Saturday, February 07, 2015

Cheesy dance films I have to see this year

Did the 1980s turn out to be the best decade for dance in films? Sure, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were queen and king of the box office back in the 1930s, performing in classics like Top Hat, Shall We Dance and Swing Time, but for sheer range of movies that were about dance and the people who lived for it, it seems to me like the 80s can't be beaten.

As a kid in countryside France with two older sisters, Flashdance and Dirty Dancing were watched pretty much on loop on the family 'magnetoscope' (VCR), and I have a blurry memory of a bit of Chorus Line too. With their stories of dancing against all odds and living for one's passion, they resonated within our young hearts. And of course the soundtracks just made us want to dance ourselves!

The other day, I stumbled upon the trailer for White Nights, a 1985 drama starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. It looked completely over the top: the Soviet dancer defecting to the US, his capture in Siberia after an emergency landing while on a plane journey to Tokyo, his run-ins with a US tap dancer who himself had defected to the USSR, and their ultimate plan of escape. Cold War movie meets ballet and tap - that just sounds too ludicrous not to be enjoyed (no matter how damning the reviews)! Plus it includes Lionel Ritchie's Say You, Say Me in the soundtrack. And also stars Helen Mirren and Isabella Rossellini!

After I shared it with an ironic comment on Facebook, my sister commented: 'I love that film! We used to watch it every Sunday! This scene stills make me cry, like Helen Mirren in it'. I don't remember it at all, but White Nights is definitely on my list of films to watch this year, especially as it includes choreography by Twyla Tharp (see previous link) and bits from Le Jeune Homme et la Mort by Roland Petit.

After a bit of digging, I've come across a few more 1970s and 1980s dance films I just have to see asap. Clearly the success of Fame, Flashdance and Staying Alive got the Hollywood machine excited, a little too excited even as cheese got piled on top of even more cheese.

I might have to organise a small festival to see them all with my friends over a couple of weeks!

The original formula for Save the Last Dance / Step Up / Streetdance. White girl discovers hip-hop/breakdance, but with added 1984 style and attitude: I so want to see this! This training montage set to Chaka Khan's Ain't Nobody has it all: clumsy beginnings, breakthrough, laughter, frustrated faces, more laughter, lycra, headbands and loads of poppin'.

Based on its trailer, the film Rappin', which came out the following year starring Mario van Peebles and Eriq La Salle (from ER!), looks to have plumbed even greater depths of bad cliches. Ice T raps: 'You gotta see Rappin'... this movie had to happen'.  Sure.

Fast Forward
Directed by Sidney Poitier, no less.
Tagline: "When you've got one shot at the top, you've got to move". Boom! My life motto, right there.
Story: your typical "out-of-towners come to the big city for national competition, learn about life, win" plot. Though I may get a surprise or two when I watch it, who knows?

It features this pretty special sequence, where our ambitious dance troupe gatecrashes the American Dental Association convention with a rocking number. Because that is the most straightforward way to success and stardom, right? While the oldies are surprised at first, they get totally won over by the dancers' moves and passion, which makes this scene very similar to a dream I've had, fetching unitards included.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
It's 1985, and Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt just wanna fun, ok? And nothing their dads or mother superior will say can stop them! And by fun, I mean 'dance' and 'become the stars of that famous television channel, Dance TV'. Thank you, writer Amy Spies, for coming up with this plot. I'll have to watch the film in full soon, but it sounds a lot like a preppy, clean version of Hairspray, no?

Stepping Out
A 1991 gem where Liza Minnelli teaches a bunch of losers - including Julie Walters (!) and Jane Krakowski (!) - to tap tap tap their troubles/social ineptitude/lack of confidence away. Of course, there is a big show to prepare for, to ensure plenty of pep talk scenes.

The Turning Point
The trailer's dramatic voiceover describes perfectly why I work in the ballet world: 'A world so glamorous, so exciting, so demanding, that only a few can survive'. Ta ta taaaaa...

This looks like it is the Death of a Salesman of dance movies: when her daughter joins a ballet company, a former dancer is forced to confront her long-ago decision to give up the stage to have a family. Intense, uh? I'm expecting regret, jealousy, living one's dreams vicariously and more. Plus the daughter falls in love with Mikhail Baryshnikov, for added spice. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards in 1978. Winner of 0. Good sign?

Shadow Dancing
Is the heroine in touch with the spirit of a dead ballerina? I can't wait to find out (or maybe not).

Any other films I should add to the list?

1 comment:

kelli said...

I watched White Nights the other night on tv-- hadn't seen it since it first appeared and it is certainly a cold war film, but I really loved it. And it INTRODUCED Isabella Rosselini-- and Tharp's choreography is stunning-- Mirren is young and amazing-- can't wait to hear what you think after you watch it x