There are some movies that help define a period of time even thought they are really not the greatest example of the art of cinema. One example is the 1983 flick "Flashdance’. When it first appeared it was not exactly met with critical acclaim but that didn’t seem to matter to the audiences. The film would make over $150 million, not counting the sales of the top of the chart sound track. This film tapped into the times and resounded with the viewers. It helped create fashion trends and had several top sounds come from the soundtrack. From a critical point of view the film doesn’t work. It has energy but it lacks a strong narrative and moves aimlessly through the ninety minute running time. But it is the energy that made the film a commercial success. By its release in 1983 MTV had been around for about to years. In that time the way young people appreciated music had changed. Prior to that music was only an auditory experience but MTV added the requirement of a strong visual. This is where Flashdance works so well. Many of the musical numbers are basically music videos. The images that they provide have become part of the collective consciousness and have been parodied and used as an example of what defined the eighties. Ultimately this is a movie to experience and enjoy not dissect. It is a classic case of something that would be rejected in any serious film school but still is able to reach out to and touch an audience. Paramount released this film to DVD as a plain vanilla disc back on 2002. Now, they revisited it once again as part of their 'I Love the Eighties' edition or you can chose the special collector's edition that is worth having even if you already own the other DVD. You can’t discuss the pop culture of the eighties without touching on this film. It is truly at the foundation of much of the music and fashion that persist to today.
Since she was a little girl Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) has wanted to dance. She enjoys the freedom of moving her body to the music. Her ultimate goal is to attend a prestigious local dance school, the Pittsburgh Conservatory. There she hopes to learn all forms of dance including the most critical, ballet. Unfortunately, Alex comes from very humble economic means. She has to work two jobs just to get by. Her day job is working at one of the many Pittsburgh steel mills as a welder. At night she works at the local blue collar watering hole, Mawbys as a dancer. This is not what she wants from dancing, but it pays the bills and at least she is not a stripper. Alex and the other girls wear skimpy outfits and put on elaborate dance numbers for the drunken men in the audience. This bar and grill seems to be a refuge for young people with dreams. Alex’s best friend, Jeanie Szabo (Sunny Johnson) wants to be a competitive ice skater. Jeanie’s boyfriend Richie Blazik (Kyle T. Heffner) dreams of being a successful stand up comedian. The one attempt for dramatic tension in the film comes from a strip club, Zanzibar, located near Mawbys. The slimy owner, Johnny C. (Lee Ving) is out to get Alex and Jeanie to turn to the dark side, take off their clothes and join his girls. Alex also has a friend and mentor, Hanna Long (Lilia Skala) a former dancer and a dog named Grunt. One night while performing a number at Mawbys a man is watching Alex. He becomes instantly infatuated with her and as it turns out he is her boss at the mill, Nick Hurley (Michael Nouri). The date, she has an uncomfortable time with his ex wife, Hanna ((Lilia Skala), and after an initial failure Alex give her best performance for the admissions board at the Conservatory. That’s basically it. No one really talks about the story line in this movie; it is the music and dance that matters.
This movie was released at the right time in history. The eighties was the Reagan era, one where the President urged Americans to pull themselves up by their boot straps and defy the downward spiral of the economy. Music videos were still new and the novelty of watching a film that is just a string of such performances hit a chord. This film also started the careers of Ms. Beals and put the then new director Adrian Lyne on the professional map. There was controversy surrounding the film over the fact that Beals did not perform her own dance numbers. The same could be said about Natalie Woods in ‘West Side Story’ and her singing stand in. one big mistake here was letting the film get an ‘R’ rating when the target audience was more in line with the new MTV generation. Still the film brought in enough in the way of box office. Let’s face it; a ‘R’ rating is not that much of a hindrance to a teenage on a Friday night. The dance numbers are surreal and memorable. This film also made sweat shirts with the necks cut out and leg warmers a fashion sensation.
This was the big break for actress Jennifer Beals. She is a very intelligent woman, graduating from Yale University, and extremely talented. Today she is known for the ‘L’ Word but this is were it all began for her. There is nothing here to really showcase the talent that would continue to develop over the next two decades but she is the best thing in this film. No matter where her career takes her she will always be the girl that pulls the cord and gets drenched with water on stage. Sunny Johnson seems to drift through the film without much commitment mostly due to the lack of script not ability.
the 'I Love the Eighties' edition is plain vanilla with no extras except a CD with a few songs from the decade, but it is priced lower than most DVD so if you are not into the extras this is the perfect choice for you. The special collector's edition is one of the better re-releases of an older movie then I seen in years. First there is ‘The History of Flashdance’. People involved in the film such as producer Jerry Bruckheimer provide a narrative of just how this movie came to be made and released. His ex roommate, borrowed a sport coat from Bruckheimer for a job interview at Paramount which he got. He became the head of production and had a script about a blue collar girl with a dream. Little remembrances like this help to personalize the film. ‘The Look of Flashdance’ focuses on how director Adrian Lyne chose the shots and lighting that gave the film its unique visual style. Also included here are conversations with the costume designers and set designers on how they achieved the right look. There is a discussion about one scene that is the most famous at least for the males in the audience. Jennifer Beals came up with the shot of her taking her bra off without removing her cut neck shirt. Lyne saw her do it on set and had to include it in the film. The rest is history. The featurette ‘Flashdance Music and Songs’ is also included. It details the many music numbers that after all carry the film. Bruckheimer saw this as the first modern musical although some may differ with the use of the term. The crew goes into just how each of the now famous songs found their way into the flick. Next there is ‘Flashdance: The Choreography’. The dance numbers that define the film are broken down and some official light is shed on the use of dance doubles. ‘Flasdance: Releasing the Phenomenon’ looks at the way the film was marketed. As if this isn’t enough to get you to add this special edition to your collection there is also a CD of the most famous songs included. This features such eighties classics as ‘What a Feeling’, Lady, Lady, :Lady’ , ‘Manhunt’ and, of course, ‘Maniac’. Many re-releases claim to be special editions but this one lives up to the name. The whole 'I Love the Eighties' series allows you to build up your collection of films from this pivotal decade rapidly at a low cost. No matter what edition you select you are sure to enjoy this piece of our cultural history.
Posted 09/15/07 (Collector's Edition)
Posted 01/23/09 (I Love the Eighties edition)