Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Strictly Ballroom


Norman’s indisposition continues. He’s moved from hallucinosis to hemiballismic seizures and repeated requests for Tanqueray enemas. Nurse Tameka has had to break out the leather restraints and the doctors are preparing to transfer him temporarily to a private sanitarium for the repeat lobotomy. I, of course, would not dream of leaving my man at such a time so I am entertaining myself by going through old DVDs, watching previously enjoyed movies on the new home theater system. The sound proofing that Mr. Brad, my private decorator, had installed in the Ottoman fantasy cinema room of Chateau Maine keeps Norman’s more hellacious moments from disturbing my repose.

I’ve been trying to spend a few hours of each day at the barre in order to keep my lithe dancer’s body firmly toned and in order to keep all of my fans, who tune in on the new VickiCam website entertained. VickiCam is designed to give all of my hosts of adoring fans a new, personal insight into the life and routines of a glamorous film and stage star. The only project on the horizon is my new Campbell’s Soup commercial which will film in another week or so and I have to have the tap routine ready. In it, I tap across the tops of enormous cans of Campbell's, in twenty-three flavors, and then end up taking a swan dive into a large bowl of chicken noodle. If the campaign continues, the next in the series will be an Esther Williams water ballet with the pasta chunks forming lovely geometric patterns.

After losing my exquisite Norma Kamali rehearsal clothes for a peignoir, I slipped Strictly Ballroom , the Australian ballroom dance film from 1991 into the home theater system for a quick trip to the land of romantic comedy. It was as charming this time as when I first saw it in the theater years ago. Many of my friends insist that the film musical is dead. I have always pooh-poohed that notion; it has simply evolved from the presentational realistic style personified by such big films of the 60s as My Fair Lady and West Side Story into something more free form and metaphorical. Strictly Ballroom is a perfect example of this trend.

The film is the creation of Australian director Baz Luhrmann, who also brought us the Leonardo DiCaprio Romeo + Juliet . I met him once several years ago when I auditioned for the lead in his film, Moulin Rouge . Sadly, he went with Nicole Kidman for the part - even though I have better trapeze skills. Luhrmann’s films are known for their kinetic, whirling hyper-reality blending music, story and eye-popping visual design. This film started out originally as an Australian stage play and was filmed for quite a low budget using Australian talent.

Strictly Ballroom is the story of a young ballroom dancer (Paul Mercurio), good enough to win the championships, who starts to become disenchanted with the unwritten rules and formalities of the ballroom world he inhabits. His dream is to create something different with new steps and new ideas. This is regarded as dangerous radicalism by Barry Fife (Bill Hunter), president of the Australian Dance Federation and by the old guard who teach the traditional steps for a living. He meets Fran, a young woman of bad complexion and worse hair (Tara Morice), a beginner dancer, who has fallen for him and wants to help him dance in his own special way, much to the consternation of his mother (Pat Thompson in an unforgettable supporting performance). Soon, he and Fran are rumbaing their way toward love, the other dancers are trying to thwart them and family secrets are revealed on both sides.

The film is a mix of romantic comedy of mismatched lovers who are right for each other, and sport movie clichés about the triumph of the underdog. The performances and the characters are original enough, however, to keep the movie from devolving into the umpteenth retread of Rocky . The incredible costumes used in the world of competitive dance are the starting point for the unique visual look of the film that is filled with images that stick with you long after it's over. A rooftop dance in front of a large 'Coca Cola' sign; a back porch party in the poor part of town in which our hero learns a few things about our heroine's family as the trains rumble by; the incredible bleach blond pompadours on some of the more ridiculous male characters, who are, never the less, treated with affection by the director.

The climax, at the Pan Pacific International Grand Prix championships contains all the elements necessary to bring both genres of romantic comedy and sport movies to a satisfying conclusion and the end, set to the strains of the 70s hit Love is in the Air will make you feel like waltzing yourself. There’s also a satisfying Cinderella feeling to the conclusion, although how the make-up gets redone in about thirty seconds is not explained. Mercurio comes from the world of Australian ballet and Morice is also a trained dancer so we actually get to see them dance, instead of resorting to the camera tricks so apparent in 80s dance films like Flashdance and Footloose .

Sympathetic grandmothers. Dancing children. New dance steps. Evil dance judges. Excellent dancing by the leads. Cosmetics consultants. Apricot scrubs. Bad hair pieces. Doris Day song.

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