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.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: A Thousand Clowns (dir by Fred Coe)


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The 1965 film A Thousand Clowns is one of the most annoying films to ever be nominated for best picture.

I know what you’re thinking.

Really, Lisa — even more annoying than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?

Well, no.  No movie is as annoying as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  In fact, even if it didn’t particularly work for me, I can kind of understand why A Thousand Clowns was apparently a box office success in 1965.  To be honest, part of my annoyance with the film comes from the fact that not only can I understand why other people would love it but I probably would have loved it if I had been alive to see it when it was first released.  A Thousand Clowns isn’t an awful film but to say that it has not aged well is a bit of an understatement.

It tells the story of Murray Burns (Jason Robards).  Murray lives in a cluttered New York apartment with his 12 year-old nephew, Nick (Barry Gordon).  Seven years ago, Nick’s mother abandoned him with Murray.  Murray views Nick as being his own son.  Nick worships his Uncle Murray.  Murray randomly sings Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.  Nick picks up on the habit and is soon wandering around and humming Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.  By the end of A Thousand Clowns you will be so freaking sick of hearing that song.  (Fortunately, Murray never sings Send In The Clowns.  The film dodged a bullet on that one.)

Murray’s a nonconformist, the type who starts his day by standing outside and mocking everyone who is getting ready to go to work.  Murray used to have a job.  He was a TV writer.  He wrote jokes for a detestable entertainer known as Chuckles The Chipmunk (played by noted Broadway director Gene Saks).  Five months ago, Murray quit his job.  He’s now unemployed and proud of it.  He swears that he will never again sacrifice his freedom for a paycheck.  He raises Nick to take the same attitude towards life.

Two social workers, Albert (Williams Daniels) and Sandra (Barbara Harris), show up at Murray’s apartment.  They say that unless Murray gets a job and proves that he’s a good guardian, Nick will be taken away from him.  Murray explains that he’s a nonconformist and that he’s raising Nick to reject anything conventional.  Albert is offended.  Sandra is charmed.  Soon, Sandra and Murray are going for bike rides through New York City.  Murray sings Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby some more…

And it all sounds good but the film just didn’t work for me.  First off, I’ve actually experienced what it’s like to grow up with a frequently unemployed father and, sorry, it’s not all studio apartments and cheerful trips to Central Park.  Secondly, A Thousand Clown‘s message of carpe diem might have seemed groundbreaking in 1965 but today, it just seems like a cliché.  I mean, everyone claims to be a nonconformist today.

Watching the film, it’s hard not to feel that it doesn’t really play fair.  It’s easy for the film to always portray Murray as being enlightened when the only people who ever disagree with him are humorless strawmen.  Albert is a self-righteous prig while Chuckles The Chipmunk is a heavy-handed caricature, the type of TV star who could only be created by a writer who is resentful that more people are watching TV than reading his latest masterpiece.  Martin Balsam appears as Murray’s brother, Arnold, and gets a chance to defend his decision to lead a normal, conventional life.  When it comes to the brothers, the film obviously want us to side with Murray but instead, you feel more sympathy for Arnold, largely because Martin Balsam was such an authoritative actor that your natural tendency is to assume that he must know what he’s talking about.  It’s interesting to note that it was Balsam, as the voice of mainstream conformity, that won the film’s only Oscar.

Jason Robards was not even nominated, though his performance is often better than the material.  He and Barbara Harris have a sweet chemistry, even though Harris is stuck playing a rather demeaning role.  (When we first meet Sandra, she is dating Albert and assuming that he’s correct about anything.  Then she falls for Murray and assumes that he is the one who is correct about everything.  What the film never bothers to really explore is what Sandra herself thinks about anything.)  But then you’ve got Barry Gordon, who, in the role of Nick, comes across as being a bratty know-it-all weirdo.  Nick is so obnoxious that it undercuts the movie’s claim that Murray deserves to be his guardian.

Also not nominated, despite the film winning a best picture nomination, was the director, Fred Coe.  (Nominated in his place were William Wyler for The Collector and Hiroshi Teshigahara for The Woman In The Dunes.)   His omission is less surprising than that of Jason Robards.  If you didn’t know that A Thousand Clowns was based on a stage play, you’d guess it after watching the first ten minutes of the film.  Despite a few shots of Murray and Sandra in New York City, A Thousand Clowns never breaks free of its stage origins.  Taking place on largely one set, it feels rather confining for a film meant to celebrate nonconformity.

As I said, I didn’t care much for A Thousand Clowns but I can understand why it was probably a hit with 1965 audiences.  Murray’s a transitional figure, standing between the Beats and the Hippies.  With America’s confidence shaken by the Kennedy assassination and growing social unrest, I’m sure a lot of people wanted to drop out of society just like Murray.  To be honest, a lot of people feel like that right now.  I just hope that, if you do decide to follow Murray’s example, you’ll sing something less annoying than Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.

A Thousand Clowns was nominated for best picture but it lost to a film that Murray probably would have hated, The Sound of Music.