Appellate Judge Tom Becker is nothing like the wind.
Our reviews of Dirty Dancing: 20th Anniversary Edition (published May 14th, 2007), Dirty Dancing Collection (Blu-ray) (published May 30th, 2012), Dirty Dancing: Limited Keepsake Edition (Blu-ray) (published May 10th, 2010), Dirty Dancing: Official Dance Workout (published January 2nd, 2009), and Dirty Dancing: Ultimate Edition (published March 10th, 2004) are also available.
Where a month can seem like a year…
Summer is coming, and that can mean but one thing: It's time for Lionsgate's annual [Fill in Name of Superlative] Edition of the '80s classic dansical, Dirty Dancing. This time around, it's the Dirty Dancing: Limited Keepsake Edition, the "Limited" part leaving open the door for next year's Five Disc, Eye of the Potato Edition, or whatever they'll come up with to coincide with the rumored, yet inevitable, remake.
So, how do Baby, Johnny, and the gang fare this go 'round?
Facts of the Case
Do we really need to go through this again?
It's 1963, and teenage Baby (Jennifer Grey, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) goes to Kellerman's, a Jewish resort in the Catskills, with her parents and sister. She learns to dance like a slutty Gentile by hanging out with the help, particularly the hunky Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze, Red Dawn). Johnny teaches Baby to be such a good Dirty Dancer that they simulate intercourse and put on a big show that delights and scandalizes all the staid Jewish vacationers.
Years later, Baby gets a nose job and is so unrecognizable that she fails to win any more major roles…oops, sorry, that was Jennifer Grey. See what happens when an actress is so closely identified with a character?
Just to get it out of the way up front, Dirty Dancing was never my cup o' tea. I appreciate it for what it is, I'm glad it gave us Patrick Swayze (though I rue the day I heard that stays-in-your-head-like-a-metal-plate Oscar-winning theme song), and I get its popularity. It's significant as a great piece of pop culture and the last really successful film in the dansical cycle—not-quite-musical movies that substituted dancing for singing—that had begun 10 years earlier with Saturday Night Fever and included the barely watchable but undeniably influential Flashdance and Footloose. While Dirty Dancing is no Fever, it's head and shoulders above Flash and Foot.
At this point, I don't know that there's much left to say about Dirty Dancing. It's an enjoyable bit of fluff that features a serendipitous collaboration of talent. The pretty-plain Jennifer Grey had undeniable chemistry with the even prettier Patrick Swayze, and director Emile Ardolino and screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein wisely surround them with enough recognizable characters (including Baby's disapproving father and the horny resort workers) to keep everything afloat. Perhaps the only teenage romance to use a secondary character's abortion as part of the "meet cute," the low-grade soap opera elements, catchy soundtrack, and—naturally—sexy-ish dance routines make this engrossing stuff for some and at least moderately interesting for others.
This here is the Dirty Dancing: Limited Keepsake Edition, and what Lionsgate has done is pulled almost all the stuff from the previous 900 or so releases, added a couple of new supplements as well as a hardbound "commemorative book," tossed in a coupon for $50 off a two-night stay at the hotel in Virginia where the film was shot, and packaged this two-disc set in a ginormous hunk of cardboard that looks like a photo album filled with pictures of your first high school romance. The box is pink, and the glossy sheet of cardboard on the back that describes/extols the wonders of the product is detachable, so you can proudly display it without the onus of "crass commercial cash grab" hanging over it.
The question is, why is Lionsgate, which has notoriously short-shrifted most "classic" titles in its catalogue, lavishing so much attention on multiple releases of this film? For the answer, I'm guessing we can look no further than Patrick Swayze, who lost his tragic—and very public—battle with cancer in September 2009. Lionsgate is likely banking on the public's enduring sorrow at this loss, as well as the film's still-rabid fan base, to sustain this release. Which leads to another question: Will it, or has the Dirty Dancing well run dry? Will a fanbase that already has a shelf full of earlier Dirty Dancing releases find anything so droolingly revelatory here to justify plunking down 30 bucks?
The Long Night of supplemental material kicks off with a pair of commentaries—one with writer/co-producer Eleanor Bergstein, the other with the cinematographer, the choreographer, the costume designer, and a few other production people. Both of these are available on earlier editions, as is a ported-over trivia track. Disc One also offers us:
"Kellerman's: Reliving the Locations of the Film" (12:23)—This new featurette is a look back at the hotel used in the film, which has apparently been dining out on this claim to fame for the past couple of decades. If this doesn't inspire you to head to Virginia and cash in that $50 coupon, nothing will.
"Dirty Dancing: The Phenomenon" (13:40)—Another new featurette, this is a pretty decent retrospective with comments from—among others—a Lionsgate executive (who'd cut the trailer), the writer, the song writers, the music supervisor, DJ Cousin Bruce Morrow (whose DJing is featured in the film), and some of the actors, though not Jennifer Grey. We also get clips from the ill-fated Dirty Dancing TV series (with Patrick Cassidy and McLean Stevenson) and a brief history of Vestron, the company that produced the film and went under not too long after.
"Patrick Swayze: The Rhythm of the Dancing" (4:02)—It's got a 2010 copyright, but this brief piece with Patrick Swayze talking about the dancing in the film is pieced together from outtakes of an earlier featurette, "Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze," which turns up on Disc Two.
Change partners? On to Disc Two, which seems to be comprised largely of recycled stuff:
"Tributes"—Are you one of those who believes that some movies are "cursed"? Do you get goosebumps every time a nonagenarian munchkin passes, thinking, "Everyone from The Wizard of Oz is dead. That movie is cursed!" If so, Dirty Dancing will be right up your alley. If only Jennifer Grey's career had been the only casualty; instead, this comparatively recent film has lost no less than five of its major players (that I know of), all untimely. In addition to Swayze, the death toll includes Jerry Orbach, who played Grey's father and died of cancer in 2004 at the age of 69; director Emile Ardolino, who died of AIDS complications in 1993 at age 50; Jack Weston, who played the owner of the resort and died of Lymphoma in 1996 at age 71; Max Cantor, who played one of the kids at the resort and died of a drug overdose in 1991 at age 32; and (while not exactly "untimely") Honi Coles, the great tap dancer, who died in 1992 at age 81. All but Coles (and Grey's career) are memorialized here, starting with a two-minute "In Memoriam" with clips and birth/death dates of Orbach, Swayze, Weston, Cantor, and Ardolino. Next are full-scale memorializations for Swayze (15:13), Orbach (6:33), and Ardolino (13:28). The last two are ported over from earlier releases; all are well-handled and quite moving.
"For the Fans" (6:10)—Footage of people imitating the film, wearing "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" t-shirts, and such, along with a lengthy home video piece of a British couple talking about the film; this seems to be new to this release.
"The Classic Story on Stage" (5:20)—Ported-over, this is a look at the stage revue based on the film.
"Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze" (12:30)—Ported-over, this is Swayze talking about the film.
"Vintage Featurette" (6:40)—A well-done EPK promotional piece. I can't find it listed on any previous release, though it seems odd that this is just seeing the light of day now.
Disc Two also gives us deleted scenes, extended scenes, alternate scenes, screen tests, a photo gallery, multi-angle dance sequences, more interviews, the trailer, and music videos for "She's Like the Wind," "Hungry Eyes," and the ubiquitous "(I've Had) the Time of My Life"—all of which have appeared on earlier releases. As far as the "Keepsake Book" goes…well, if you were expecting a Criterion-style essay, think again. It's hardbound and looks a bit like a grade-school girl's first diary. Instead of analysis or commemoration, it's really just a batch of photos, quotes, trivia, cast bios, and a letter from Eleanor Bergstein. It's cute, but not especially hefty.
The case claims that the picture is "newly remastered," and since I haven't seen the other 3,000 releases, I won't argue the point. It certainly looks very good. The audio options are the same as on the last couple of releases, and they sound great.
Note: Dirty Dancing was shot in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The previous releases are 1.85:1. The elaborate package here lists the aspect ratio as 1.78:1. Did Lionsgate, after putting together what we can only hope is the "definitive" Dirty Dancing edition, actually screw up the transfer? Or did Lionsgate, after putting together the elaborate packaging, actually screw up the box copy? I'm guessing it's the latter, but this is just going to be another of those unanswerable riddles of the Lionsgate Sphinx. Still, it'd be a bitch if they had to recall this puppy, wouldn't it?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Impressive as this set is, I can't imagine even a die-hard fan finding anything here that justifies another dip. The "Vintage Featurette" and "The Phenomenon" are nice additions, and the Swayze tribute is very nice—and, cynically speaking, probably the reason this edition exists at all—but beyond that, it's just hours of recycled stuff.
The film itself is cute, fun, and comfortable, and offers a double-dose of nostalgia, both for the '80s and for the '60s, its warm look at the waning days of the Kennedy years not as perceptive as, say, American Grafitti, but sweet without being sickening.
And it gave us Patrick Swayze as a Star. Had there been no Dirty Dancing, there probably would have been no Road House, there might not have been a Point Break, and there most definitely wouldn't have been a Tiger Warsaw, and that thought alone elevates this a bit from its "chick flick" quagmire.
Please, somebody, put Baby in a corner and make this Limited Keepsake Edition be the last call at Kellerman's. No knock on the film or the package, I just think the saturation point has been reached.
If you're a fan of the film and somehow let the 9,000 previous releases go by Like the Wind, then (You'll Have) the Time of Your Life feasting your Hungry Eyes on this. If you're a fan of the film who didn't resist the siren song of the 11,000 previous releases, I don't know if the new material is enough to justify a purchase.
Excessive, but not guilty.
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