Tuesday, 29 May 2007
Dirty Dancing (1987) dir. Emile Ardolino
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey
What better way to help kick off the summer than a trip down memory lane and revisit “Dirty Dancing”. Lions Gate Films and Maple Pictures have released a special edition DVD to commemorate its 20th anniversary. Finally the veil behind the controversial film will be lifted… just kidding, “Dirty Dancing” is still as saccharine as it was 20 years ago, but it’s also still the entertaining formula-driven film that we all grew up with, and holds up today a good ol' slice of forgettable entertainment.
Baby (Jennifer Grey, daughter the dancing legend Joel Grey), and her family, Mom, Dad and big sister, are on their way for summer vacation in the Catskills. It’s the 1960’s and a time before traveling abroad was popular, they instead spend their days at a Mountain resort – like a habited version of the hotel in “The Shining”. The environment is dull and completely uninteresting to the young and disaffected Baby. After a boring old demonstration of the Fox Trot, her eyes become transfixed on the hulking and rebellious figure of Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). Johnny is as tough and brooding as his name, but he’s also an expert dancer.
At night Baby is brought into the forbidden staff quarters where she discovers the underground world of ‘dirty dancing’ (imagine the ‘Fight Club’ of 60’s dancing). The sweaty red-lit dancers, their body movements and sexual gyrations turn Baby on, especially when she’s given a personal tutorial by Castle himself. Baby gets roped into dancing with Castle at a show, for which his usual partner, the equally aloof Penny (Cynthia Rhodes) can’t perform due to her unplanned pregnancy. Castle has to train Baby in the ways of competitive dancing in order win the contest. At first they’re at odds with each other because of her lack of skills, but eventually they fall in love. But its forbidden love as Baby's father (Jerry Orbach) obviously disapproves of the relationship.
The affair continues secretly, and as this happens Castle’s confident persona breaks away revealing to Baby a vulnerable and scared man fearful of his own future. Baby turns the tables and teaches Castle the power of personal courage, positive thoughts and standing up for oneself. In the end, all plotlines are wrapped up nicely during the final talent show and the classic “Time of Your Life” finale.
“Dirty Dancing” could have been a traditional musical, but it was made at a time when that genre was completely out of style. And the success of the stage play today is indicative of that. As mentioned the story is formulaic and recycles virtually every musical every made. But the formula works for a reason, especially when the film is cast right. Swayze and Grey compliment each other perfectly. Grey personifies the naïve and innocent awkwardness of Baby, and Swayze has enough rough edges and pussy-cat soft interior to create depth to Castle. The dancing is choreographed and shot perfectly. With the current popularity of celebrity dancing on TV, “Dirty Dancing” would have made even more money today.
Rare for the 80’s, the film was 100% independently financed – through the now-defunct Vestron Pictures. Its success was tremendous, pulling in over $170 million equivalent dollars to today in box office and even more on video. Despite the enormous profit, the company couldn’t repeat the performance with its subsequent films and eventually is folded in 1991.
The popularity of the film has only increased since then. In fact, “Dirty Dancing” was recently named the most popular film among women in a survey by UK Broadcaster Sky Movies.
So kick off the summer with a helping of “No one puts Baby in the corner” and rewatch “Dirty Dancing”. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Dirty Dancing (20th Anniversary Edition)