Sunday, 30 October 2016

Flashdance (1983)

By day the most elegant, beautiful young woman works the most blue collar masculine job. By night, she strips at the most avant-garde blue collar strip joint imaginable. All the while she is dreaming of breaking through the ranks to become a professional dancer at the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory.  Such are the paradoxes of the preposterous yet unmitigated hit 1980s movie Flashdance, a film that has been best summed up for me by a brief exchange between Robert Carlyle and Mark Addy in 1997's The Full Monty;

"It's "Flashdance", Dave. She's a welder, isn't she!"

"A welder? Well, I hope she dances better than she welds! I mean, look at that - her mix is all to cock!"

"Shut up, Dave. What the fuck do you know about welding, anyway?"

"More than some chuffin' woman! Arh, it's like Bonfire Night! That's too much acetylene, is that! Them joints will hold fuck all!"

By rights Flashdance should be complete and utter bin juice. A variation on The Ugly Duckling; this first collaboration by producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer meant that, via their notorious 'High Concept' style that would come to illustrate so much of '80s cinema, very little 'ugly' was actually left. The film purports to be set in a blue collar world, yet Jennifer Beals' immaculate heroine lives in an exclusive yuppified warehouse conversion  well beyond the means of an 18-year-old welder and exotic dancer, whilst her seedy secondary employment takes place in the aforementioned curious hybrid of dingy cabaret and experimental modern-dance platform imaginable. Make no mistake, this is no Saturday Night Fever. It's a film whose contradictions can be laid firmly at the door of its stylised choices.

And yet it is that style-over-substance approach that has meant Flashdance remains a landmark film of the 1980s and an enduring hit. It's as cheesy as they come and seems to have created the template for every Body Form advert that was produced in its wake, yet it hits the nostalgic spot each and every time. Thirty-three years later and you mention its name and people will want to tell you about how one of Beals' many dance body doubles included the MALE performer known as Crazy Legs, or that co-star Michael Nouri had no idea that Beals wasn't wearing a full dress-shirt beneath her 'tux' in the dining scene, and his reaction is therefore 100% genuine. They might even bring up Robert Webb's brilliant routine for Let's Dance For Comic Relief  

In short, Flashdance is a film that has huge cultural multi-platform significance and, whilst Irene Cara's titular hit is evergreen, for me at least, it is Michael Sembello's Maniac that is one of the most invigorating songs ever.

It's a ridiculous film but, as a barometer of the time, it's essential. Simpson and Bruckheimer's 'High Concept' style and, it could be argued, '80s cinema itself was born right here.

1 comment:

  1. The title track and "Maniac" also became staples in the playlist at any aerobics class for many years after (as did leg warmers).