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.

Back to School Part II #14: Grease 2 (dir by Patricia Birch)


Grease_2

 

So, the whole reason that I watched Grease last week was so I would be prepared to watch the 1982 sequel Grease 2 over the weekend.  As I’ve mentioned many times on this site, I absolutely hate Grease and I know what you’re probably asking yourself:

“But Lisa, if you hate Grease so much, why did you want to see Grease 2?”

Well, there’s a very good answer to that question but I’m not going to reveal it.  I’m going to encourage you to learn to love the mystery.  For whatever reason, I wanted to watch Grease 2.  Perhaps it was because I’ve heard that Grease 2 is the worst sequel ever made.  I really didn’t see how that was possible.  How, I wondered, could a film be any worse than the original Grease?

And, so, I watched Grease 2 on Netflix and yes, it was really, really bad.  But you know what?  It was so bad that it became almost compulsively watchable.  Unlike the first Grease, which is full of slow spots, Grease 2 is oddly exciting in its mediocrity.  I watched much of it in open-mouthed horror, wondering if things could possibly get any worse.  And, with each scene, it did get worse.  It was so overwhelmingly and shamelessly bad and so thoroughly misguided that, strangely enough, I really want to rewatch it.

Grease 2 takes place in 1961.  There’s a whole new gang of students at Rydell High!  Well, actually, Frenchy (Didi Conn) has returned.  You may remember that, in the previous film, Frenchy dropped out of high school and went to beauty school.  (She was also visited by Satan, who came to her disguised as the Teen Angel.)  But now Frenchy is back, trying to pass a chemistry class so she can … well, I’m not really sure what the whole deal with Frenchy was.  I imagine that Didi Conn was probably free for a weekend.

The T-bird and the Pink Ladies are still around but they have a whole new membership.  The head of the Pink Ladies is Stephanie Zinone (played, in her film debut, by Michelle Pfeiffer).  Her boyfriend, Johnny Nogorelli (Adrian Zmed), is the chain-smoking leader of the T-birds.  Actually, Johnny is now her ex-boyfriend.  He cheated on her over the summer.

And there’s a new boy at Rydell!  He’s originally from England and he’s Sandy’s cousin!  His name is Michael Carrington (superhandsome Maxwell Caulfield, who is perhaps fated to always be best known for playing Rex Manning in Empire Records) and, when we first meet him, he’s getting off a school bus and he’s wearing a suit!  Michael really likes Stephanie but you have to be a T-bird if you’re going to date a Pink Lady and…

AGCK!

Sorry, that was a primal scream.  Trying to describe the plot of Grease 2 inspires a lot of primal screams.

Anyway, this is a film is also a musical but apparently, none of the original Grease composers were involved with the sequels.  All the songs kinda sound like something you would hear in a parody of Grease, as opposed to a sequel.  Also adding to bizarre feel of this sequel is that everyone delivers their lines as if they’re appearing in a stage production, projecting to the back of the theater and overenunciating every single syllable.  This may have made sense for Grease, which was adapted from an actual stage show and, despite efforts to open up the action, was still deliberately stagey.  Grease 2, meanwhile, is an adaptation of a stage show that never actually existed.

The film starts with a 7 minute production number called Back To School Again.  As the Pink Ladies and the T-birds and all the other students show up outside of Rydell, they sing, “Woe is me!  The Board of Education took away my parole.”  And the scene just keeps going and going, until you start to wonder if Rydell High is a cult compound.

This is followed by a song about bowling (!) that’s called “Score Tonight.”

And it just keeps getting worse from there.  The film becomes sickly fascinating as you find yourself trying to predict how much more worse it can possibly get.  You may be tempted to give up but you’ll definitely want to stick around for the scene in which Michael discovers that Stephanie wants a “cool rider.”  How does he know that?  She sings a song about it!

Naturally, Michael gets a motorcycle, a helmet, and pair of goggles and he starts to romance Stephanie.  Stephanie doesn’t know who that Michael is the mysterious motorcyclist, despite the fact that Michael is just wearing a helmet and a pair of goggles.  Though you have to admire Pfieffer’s commitment to her role (and she gives a fairly good performance, considering the material she was working with), you can’t help but feel that Stephanie might not be the smart.  Especially after she sings, “Who’s that guy?”

Uhmmm … it’s Michael.  It’s not like he’s dressed up like a bat or wearing the Iron Man armor.  He’s just got a helmet and goggles on.  Add to that, while Maxwell Caulfield doesn’t give a bad performance (he seems to be doing the best he can with what he’s been given to work with), he also doesn’t attempt to act any differently when he’s the mysterious motorcyclist than when he’s Michael.

There are other things going on as well.  The film is full of vignettes about life in 1961, all featuring the students and teachers at Rydell High.  For instance, former teen idol Tab Hunter shows up as a substitute teacher and sings a song about reproduction.

And again, it’s so bad that you can’t look away and you watch knowing that you’ll never get the images and the songs out of your head.  So compulsively watchable is this bad movie that I may have to watch it again after I finish this review.  (Then again, I’ll probably just rewatch the fifth season of Degrassi…)

(That said, I would actually argue that Grease 2 is a better directed film than the first Grease.  Grease 2 was directed by Grease‘s choreographer and, as opposed to the first film, the dance numbers are actually framed with modicum of care.)

(By the way, I’ve always wanted to use the phrase “modicum of care” in a review.)

Anyway, Grease 2 apparently bombed at the box office and, as a result, there have been no further Grease films.  It’s a shame because you so know that Grease 3 would have taken place in 1967 and featured hippies.

Oh well.

We’ll survive…