Our review of Flashdance, published February 19th, 2009, is also available.
What a feeling…
Flashdance is totally an '80s movie. An absolutely unrealistic and hyperactive one. The relationships are shallow, dwelling only on the surface. Yet it has undeniable style, plus some truly funny moments that caught me off guard. The real strength of the movie is the captivating sexual magnetism of Jennifer Beals. Ultimately, Flashdance is uneven and superficial, and doesn't stand the test of time as well as other period-defining dance movies (such as Saturday Night Fever). But do we care when it is this peppy? The punctuation in the tagline is all wrong. It should read: "What, a feeling?"
Facts of the Case
The facts of this case were difficult to discern. It is best that we stick to the irrefutable facts and refrain from interpretation until the prosecution makes its case.
There's this girl, Alex Owens. She is a welder, and an exotic dancer (but seriously, NOT a stripper!), and a regular dancer. She lives in a converted warehouse and rides a bike. She is super hot. Her boss digs her. They live in Pittsburgh.
There are lots of totally '80s dance scenes throughout the film, ranging from the fetishistic-sweaty-workout style to the postmodern-painted-face-business-attire-strobe-light genre to the high-gloss-glitter-girl syndrome. The traffic cop dances. The guys on the street breakdance. The exotic dancers dance, and the strippers do too. One of the waitresses at the exotic dance club is also an ice dancer, but becomes a stripper. The fry cook is a comedian. Everyone pulls double duty in this movie.
Okay, so Alex goes to the admissions office of a most likely prestigious dance school. The other girls there whisper behind their hands. Alex looks at her construction boots, then runs away.
Alex and her boss start dating. Eventually she ends up back in the admissions office of the school. The rest I won't spoil for you…
The tone of my review up to this point was written to mimic the style of Flashdance. It is either a masterpiece of minimalist cinema or it has a really short attention span. It doesn't really explore concepts, it just mentions them. It has been called the first MTV generation movie, and I'm with that.
Here's a good example. At one point, Alex goes to confession, crying. She says: "I want so much…" Cut to the next scene. As an audience, we are left wondering. She wants so much to do what? Or was that the whole thought, she WANTS so much, and the very act of wanting is the sin she is there to confess? Minimalist cinema or short attention span? You make the call.
Flashdance was directed by Adrian Lyne. He started out in commercials and proceeded to make some steamy hits, such as 9 1/2 Weeks and Fatal Attraction. In retrospect, Flashdance represents his stylistic transformation from commercials to decidedly erotic fare. It reads as a string of commercials, interspersed with "shows," which are the dance numbers. The commercial-like scenes are self-contained and do not really interact with each other, then the dance numbers occur without transition. For example, one commercial shows Alex coming home, talking to her dog ("So, did you get laid today?"), and wistfully watching ballet on TV. The next scene shows a glistening Alex in workout attire doing an entirely too hot dance. A few commercials follow: Alex goes to the dance school and runs out; she goes to work; she goes to see her friend the old lady who used to be a dancer; she walks down the street with her buddy. Next scene, a backlit workout. So on and so forth. This technique really gives a random feel to the flick, and makes the plot seem subdued or non-existent at times. Several times, I just said "what?" to the screen.
With the movie's unfortunate timing firmly established, let's discuss its primary strength: hot-blooded eroticism. Beals is on fire. Whether she is rubbing her sock in a guy's crotch, sucking on lobster, or spilling Diet Pepsi on herself, she is inspiring hormonal urges in most of her male audience. I was surprised and pleased at the sophisticated, playful, and direct way this movie approached the flirtation between Alex and her boss. (I suppose they were shooting for love, but they didn't dig deep enough to justify naming it as such.) In one scene in particular, Alex is talking about the way she feels when she dances, while simultaneously removing her bra through her shirt in front of her boss. I was so entranced by the bra thing that I completely lost track of what she was saying.
Speaking of the boss, Nick, as far as romantic leads go he wasn't bad. I can't speak to his sex appeal, but he didn't stand out as overly sappy, dorky, or bumbling. In other words, he avoided the fatal flaws common to romantic male leads. Alex's best friend also shows some versatility. The other supporting characters were mostly one-dimensional.
It is tempting to say this movie is bad, but I can't go that far. It is uneven. There are some really funny scenes (if I told you which I'd ruin them) interspersed with some really unfunny ones. There are invigorating, uplifting dances juxtaposed with strobe-heavy, headache-inducing haute couture experiments. There are moments of raw, passionate energy contrasted with pedestrian emotional stand-ins.
There are a few places where the pacing is completely off. Flashdance takes its sweet time getting to the point, which is that you need to follow your dream. Once it finally chokes that point out, there are a couple of unnecessary (misplaced?) scenes leading us to the conclusion Alex has already come to. For instance, an older dancer reveals how she has pretty much given up after working at the bar so long. Okay, we get it! Follow your dream now! Go to the dance academy! But no, let's take more stops first.
The lifeblood of Flashdance is the infectiously upbeat soundtrack. "What a Feeling," "Maniac…" these are high points of '80s music and work well in the movie. There are less successful musical moments, but overall the music is memorable.
There is also some nice continuity in the camera work. Periodically throughout, the camera employs a low angle shot to show Alex' various shoes: construction boots to symbolize her blue-collar roots, dancing tape and socks to symbolize her freedom of spirit, running shoes when she goes to confession, et cetera.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The transfer is nothing to dance about. It is grainy with a capital G-R-A-I-N. Throw in the occasional distracting specks, flecks, and scratches, and you get the feeling Paramount didn't spend much time cleaning it up. The colors are desaturated and lack contrast. The shadow detail leaves much to be desired, particularly since many of the scenes are dark.
The 5.1 didn't distinguish itself, but it was serviceable. The welding scenes were energetic enough, and the music sounded great. It was pretty easy to follow the dialogue, which isn't always the case.
There are no extras. I mean none.
I can't shake the feeling that Flashdance owes its very existence to Saturday Night Fever. Perhaps it is because I watched the films in close proximity to each other, but the differences were hard to ignore. I'm not saying they ripped off Saturday Night Fever, because Flashdance has its own style and charm. It is the little things: the red title, the dark city night scenes, the way the camera focuses on her shoes that reminds me on Tony Manero's classic opening walk. Even the plot is in the same ballpark.
What comes out in the wash? Flashdance is not the deepest dance movie, nor is it the most significant. It doesn't stray too far from its message of following the dream, but it never firmly sends the message either. It sizzles (at times), has some good laughs (at times), really captures the '80s, and imparts a spirit of fun. The soundtrack to the movie sold 700,000 copies in its first two weeks of release, if that tells you anything.
The bad transfer and non-existent extras make it hard to recommend purchase of this DVD. If you're feeling nostalgic or are in need or a pick-me-up, rent it. If you are a fan of this movie, really like dance or '80s movies, want to rewind the lobster scene, or watch some of the dance numbers in slo-mo, buy it.
Jennifer Beals is free to go far. Adrian Lyne is sentenced to 200 hours of community service. Given the age of the film and his successful follow-ups, we will count that as time already served. For putting catchy pop hits in my head all week, the court fines Giorgio Moroder $20 so I can buy the new Disturbed album. Paramount is issued yet another warrant for failure to comply with a summons.
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