Yep, Dirty freakin’ Dancing. Laugh it up dear boozers, but in 1987 I was much too serious (severe even as I watched Troma films) to remotely consider glancing at this Patrick Swayze vehicle that was a hands-down favorite of my proper British Grandma (from Exeter). Yesterday I decided it was time to delve into the nostalgia of the 80s as it remembers the early sixties.
Dirty Dancing (which I always assumed was about grinding on each other’s thighs and other meaty parts while calling it “dancing” (which again, is something I know nothing about as I’ve never been dancing, nor felt the need to do more than lightly tap a foot at a concert)) is actually a movie about class inequality! Was I surprised? Yes I was! Now I kind of wish I knew what Grandma was looking at it for, what was it reminding her of (my Grandmother was a tiny lady, and Mom says I didn’t really know her as she was a fierce person who tolerated no fussing, that wasn’t the lady I knew, Grandma practically doted on us kids)?
For those few of you who have never watched this film, it’s a kind of pretty rich girl falls for a dance instructor at a strange mountain resort where, apparently, well-off families would go on vacation, dance and play cards and wish their lives were otherwise. You know these people. They are well played. The narrowed cat eyes of jealous middle-aged women as they witness the kindnesses and sweetnesses, cut-off too soon in their own lives, are very realistic. I always say, hey you picked the rich schlub you could have had me! But that’s another tale. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the girl who plays Baby. I’ve never heard of anyone called “Baby” as a name in public, but the writer of this film may be able to argue with me.
Baby manages to wheedle her way into the cool rock n roll side of the business (by helping a fellow (later to be important) carry a watermelon (Right? we all know what that means!?) and soon enough she ingratiates herself into the arms of the Swayze. This end of the mountain resort is the working-class employees end of “town” and they seem to have a lot of time on their hands when they’re not teaching dancing or cleaning up after rich asshats. Soon enough, Baby’s well-off doctor daddy, played by that guy from Law and Order, becomes essential to the plot as the dancing star partner of Swayze gets knocked up and first needs cash and second needs help with the botched abortion. Outrageously, though, for the sake of tight story-telling, Baby is suddenly the necessary person to be the highlight dance partner for Swayze’s upcoming big performance.
What follows is the classic movie montage, which always suggests any needed level of skill is something you can develop in a few hours if you really need to, and you have the right soundtrack. In the case of this film, the needed numbers were Ronnettes, Zodiacs, and Five Satins tracks. However, I was jarred out of the story each time one of the modern 80s numbers was introduced to remind us of the sweet romance between Baby and Swayze. I mean, The Blow Monkeys? Can we even conjure a memory of them?
Of course, the film winds up with some kind of crazy, very high school like production where everyone is on stage or avidly clapping in the audience (this was done best in that hilarious send-up of camp movies Wet Hot American Summer (2001) and their subsequent parodies) as if at the heart of everyone is this desire to be on a stage in a costume. Of course, in the middle of it the hero returns and our little girl– who is becoming a woman–leaps into his arms and they do the “lift” move that escaped her (even after the montage) last performance. Is that satisfying? Did my Granny get moist-eyed at that? Hmm. I can tell you this kind of obvious, cloying story-telling depresses me. I’d have been much happier if they ran off into the woods and just had a good fuck. Because, I don’t get dancing. And I suspect it is all symbolic love-making for people who are horrified by actual love-making. The good news is there are no shoot-outs and no Mercutio has to die to get this simple Romeo and Juliet across.
In the end, the lesson of the day is have a rich doctor daddy.
They’re giving DD away for nothing on Prime at the moment. I read that some of the film was made in the Asheville area of NC, I can believe it.
One thought on “Dirty Dancing (1987)”
I visited some of the locations; it’s perhaps not a film aimed at me, but I can see why it works for some!