I Saw a Film!
It’s been a goodly number of years since I last laid eyes on this drive-in, teen angst schlock. I have to say I still didn’t pay enough attention to collect the details that explained Kevin Bacon’s dancing hero, nor why so much of this beautiful town, with it’s remarkable backdrop of horizon mountains, seemed still immersed in a period a full generation back, as even the “older” folks, John Lithgow and Diane Wiest (most recently seen in I Care A Lot) among them, aren’t really old enough to be that entrenched in a pre-Vietnam Americana (they should have been Elvis/Beatles devotees), but, that’s neither here nor there. We need a setting that feels uber-conservative so that Bacon and Singer can rile up the locals with dancing. Of course there are plenty of Protestant Christians (at least in the good ole US of A) who will be happy to explain to you the evils of wine and dance despite their undeniably established cultural relevance even nearly four decades since the release of this boiler plate (indeed I’ve sat through it!), but let’s move on.
Singer’s rebelliousness and outrageously self-destructive behavior is worrisome. When we meet her, she’s straddling two speeding vehicles and gleefully aiming herself at a tractor trailer coming down the road threatening to obliterate herself and friends. This sequence, probably meant to paint our heroine as a carefree wild one, lacks the subtlety of an artistic or social progressive, and instead only manages to portray the lass as something of a sociopath (though, such is common in film). Her life as well as her friend’s lives do not much seem to matter to her. And we don’t really deal with this disturbing aspect of her personality. I guess we’re just meant to imagine she needs to dance to break free of this self-annihilation complex. If one takes her seriously it’s hard to bond with the character. It is again, a bit later, revealed when she stands and screams in the path of a train, rescued last second by Bacon, and in another sequence where she’s as overjoyed as a kid getting ice cream, watching the two bone-headed fellows (one the local, the other the hero (as the soundtrack keeps blaring at us) attempt to run farm tractors directly into one another’s faces (as slow and dull as that “chicken” contest is). There is a bit of a Ballardesque (JG) variation here. All told this is a young woman in bad need of some therapy, and OK we get it, her dad’s the town’s brimstone preacher, towing the line for the conservatives, but still her glee for danger seems not sensibly related to the progressiveness required in the film’s story. We’re supposed to imagine she’s just going to high school, instead of chained to a bed in a psychiatric ward.
Soon enough we’re given the inspiring flour factory dance solo, and it’s about now we realize that Footloose is absolutely American “Bollywood”. No human beings would move like this without training and choreography, and so we’re supposed to accept the performance metaphorically rather than literally, which is what the Bollywood industry is built on. Endless “item numbers” of song and dance where we’re meant to imagine our stars emotional states as they relate to love and peril in the film. KB’s emotional state is meant to be one of struggling outsider, even though the girls all flung themselves at him immediately on arrival and he’s won all his battles with the fairy tale favoritism of Harry Potter.
Bacon’s character has to convince the town leaders they can have a dance, because, it’s in the Bible. They vote against him, citing wicked ways music inspires. But the heroic dancing obsessed young’uns manage to acquire a hall for a dance anyway, just outside town limits. Also we’re treated to a cutesy montage of KB teaching Sean Penn’s little brother how to keep a beat. Why these kids are so mesmerized by dancing, rather than like gymnastics or soccer or martial arts or musicianship or skateboarding is left an open question. We presume because it’s something banned. Eventually they have their little dance, they suddenly all have motorcross motor bikes (why weren’t they a feature before?) to ride to the dance, and it’s as twee and corny as any high school dance, until it manages to kick into gear after the Almost Heaven number. At which point, we’re again given a kind of Bollywood choreographed sequence of line dancing and then a guy doing a solo Shields and Yarnell robot thing. All these talents just resting their waiting to pop out.
So what do we learn? Basically that heroics and romance reside in righteously resisting convention and conservatism. Also that Sarah Jessica Parker is the breakout star of this thing. She’s irresistibly cute.
It’s running on Hulu (usa) for nada. Despite the fact that I was raised by a woman who was something of a ballet star as a young woman, I’ve never managed to learn to really appreciate anything about dance. On the other hand I’m a musician, and can keep a beat. The young woman I saw this film with became my wife of forty years, so true love possibly does come from . . . oh, I’m kidding. The poor lass was lucky to escape my inept lack of social skills.