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.

Music Video of the Day: Don’t Mean Nothin’ by Richard Marx (1988, directed by Dominic Sena)

Today’s music video of the day is Richard Marx’s Don’t Mean Nothin’.  This video was directed by Dominic Sena, who later directed films like Kalifornia, Gone in 60 Seconds, and Swordfish.  Let’s break it down and see if this video really don’t mean nothin’.

0:03 — I’m not sure but I think we may be in Hollywood.

0:04 — These scenes of Los Angeles street life will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a movie about a small town girl moving to the big city to pursue her dreams.

0:18 — Welcome to Shangri-La!

0:26 — Cynthia Rhodes plays the small town girl.  You may recognize her from Flashdance, Staying Alive, and Dirty Dancing.  At the time this video was shot, she was dating Richard Marx.  She would marry him a year later.  They divorced in 2014.

0:38 — The sleazy apartment manager is played by the one and only G.W. Bailey.  Bailey has been in a ton of television shows and movies.  If you don’t know him from M*A*S*H, you probably know him from the Police Academy films.

0:48 — Cynthia knows what ol’ G.W. was doing back there.

0:55 — Richard Marx’s father was in advertising and Richard Marx started his singing career when he was five years old and he performed a jingle that his father had written.  When Marx was 17, he moved to Los Angeles.  This song was based on his experiences.

1:14 — Cynthia’s barely been in Hollywood for a week and she’s already got an audition!  That’s better that most small town girls do in the big city.

1:38 — Another great moment from G.W. Bailey.

1:53 — Cynthia is shocked! to discover what goes on in Hollywood.

2:09 — Richard says, “Drink up and enjoy the show!”  Cynthia is not amused.

2:24 — More Hollywood stock footage.

2:44 — That’s Joe Walsh of the Eagles on guitar.

2:59 — Proof that this video was made in 1988: Richard hands over a cassette of his music.

3:24 — Disgusted to see that Cynthia’s become either a maid or a waitress, Richard stops the music and throws away his future.

3:27 — There’s a lot of hockey hair in this video.

3:38 — Ol’ G.W.’s in trouble now.

3:42 — Are they taking pictures of G.W. getting beaten up?  Or does G.W. own a strobe light?

4:08 — Cynthia finally feels comfortable enough to wear an ugly sweater in L.A. and Richard has switched to decaf.

4:20 — A new small town girl arrives.  Cynthia tells her where she can find Ol’ G.W.

4:24 — Cynthia and Richard shares a smile and a private laugh as the new girl naively plunges into the moral abyss that is Hollywood.

4:32 — Don’t worry.  It don’t mean nothin’ at all.

Music Video of the Day: Rosanna by Toto (1982, dir. Steve Barron)

Unless Lisa has changed her mind (very possible), she is currently posting dance scenes that she loves this week. I like coordinating a theme around a week or a month like we do here sometimes at Through The Shattered Lens. That’s why I am going to post six videos this week that feature dancing. I am starting with Toto’s Rosanna.

As you may have noticed, this is another one of these done by director Steve Barron. So far we have seen him direct music videos for The Human League in 1983 and a-ha in 1985. In 1982 he took Toto, who is probably best known for songs like Africa and Hold The Line, and brought us this mixture of Cynthia Rhodes doing her thing, West Side Story (1961), and Toto looking like they are on a darker looking version of the set that Stray Cats used in Stray Cat Strut.

The music video is similar to Whitesnake’s 1987 version of Here I Go Again. By that I mean they filmed some of Toto’s performance, but it’s really Cynthia Rhodes who shines as the West Side Story lady dancing in a red dress. My favorite part is at about the three minute mark of the video when it goes into pure instrumental and she lifts her leg up completely straight into the air against the chain link fence. Another nice moment is around the two minute mark when we are looking at a closeup shot of the lead singer’s face. In one shot of his face, we can see Rhodes dancing in the background, and the other time see the gang members walking towards him.

It also happens to be a great song by a group that certainly doesn’t get the same love as their songs such as Africa and Hold The Line. You can probably still talk to teenagers today who will not know the name of the group or the title of the song, but they will remember hearing that song about “I blessed the rains down in Africa” or “I touched the rains down in Africa” they heard on the radio at some point.

One final thing is that you might not know Cynthia Rhodes. She played Penny Johnson in Dirty Dancing (1987). She was also in the critical failure of a sequel to Saturday Night Fever (1977) called Staying Alive (1983). In other words, I think it’s safe to say that being in Runaway (1984) was the real reason she ultimately wound up giving up her career to be a full-time mother as IMDb says she did. She would also show up in at least two other videos done by her then husband Richard Marx. That, and she is a well-known dancer of the period in general.

This is also one of those music videos where we know more than just the director. Paul Flattery produced this music video. We will see him again and again.

It’s an excellent music video for an excellent song, and I hope you enjoy it.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #70: Staying Alive (dir by Sylvester Stallone)

StayingaliveOh my God, this is so bad.

The 1983 film Staying Alive is a sequel to Saturday Night Fever.  That’s right, Tony Manero’s back!  And, if possible, he’s even dumber than before.

Actually, that’s not fair.  The whole point of Saturday Night Fever was that Tony really was not that dumb.  He was poorly educated.  He was a prisoner of his culture and his economic situation.  If he acted stupid, it was because he lived in a world that distrusted intelligence.  If he was selfish, it was because that was his way of dealing with his own insecurities.  If we got frustrated with him, it’s because we knew he was capable of more than he realized he was.  In Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta gave such good performance and Tony was such a carefully drawn character that we forgave him for the many times that he let us down.

But, in Staying Alive, Tony is just an idiot.  Somehow, he’s managed to escape Brooklyn.  He now works as a waiter and a dance instructor and goes on auditions for Broadway shows.  He has no contact with his old friends.  (He never even mentions the night that one of them jumped off a bridge.)  He lives in one of those scary New York flophouses — apparently the same one that Travis Bickle called home in Taxi Driver — but otherwise, Tony’s doing pretty well for himself.  The only problem is that Tony is now a complete and total moron.

That really is the only conclusion that one can draw from John Travolta’s performance here.  It’s not just that Travolta gives a bad performance in a role for which he was once nominated for an Oscar.  It’s that Travolta gives such a bad performance that he actually transcends the accepted definition of bad.  He resurrects all the tics from his Saturday Night Fever performance but he goes so overboard with them that you feel like you’re watching someone do an imitation of John Travolta playing Tony Manero than actually watching John Travolta.

Speaking of self-parody, Staying Alive was directed by Sylvester Stallone.  Now, I know that when you think of the ideal director for a dance movie, Sylvester Stallone is probably the first name that comes to mind.

As for the film itself, Tony gets a job working in the chorus of a Broadway show called Satan’s Alley and, wouldn’t you know it, he eventually replaces the male lead.  Tony finds himself torn between the bitchy (and, somewhat inevitably, British) star of the show (Finola Hughes) and his long-suffering, on-and-off again girlfriend Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes).

Jackie, incidentally, is also the lead singer in a band.  The band’s guitarist, Carl, is in love with her.  Guess who plays Carl?  Frank Stallone!  That’s right, the director’s brother.  There is a hilarious scene where Carl plays guitar while shooting a death glare at Tony.  Frank really nails that death glare.

But, ultimately, the main appeal of Staying Alive is that we get to see Satan’s Alley, which is probably the most unintentionally hilarious fake Broadway show to ever be immortalized on film.  Satan’s Alley is about one man’s journey into Hell and… well, that really sums it up, doesn’t it?  If you asked someone who has never danced, never listened to music, and perhaps never actually stepped outside of their bedroom to write a Broadway musical, chances are that they would come up with something like Satan’s Alley.

And they’d probably cast Tony Manero as the lead!