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 on the Lens: The Curse (dir by David Keith)


Today’s horror on the lens is 1987’s The Curse!

This slice of rural horror is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour From Outer Space and, somewhat oddly, it was produced by Lucio Fulci.  The Curse, in this case, is a meteorite the lands near a farm and poisons all the crops.  Mayhem follows.

Seriously, country livin’ sucks.  That’s why I’m glad to live in the suburbs, away from all the aliens and the poisoned meteorites.

Back To School #26: Class of 1984 (dir by Mark L. Lester)


“I am the future!” — Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) in Class of 1984 (1982)

In many ways, the classic exploitation film Class of 1984 feels like an update of Blackboard Jungle.  An idealistic teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) takes a job teaching at a crime-ridden inner city school.  There are a few differences.  For one thing, the teacher in Class of 1984 teaches music.  The graffiti-covered school in Class of 1984 looks a hundreds times worse than the one in Blackboard Jungle.  Sidney Poitier is nowhere to be seen in Class of 1984 though Michael J. Fox does show up as one of the good students.  Bad student Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his gang are a lot more colorful and flamboyant than Vic Morrow ever was in Blackboard Jungle.

And, of course, the main difference between Blackboard Jungle and Class of 1984 is that, in the former film, teacher Glenn Ford’s liberal idealism ultimately defeated the forces of juvenile delinquency.  Ford may have been tempted to turn violent but, ultimately, he appealed to the better instincts of his other students and the world was better for it.

In Class of 1984, Andy Norris may start off as a liberal idealist but, ultimately, he reveals himself to be just as violent as his students.  And again, the world appears to be better for it.

(I imagine that, when this film was originally released, a lot of teachers probably watched it as a form of wish-fulfillment.)

Now, Andy’s actions may be extreme but he has his reasons.  Just consider everything that happened to him after he started teaching.

First off, his best friend and fellow teacher Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) was driven insane by the school’s students.  Terry eventually ended up teaching while pointing a gun at his entire class.  (The scene where McDowall finally gets his class to pay attention is one of the best in the film, largely due to McDowall’s excellent performance.  The look of happiness that crosses his face when a student finally gives him the correct answer is both disturbing and funny at the same time.)

Secondly, his best student (that would be Michael J. Fox) ended up getting stabbed in the cafeteria by one of Stegman’s goons.

And finally, Stegman and his gang assaulted Andy’s wife.

Can you blame Andy Norris for taking the law into his own hands?

Now, me,  I have a tendency towards being a bleeding heart when it comes to those living on the fringes of society.  I’m against the death penalty.  I’m against the war on drugs.  I’m against violence.  I believe in compassion.  I believe in understanding.  I believe in love.  But even with all that in mind, I couldn’t help but enjoy Class of 1984.  Some of that is because the film is surprisingly well-acted.  You find yourself really caring about the characters played Perry King and Roddy McDowall and you also find yourself really hating Peter Stegman and his goons.  I don’t care how compassionate you are, there’s something very cathartic about watching Andy finally get back at his tormentors.  And then there’s the fact that, of all the directors to work in what has been termed the “exploitation” field, Mark Lester is one of the best.  He’s one of those directors who knows exactly how to tell a story and what buttons to push to get the proper emotional respect.

But mostly, the film works because of Timothy Van Patten’s performance as Peter Stegman.  Van Patten makes Stegman into one of the definitive teenage psychos.  As intimidating as Van Patten is, his best moments come when the film reveals the type of person that Stegman could have been if not for the fact that he’s a total sociopath.  At one point, when Andy tries to kick him out of music class, Stegman responds by sitting down at a piano and playing a beautiful piece of music.  Perhaps my favorite Stegman moments comes late in the film, when he’s seen sweetly talking to his devoted (and clueless) mother.

Not surprisingly for a film that was released over 30 years ago, Class of 1984 is undeniably dated.  But it doesn’t matter because Class of 1984 captures a universal and timeless truth.  There are always going to be frustrated teachers and dangerous students.  The only thing that changes is how society deals with the frustration and the danger.

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Quickie Horror Review: Christine (dir. by John Carpenter)


During the late 70’s and early 80’s one couldn’t go into a theater during the fall and winter seasons without seeing ads for the latest film adaptation of a Stephen King novel. One such film was released in 1983 and put together the filmmaker talents of “The Master” himself, John Carpenter with that of Stephen King’s unique brand of horror. This was the film adaptation of King’s horror novel about a boy and his car who he calls Christine.

Christine begins with the titular car being made on the Plymouth assembly line and from the beginning we begin to see hints to the true nature of this 1958 Plymouth Fury. We’re soon introduced to the two leads of the film in the nerdy Arnie (played by Keith Gordon) and his more popular best friend and high school quarterback in Dennis (John Stockwell). It’s during their drive home from school that Arnie first catches a glimpse of a rusted-over and decrepit Christine in some old man’s backyard. Right from the start Arnie seems to have fallen head over heels for the old car and buys it without telling his over-protective and domineering parents.

The film gradually shows the effect Christine has on Arnie as he begins to restore her to showroom status. As Christine becomes more and more restored Arnie’s personality begins to change from the shy, nerdy teen we saw in the beginning of the film to a more cocky and confident young man. This change in personality and look even goes as far as to allow Arnie to land the prettiest and most wanted girl in school (Alexandra Paul playing the role of Leigh). But like all tales about a boy and his car things never seem perfect as they would seem. Bullies at school who decide to retaliate against Arnie for him standing up to them becomes the main catalyst which would unleash Christine’s full fury.

Christine the film deviates much from the Stephen King novel, but still keeps enough of the basic themes from the book that fans weren’t screaming for Carpenter’s head the way they did for Kubrick’s after Shining came out in the theater. Where King’s novel explored the topic of objects inheriting the evil done by their owners to the point that they become sentient and corrupted by it in the film it’s more of a young man’s soul warred over by his first true love and those who truly care for his well-being. In one corner we have his true love in Christine the 1958 Plymouth Fury and in the other his best friend Dennis and his girlfriend Leigh. Carpenter does a great job of conveying the idea that this car was a living and breathing thing. A thing who was as obsessed about Arnie as Arnie was about it that it would kill anyone who got in its way.

The film did modestly well when it came out in 1983, but it has since gained a cult following from both Carpenter fans and those fans of Stephen King’s original novel. Christine was one of Carpenter’s more studio-like film, but even here he was able to bring his grindhouse sensibilities to the project. If there was ever a film where the idea of a young man falling in love with his car like it was the perfect woman then Carpenter’s Christine definitely fits the bill.