Judge Brett Cullum is a maniac, maniac—on the loose.
Nick: Don't you understand? When you give up your dream, you die.
It was an R-rated, gritty, movie musical that defined the '80s more than any other film—much as Saturday Night Fever summed up the '70s. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Transformers), director Adrian Lyne (Nine 1/2 Weeks), and co-scriptwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct) all teamed up for a girl's empowerment movie that married the athleticism of Rocky with the real world musical aspects of Saturday Night Fever. Yes, it was the film that popularized those hideous ripped sweatshirts and completely useless leg warmers. A movie inspired by Canadian strippers who were called "Flashdancers," and the film that launched the career of Jennifer Beals (The L Word). What else could we be talking about but Flashdance? Originally released as a bare bones widescreen edition, now we have Flashdance (Special Collector's Edition) which finally puts some extras on disc to go with the feature.
The plot is a simplistic "girl does good" finally reaching for her dreams. Believe it or not, the basic narrative is loosely based on the true story of a female welder turned dancer called Maureen Marder (though the movie only borrows a small bit of her life). Her fantastic story was fused with the style of stripping seen in a popular club in Toronto where showmanship counted as much as titillation (hey, Joe Eszterhas did help write this thing). Somehow these two elements were fictionalized and fused into a narrative. Alex (Jennifer Beals) works as a butch welder by day and often wet erotic dancer by night, and imagines being a legitimate ballet dancer. She's just a girl with a dream to turn the beat around, and her love struck foreman Nick (Michael Nouri, played the lead role in TV's The Curse of Dracula) could be the ticket to an important audition.
It certainly didn't look like it would be a hit, and everyone suspected Flashdance would be a glittering flop. Much like its prototype Saturday Night Fever, the film had a troubled production history and a long list of people who turned it down. Legendary studio executive Dawn Steel fought tooth and nail to get the film into development at Paramount which was never supportive of the project, often leaving it on the back burner for years. David Cronenberg was asked to direct, and Brian DePalma actually took the gig. DePalma quit to do Scarface, and Adrian Lyne was a last minute replacement who had already turned down the project twice. Demi Moore was considered for the lead, and Kevin Costner was to be the male love interest at one point. Kiss legend Gene Simmons was approached for the male role, but he feared it would compromise his demonic image. Another singer, Bob Geldof, was offered the love interest as well after Lyne screened The Wall, but even he turned it down. Ultimately the film was cast with Jennifer Beals and Michael Nouri as the iconic leads. The studio questioned Lyne's artistic decisions at every turn, and even demanded "less smoke" after seeing all the murk on the sets. The film got made, and Paramount was convinced it would be a fatal disaster along the lines of Xanadu. They sold off a portion of the rights days before the release.
Surprisingly the film triumphed, and became a runaway hit despite pans by all the major critics (including Roger Ebert, who gave it one and a half stars and a "thumbs down"). Audiences seemed to not care, because what the critics missed was this one was fireproof against their ranting. Men found the images sexy and women claimed they were inspired. It was a rare chick flick that guys could watch as well—the perfect date movie. The phenomenon around the film was instant, and the nay sayers were silenced from the first weekend's stronger than expected box office. You couldn't go anywhere after the release without seeing women sporting torn sweatshirts and leg warmers. Urban legend has it the torn sweat shirt was simply a mistake. Someone on the set washed the garment, and it shrank a bit requiring it to be cut so Jennifer Beals could dance in it. The soundtrack sold 700,000 copies in the first two weeks of its release. Flashdance had incredible staying power, and hung on much longer than anyone expected, especially Paramount. The studio even got daring enough to release the film on VHS while it was still in theaters. This move, which was expected to kill the box office, increased it. Seemed Flashdance couldn't be stopped no matter how hard anyone tried. The film snagged an Oscar for "Best Song" with its titular single and garnered nominations in cinematography and editing as well. Meanwhile, the script was nominated for a Razzie.
Flashdance has been released bare bones on DVD prior to this go round, but now it finally gets the respect it deserves. The extras are a welcome addition, and they are plentiful. Included in the set is a separate six track CD which includes: "Flashdance…What a Feeling," "Manhunt," "He's a Dream," "Lady, Lady, Lady," "Romeo," and of course "Maniac." This is only four tracks short of the original soundtrack album, and I wonder why they didn't simply include the remaining songs (cough! Hoping for cross sales! cough!). Five featurettes are included on the disc, and are broken down into thematic chunks covering the filming and the fads the movie inspired. All of them feature director Adrian Lyne, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and some of the supporting cast such as Michael Nouri. Yet who is missing in all of this? No words from the two women who made the movie what it was—actress Jennifer Beals and the French woman who danced for her. We also don't get to hear from Joe Eszterhas. They are discussed at length, but given far too little credit for my taste. All the people featured in the newly produced segments take full credit for the phenomenon that was Flashdance even though it seems silly for everyone except Lyne—whose sense of style carried the picture to a degree. I love watching Jerry Bruckheimer claiming "this is the first modern musical" as if he had never seen Saturday Night Fever 5 years earlier. As a nice touch, Giorgio Moroder is included in the music segment. He gets bragging rights because he is the only one who worked on the movie that earned an Oscar; missing in action is Irene Cara. Each featurette lasts about ten minutes, and they cover all the major aspects of the film except the acting. Even dancing double Marine Jahan is talked about, which was a taboo topic upon the film's release and the subject of much scandal back in the day.
Technically the film has been cleaned up a bit. The transfer looks better than what came before on the previous release, and some of the specks and grain have been removed. Clarity is improved, but don't expect miracles. Overall Flashdance has a purposefully soft and dark look that won't ever translate completely well to today's standards for clarity or digital composition. Truth is the film was made in the '80s, and it looks like it. The five channel surround mix does fine punching up the soundtrack where it should, and keeping the dialogue clear. It's not all that impressive, but it gets the job done. Overall this is a step up from the previous edition, and fans will be relieved to see a better effort on this disc.
Flashdance is simply a sexy feel good movie about holding on to your dreams. It has a ton of energy to spare even if the tawdry script weakens the core message. The best thing about the film are the visuals which were so iconic even Jennifer Lopez had to recreate them for one of her music videos "I'm Glad" (at one point a full blown remake with Lopez was threatened). The most striking scenes in Flashdance are the dance sequences, and I'm not sure why nobody has thought to include a "Play just the dances!" option to this disc. It's nice to see Paramount finally adding meaty extras and a better transfer for Flashdance (Special Collector's Edition). It makes me all misty eyed as I put on my torn up sweat shirt, slip into some leg warmers, and dance my ass off to "Maniac." Thank you, bonus CD!
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