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There are verses in the Bible that tell people to sing and dance in praise of God. However, some fundamentalist denominations feel that this does not apply to modern rock music and popular dancing. Since its beginning rock and roll and the dances that generally associated with it have been condemned as ‘the devil’s music’. This belief has been with us for half a century but twenty years ago one film took on the subject. That film was 1984’s ‘Footloose’. A teen from the bog city winds up in a small rural town where the local pastor has forbidden rock music and dancing for the local teens. Naturally the city kid turns things around. Music has always been an important aspect of movies. Even in the silent film days there was a piano player who would help set the mood with his tunes. In the eighties a lot of popular music made it into films, especially if the flick was geared towards teenagers. Many songs rode exposure in a movie to number one on the music charts and sold millions of records. With ‘Footloose’ two songs; ‘Footloose’ and ‘Let’s Hear it for the Boy’ not only hit number one but garnered Oscar nominations. Like so many of the movies that helped to define the eighties it was not that well received by the critics. It also demonstrated that what really matters in a flick like this is how it was received by the public. It made huge box office raking in close to $800,000,000 globally. The point is that this is not a prefect example of the art of cinema. It is, however, a whole lot of fun to watch. After all that is what counts and with that in mind ‘Footloose’ delivers high energy, loud music and those terrible eighties fashions. Paramount is re-releasing this film to DVD so there is no excuse not to have a copy.

The script for this eighties classic was written by Dean Pitchford. It was his first and just about his only feature length screenplay. He has enjoyed a long career writing music and songs for movies and a lot of television. With that aspect of this career he has popped up in everything from ‘Beaches’ to many episodes of the television version of ‘Fame’. He wrote much of the original music for ‘Footloose’ including the Oscar nominated ‘Let’s Hear it for the Boy’. For a movie with this particular theme it was great idea to have a musician handle the scripting chores. He captured the spirit of a person who enjoys popular music and loves to dance. The story was based on real events which took place in 1978 in the small town of Elmer, Oklahoma. For over ninety years dancing and certain music had been banned; that is until a group of teenagers stood up to the local authorities and demanding their right to dance. Pitchford does fall short in trying to tell the story. He has to work the necessary exposition and character development around the required song and dance numbers. While he captured the spirit of the story he could have used a writing partner to fill in the human aspects of the tale. He also has some trouble with the dialogue. No teen oriented flick from the eighties would ever rival Shakespeare but the lines that actors get here are all too often on the verge of being laughable. Of course no one really went to see this flick for the message or the story; they wanted to see the performances. This is where Pitchford really shined; he knew how to create snappy, catchy tunes that the audience would be humming long after the movie ended.

The producers did manage to get a director of some note with Herbert Ross. He has a long and illustrious career that has spanned many genres and allowed him to work along side some of the best in the business. He has helmed such films as ‘Play it Again Sam’, ‘The Goodbye Girl’ and ‘Steel Magnolias’. He has an innate vision of how to make a movie work. There were some constraints on his direction here. First of all the aforementioned script was not in the league of other screenwriters he has worked with. There was also the way he had to present some of the musical numbers. In several scenes Ross had to put the plot on pause and create a music video. Only a few years before MTV came on the scene. The year before this flick ‘Flashdance’ changed the way music and movies would be combined. During these production number scenes they were shot and edited so that they could be directly lifted and presented as an MTV video. This was a major paradigm change for directors and something that Ross’ considerable experience may not have prepared him for. There is also the places that strain credibility here. First of all there are the ‘kids’. Kevin Bacon was about 27 when he did this movie. His teen love interest Lori Singer was thirty which put here about a decade away from Dianne Weist who played her mother. The town should have considered banning thirty year old adults from going to their high school instead of worrying about dancing. There is also the perennial complaint about the film. For a town that has never allowed dancing the kids certainly learned at record speed. They went from no dancing to full out choreographed production numbers in record time. Of course there is something called suspension of belief that most films require to some extent or another. Since the primary purpose of this flick is to have a good time such inconsistencies can be forgiven. This is why the film has such a discrepancy between critical analysis and popularity.

Okay, unless you have been under rock or in a maximum security prison for the as twenty something years you know the story. Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) grew up in Chicago where he loved nothing more than to dance. Through a series of events he moves to rural, mid western Bomont. Unlike the city with Broad Shoulders, this berg has a lot of restrictions especially on the youth. Certain books are not allowed in the libraries, rock and roll is considered the work of the devil and dancing is tantamount to sex. Typical of repressed teens it seems the whole youth population of the town is horny and ready to explode. As prohibition demonstrated making something people like to do illegal always works, right? The moral center of the town is Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow) who runs the town through his church. He and his wife Vi (Dianne Wiest) have a beautiful teenaged daughter Ariel (Lori Singer) who naturally enough falls for the new, bad kid Ren. The other kids in town immediately dislike Ren for being different. The local toughs try to bait him at every opportunity and there is a chick race with tractors. Now usually a chicken run goes a lot better when you cannot step off the vehicle and walk along side it. Ren wants to impress Ariel so he decides to urge the kids to band together to obtain permission to have a promo complete with rock music and dancing.

This is part of the new summer release series from Paramount called ‘I Love the Eighties’. It is pretty much the same as the special edition a few years ago. The video is anamorphic 1.85:1 and is a bit grainy and some of the color palette has a little fading. The audio has been mastered to Dolby 5.1 with a concentration on the front and center speakers. The rear and sub woofer have very little to do. This is still a cult classic despite all of the flaws. It is fun to watch and family friendly which is something not many modern teen flicks can boast.

Posted 07/19/08

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