of time yelling at people.  She also throws a rock through one of Nick’s windows when she sees him talking to his ex-wife.  One could argue that Alex has rage issues but no one in the film seems to take them personally.  How could they?  Alex is pursuing her dreams and the good thing about pursuing a dream is that you can do whatever you want while doing so.

(Interestingly, you can tell that the filmmakers were a little bit concerned that audiences in the early 80s might view Alex as being a bit too independent and confrontational.  In between the scenes of Alex yelling at people and casually reaching underneath her sweatshirt to remove her bra while Nick watches, there are also scenes of Alex going to confession.  It’s as if the film’s saying, “Yes, she welds!  Yes, she has a temper!  Yes, she’s flirty!  But fear not, she’s a good girl!  So, it’s okay for you to be on her side….”)

For a film that was shot on the streets of Pittsburgh, there’s not a gritty moment to be found in Flashdance.  This is the type of film where Alex rides her bicycle across the city and it never once gets stolen, despite the fact that she never actually locks it up.  In the world of Flashdance, all conflicts are easily resolved, all insecurities are ultimately conquered, and all dreams come true.  It’s a world where Alex can become a great dancer despite having never had any formal training just because, as she puts it, she’s “watched TV and read books.”  (My old dance teachers probably hated this movie.)  It’s a fairy tale and, like most fairy tales, it’s deeply silly and yet oddly compelling at the same time.  Never once do you buy that Alex is a welder and it’s pretty obvious, from all the quick cuts and the skewed camera angles, that Jennifer Beals did not do her own dancing.  But it doesn’t matter because it’s hard not to get pulled into the film’s glitzy fantasy.  Flashdance may technically be a bad movie but I dare you not to cry a little when Alex leaves her audition and finds Nick waiting for her.  Not only does Alex achieve her dreams, but she also get a rich, older boyfriend, the type who gives her flowers and puts a bow on her dog.

It’s interesting to note that the two films that practically define the early 80s cinematic aesthetic, Flashdance and Scarface, were both released in 1983.  (Not only was Flashdance initially offered to Scarface director Brian DePalma but Al Pacino was also offered the role of Nick.  Pacino, of course, turned it down and played Tony Montana instead.)  To be honest, I think you can argue that Flashdance and Scarface are essentially the same film.  They’ve both got neon opening credits.  They’ve both got a score from Giorgio Moroder.  They’re both elaborate fantasies about someone who won’t surrender their dream.  Just replace all the cocaine that Tony Montana snorted with Alex’s love of dancing.

Finally, I have to mention Flashdance‘s music.  The score and the song may be totally 80s but it still sounds good in 2019.  The theme song won an Oscar and let me tell you, if you can listen to this song without dancing around your house in your underwear, then you obviously have a lot more self-control than I do.

Horror Film Review: Jacob’s Ladder (dir by Adrian Lyne)


The 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder asks the question, “Who is Jacob Singer?”

Is Jacob (played by Tim Robbins), a soldier serving in Vietnam who has just been severely wounded in an enemy attack and who is now barely clinging to life in a helicopter?

Is Jacob a withdrawn postal worker who lives in 1970s New York with his girlfriend, Jezzie (Elizabeth Pena), and who is haunted by horrifying visions of faceless, vibrating figures and viscous demons?  This Jacob is haunted by ill-defined past incidents.  Whenever he gets depressed, Jezzie is quick to demand that he snap out of it and that he stop thinking about anything other than the present day.  This Jacob can only watch as all of his old friends either sink into paranoia or die.  He hears rumors that they all may have been part of some sort of experiment involving LSD.  He’s sure that he served in the army but when he attempts to hire an attorney, he’s informed that the army has no record of him ever having served in combat and that they say he was discharged for psychological reasons.

Or is Jacob the husband of Sarah (Patricia Kalember) and the father of Gabe (Macaulay Culkin — yes, that Culkin)?  This is the Jacob who occasionally wakes up in bed with his wife and tells her that he’s been having the weirdest dream, one where he was living with “that crazy woman” from the post office, Jezebel?

Which one of these three realities is the truth for Jacob?  At times, Jacob himself doesn’t even seem to be sure.  Perhaps the one thing that you can be sure about in this movie is that whenever Jacob closes his eyes, he’s going to reopen them and discover that he’s in a different time and place.  Jacob spends almost the entire film trying to work out what’s happening in the present, what’s happening in the past, and what’s just happening in his head.

And, to be honest, it all gets a bit pretentious at times.  The film’s script has a lot on its mind.  In fact, it might have a little bit too much going on.  No sooner have you soaked in what the film has to say about denial and acceptance than you’re suddenly getting a crash course in MK-ULTRA and other mind-control conspiracy theories.  Whenever Jacob isn’t seeing demons and faceless apparitions, he’s being kidnapped by government agents.  There’s so much going on that this film can get a bit exhausting.

Fortunately, the film itself is such a triumph of style that it doesn’t matter that the script is a bit of a mess.  Director Adrian Lyne does a great job bringing Jacob’s nightmarish world to life.  Jacob seems to live in a world where the skies are permanently overcast and the streets are always wet after a recent storm.  When Jacob makes the mistake of walking down a subway tunnel, Lyne frames it as if Jacob is literally following a tunnel into Hell.  When a subway train rushes by Jacob, we catch disturbing glimpses of featureless faces facing the windows.  When Jacob sees a demon at a party, Lynne films the moment so that, just like Jacob, it takes us a few minutes to realize what we’re seeing.  And when Jacob is kidnapped and taken to a Hellish hospital, the scene is nightmarish in its intensity.

Tim Robbins gives a great performance as the emotionally withdrawn and haunted Jacob.  (In fact, he’s so good that it makes it all the more sad that he really hasn’t had a decent role since he won an Oscar for 2003’s Mystic River.)  He’s matched by Elizabeth Pena, who constantly keeps you wondering if Jezzie truly cares about Jacob or if she’s just another part of the conspiracy that seems to have taken over his life.

Jacob’s Ladder is an intensely effective, if somewhat messy, horror film.  Apparently, like almost every other horror film released in the 20th century, it’s currently being remade, with the remake due to released on February 9th.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Music Video of the Day: Maniac by Michael Sembello (1983, dir. Adrian Lyne)


Warning: If you’re epileptic, then you might not want to watch the video. It does include some very quick flashing for an extended period of time.

I thought I would go with something that wouldn’t immediately jump to mind for October unless you already know the story behind it.

As closely as this song is associated with Flashdance (1983), it wasn’t originally written for it. It was written with William Lusting’s 1980 film Maniac in mind. I can’t find out for sure if it was written for or was inspired by the movie. Everything I have read seems to indicate the latter. In particular, the fact that it was apparently nominated for an Academy Award, but disqualified because the song wasn’t originally written for Flashdance. It didn’t play in my copy of the film either. It was written for a movie about someone with an obsession for trapping people as they are at a certain place in their life by killing, scalping, and then placing their hair on mannequins. He has other issues intertwined with that as well. The remake explains the motive behind what he does a bit better by expanding his relationship with a photographer who was played by Caroline Munro in the original.

Something that’s amazing to me is that Sembello didn’t change much to get the version we all know from Flashdance. With a few tweaks, you can play this over certain sections of the original film, and it would fit just fine. In addition, there are sections of this video that feel like they were put together in such a way because they would resemble a scene from Maniac.

The part where she’s running in a building while we watch via a tracking shot. That instantly made me think of the scene where the nurse is trying to get away in the subway station.

Maniac (1980, dir. William Lusting)

Also, he hammered the scalps onto the heads of the mannequins.

Maniac (1980, dir. William Lusting)

One last thing that caught my attention was the prostitute at the start of the film who is dressed like she could start dancing, and is shown to be as flexible.

Maniac (1980, dir. William Lusting)

Maniac (1980, dir. William Lusting)

Maniac (1980, dir. William Lusting)

I wouldn’t be surprised if these things were intentional because according to Songfacts, this was the first music video to use nothing but scenes from the movie the song was from. I have a strong feeling that Lyne and editors Bob Lederman, Walt Mulconery, and Bud Smith put those in there for that reason.

The postings of this video on YouTube are numerous, unofficial, and all appear to have been marked for monetization or have a link inserted to where you can buy or rent the movie. That makes sense. In retrospect, this music video acts as a trailer for the movie.

So, there you go, Flashdance for October. If Songfacts is accurate, some of the lyrics originally went like this:

He’s a maniac, maniac that’s for sure
He will kill your cat and nail him to the door

Gruesome. The story is that producer Phil Ramone is the one who got Sembello to write lyrics for “a girl possessed with the passion of a gift for dance.”

All three editors worked on Personal Best (1982). They have all done many things over the years from editing The Karate Kid (1984) to producing a lot of Star Trek to directing Johnny Be Good (1988).

Enjoy!

Embracing the Melodrama #42: Indecent Proposal (dir by Adrian Lyne)


This one is just dumb.

First released in 1993 and something of a perennial on AMC, Indecent Proposal tells the story of David (Woody Harrelson) and Diane (Demi Moore), two kids who meet in high school, get married, and end up living what, in Hollywood, passes for an average, middle class lifestyle — which is to say, Diane is a successful real estate broker, David is an architect, and they’re in the process of building their dream house on the beach.  (Just like everyone else you know, right?)  However, the economy goes bad, David loses his job, and they find themselves deep in debt.

Desperately, they decide to take a gamble.  Literally.  They go to Las Vegas and, at first, it seems like everything’s going to be alright.  David has a run of luck and makes a lot of money.  They make so much money that David and Diane end up having sex on top of it.  Now, I have to admit, if I ever won $25,000 dollars in Vegas, I would probably spread it on a bed and roll around naked on it as well.  But only if it was paper money.  Coins would probably be uncomfortable and I’d hate to end up with a hundred little impressions of George Washington’s profile running up and down my body.

But anyway, David and Diane make the mistake of sticking around in Vegas for a second day and they end up losing all of the money that they previously won and you better believe that when the chips are pulled away, Diane is shown trying grab them in slow motion while going, “Noooooo!”  Soon, David and Diane are sitting in an all-night diner and trying to figure out what to do next.  A waitress overhears them and sadly shakes her head.  Obviously, she’s seen a lot of movies about Las Vegas.

Anyway, this movie is too dumb to waste this many words on its plot so let’s just get to the point.  David and Diane meets John Gage (Robert Redford), a millionaire who offers to give David a million dollars in exchange for having one (and only one) commitment-free night with Diane.  David and Diane agree and then spend the rest of the movie agonizing over their decision.  Eventually, this leads to Diane and David splitting up, John Gage reentering the picture and proving himself to be not such a bad guy, and David eventually buying a hippo.

It’s all really dumb.

Anyway, I was planning on making quite a few points about this set-up but, quite frankly, this film is so dumb that I’m getting annoyed just writing this review.  So, instead of breaking this all down scene-by-scene, I’m just going to point out a few things and then move on to better melodramas.

1) Every character in the movie has a scene where they eventually ask what we (the viewing audience) would do if we were in a similar situation.  “Would you have sex for a million dollars?”  Well, let’s see.  Basically, the deal seems to be that you have safe, non-kinky, missionary position sex with a millionaire who you will never have to see again after you get paid.  And you’re getting a million dollars in return.  Would I do it?  OF COURSE, I’D DO IT!  It’s a million dollars, it’s just one night, and it’s not like you’re being asked to fuck Vladimer Putin or something.  If the film wanted to create a true moral dilemma, they should have cast someone other than Robert Redford as John Gage and they should have had Gage propose something more than just one night.  If Gage had been played by an unappealing actor (or perhaps if the film were made today with Redford looking as craggly as he did in Capt. America or All Is Lost) or if it had been a million dollars for Diane to serve as a member of Gage’s harem for a year, the film would have been far different and perhaps not any better but at least all of the subsequent angst would have made sense.

2) What really annoyed me is that, after Diane returns from her night with Gage, neither she nor her husband ever cash that million dollar check.  If you’re going to agree to the stupid deal, at least take advantage of it.

3) Finally, why would you accept a check for something like that?  Did Gage write, “For letting me fuck your wife” in the memo line?  Why not get paid in cash so, at the very least, you don’t have to deal with IRS?

Seriously, this movie is just dumb.

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

 

Embracing the Melodrama #36: Fatal Attraction (dir by Adrian Lyne)


fatal-attraction

(This review has spoilers because I felt like it and I’ll do whatever the Hell I want.)

Today, we continue embracing the melodrama by taking a look at the 1987 best picture nominee, Fatal Attraction.

Fatal Attraction opens on a scene of domestic bliss, with lawyer Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) and his wife Beth (Anne Archer) in their luxurious Manhattan apartment, getting ready to go out for the night and waiting for the babysitter to arrive.  Dan would appear to have it all: a successful career, a fat best friend, and a beautiful wife.  However, when Beth and their daughter go out of town for the weekend, Dan ends up having an affair with Alex (Glenn Close).  Dan assumes that it was just a weekend thing but Alex is soon stalking Dan.  Trying to escape her, Dan moves his family out to the suburbs but Alex follows them.  Soon, pet rabbits are being killed, Alex is breaking into the house with a knife, and it’s up to Beth to step up and reclaim her man.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about Fatal Attraction.  On the one hand, it’s an undeniably well-made film.  It’s well-acted and director Adrian Lyne pushes all of the right emotional buttons and keeps the action moving quickly.  That the film is predictable doesn’t make it any the less effective.  As a lover of horror movies, I appreciated the skill with which Lyne crafted the film’s scare scenes.  Watching the movie, it was easy to see why Fatal Attraction was a huge box office success and why it continues to influence our culture to this very day.

fa05

And yet, at the same time, Fatal Attraction really annoys me.

The film is so well-made and so manipulative that it’s easy to miss the fact that Dan Gallagher is not only never punished for betraying his wife but he’s actually not held responsible for his actions in any way.  Instead, the only person who is truly punished for their transgression is Alex.  The film, after all, makes clear that Alex is the one pursuing Dan.  In fact, it could be argued that when it comes to Dan and Alex, the traditional gender roles have been reversed.  Alex (who, as opposed to the idealized Beth, has a name that is both masculine and feminine) is the aggressive one while Dan is the passive one who gives into temptation and, afterwards, feels guilty.  After admitting his transgression, Dan is allowed to reclaim his manhood and continue on with his perfect life.  However, Alex has no place in conventional society and therefore, she must be destroyed.

And so much the better if she’s destroyed by Beth, a woman who has no problem with accepting a traditionally domestic role.

Far too often, in the past, I know that my girl friends and I always assumed that men were simply incapable of resisting temptation.  Therefore, if your boyfriend cheated on you, it really was not his fault.  He was just being a guy.  Instead, it was the other woman’s fault because she was the one who tempted him.  (And, though we acknowledged this a lot less, it was also his girlfriend’s fault for allowing him to get into a position where he could be tempted in the first place.)  But it was never truly guy’s fault and, as long as you made him suffer for a bit, it was always expected that you would forgive him and take him back.

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That’s the same mentality that runs through Fatal Attraction (not to mention countless daytime talk shows where girlfriends and wives always beat up mistresses while their boyfriend or husband stands over to the side and watches, untouched).  Yes, Dan did cheat on his perfect wife and yes, he feels terrible about it.  But the real threat comes from the woman who pursued him despite knowing that he was married and then, afterwards, had the nerve to demand not to be ignored.  (If anything, the film seems to be suggesting that everything would have been okay if Dan had just fucked someone who works in his office, as opposed to someone who he can’t control through money or the threat of societal shaming.)  When, at the end of the film, Beth shoots Alex, it’s a crowd-pleasing moment but it’s also Beth’s way of reclaiming her man.  Since Dan — being male — can’t be expected to exercise any sort of self-control, it’s the responsibility of Beth to step up and destroy the temptation.

For not respecting the vows of marriage, Alex is a monster who must be destroyed.  Dan, on the other hand, is merely inconvenienced and ultimately, he ends up with a far stronger marriage as a result of having strayed.

In Fatal Attraction, the only thing more dangerous than sex with Alex is examining subtext.

Fatal Attraction-22