Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Since I still don’t know how to start this (and the deadline is getting scary close). I’ll just start with this.

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Since I’ve watched the film, I’ve been going somewhat out of my mind trying to understand what I feel about the movie. I seem to think it’s both clever and just really ridiculous (which normally I’m all for but, to a certain degree). As a result, watching it, I am both impressed and also in pain, from face-palming myself throughout the movie. This is one of the “loudest” and different movies I have ever seen in my life. It’s insane, absurd, VERY PAINFULLY OBVIOUS, and even a little scary at times (especially when we get close ups of almost grotesque faces).

 tell me this doesn't strike fear into your heart. If this were to randomly pop up on my screen without context, I might honestly freak out.

Tell me this doesn’t strike fear into your heart. If this were to randomly pop up on my screen without context, I might honestly freak out.

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just. look. at. that. i would zoom more, but i don’t want to be responsible for giving anyone nightmares. the scene itself was pretty hilarious though.

What I have done to calm the storm that is my emotions is to read up on Baz Lurhmann. Apparently, Baz Luhrmann (Mr director, just in case you’re unaware) is known for this concept called red curtain cinema, which embraces theatricality (such includes crazy make up, ridiculously garish outfits, borderline insane overreactions,  cartoon-like portrayals of villains etc.) and “active audience participation” (a film distanced enough from reality that we know it’s just a film.. it makes sense). The concept itself is amazing and considering that, he did it well. It’s so different from anything I’ve watched. What shocks me is that this is his first movie (Baz sure is a brave one) but that just makes it more special.

With that knowledge (knowing that all this is intentional), I’ve come to appreciate a lot more of the film and find it very intriguing. However, the obviousness makes the film waaaay too predictable to be completely enjoyed, in my opinion.

There are a few things I’d like to talk about.

#1 The ending

In the ending scene we see Les dancing with Fran’s grandma, Fran’s dad with Liz and others I couldn’t really catch. At first I wondered why and thought maybe it was random. After more deliberation, I feel like this was completely intentional. The concept in-group out-group/belongingness is, to me, a pivotal component as it causes conformity, compliance, obedience, which drive the film. The in-group is the ballroom dancers (those constricted by rules and the “right way” of dance) while the out-group is Fran and her family (those who dance from the heart. Scott is in between both). Throughout the whole film we see conflict between the groups, Liz and Scott (beginning) shoving Fran, Liz berating Fran (“you’re kidding?”) causing her to fall, Shirley semi-threatening Fran as she consoles her after etc.

One by one though, those in-groups start coming to their senses, first Wayne who drops out (sorta) to tell Les about Barry’s cheating and after Doug steps up by urging his son and Fran on by clapping, Liz too. Because this is a perfect-ending movie, this is the end of it and everyone joins in with the dancing as though the competition is forgotten. Back to the main point, by pairing them up like so, it’s saying they’re now one group and belong together. Excelente!

Sort of off topic but I feel the need to point out that Shirley was shown without make up in one scene and I can’t figure out why. Could it be that it signified her beginning of her change of heart? But she was, then, yelling at Scott to partner Tina… err.

#2 The effort Baz Lurhmann put into following the concept

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It’s really quite incredible, the portrayal of protagonists and antagonists. Fran and Scott are portrayed more similar to real life, so we identify with them more. On the other hand. Barry Fife and sometimes the mother are shot from places of harsh lighting and also often in dark areas. You know how in cartoons, it’s usually easy to tell who the bad guy is? Well, it’s also pretty obvious in this movie. In the second picture above, you can see how Barry Fife’s office literally looks like his evil villain headquarters.

– very obvious contrasts

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The way he characterises in-group and out-group, the settings etc. It’s easy to tell which group you’re looking at. The in-group is always clad in make-up and crazy costumes complete with hair that defy the laws of physics. The out-group is relatively normal. Baz goes so far to even make sure Scott’s hair is a tell-tale as to which group he’s trying to conform to (slicked back > in-group, left natural > out-group with Fran). The attention to detail is amazing.

-song choices

okay, this one annoys me more than impresses me. I prefer wondering about the happenings than having it sang out to me. Still, gotta give them some credit, the lyrics were spot on and represented the emotions of the scenes perfectly. It was just so painfully obvious that each time “time of your life” played, I felt like slapping myself.

#3 How everything is taken quite literally

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Mainly, this added to the ridiculousness of the film, it was the parts that made us laugh. This picture of Ken Railings delivering the line to Liz immediately after she said it word for word to Scott made me laugh way more than I should’ve (it’s still funny). Another one was how Barry Fife literally “fell”, both from his top spot as the president and also onto the floor with the trophies during Scott and Fran’s final performance. I loved that. Also, Barry Fife’s DVD titled “the only way to dance”… doesn’t get any more obvious than that, folks.

#4 Women in this film…

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I have no idea why, but I just love Liz’s character. She is hilarious, especially when she comes bursting in, wailing something of some sort each time the mother says “nothing terrible will happen”. Excellent comic relief. I do feel like there’s more to Liz though but I can’t get past her superficiality. Shirley was like this as well, lots of wailing and asking the heavens what she did wrong (you’d think Scott murdered someone). They seem to be pretty in control most of the time which is ironic because Liz screams “the woman always has to follow the man!” in the beginning, but I guess that’s just for dance.

#5 The, sadly, unsatisfying finale

While the dance itself was visually satisfying (as most of the routines were), I was a little disappointed that they simply danced the proper style of the paso doble for the finale. What happened to creativity and new steps? A bit of a let-down here.. yeah. Maybe it’s because I don’t know much about dance though, they could’ve slotted some special steps in there…

#6 The main message

I feel horrible for saying this but, somehow the main message of this movie “vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias: a life lived in fear is a life half lived”, while kind of an awesome message, fell a little short. It wasn’t prominent enough? (despite the very obvious dialogue. ie; Doug shouting it and helping Scott realise what he truly wanted). For me, the flashiness of the film distracted me too much from the main message that I’m left thinking something along the lines of  “how do I feel about this…”, “that was the cheesiest most predictable movie…” and “wow..pants.”. About that last one, I really feel like this movie could have been a study about pants.. very tight pants.

-end-

The way I see it, strictly ballroom is like.. well, like princess bride, donnie darko, shaun of the dead… doctor who. you either hate it or love it. I think the reason for this is because of the sheer absurdness of the movie, sometimes plotwise, presentation wise and sometimes, just because it’s just plain cringeworthy (this last one is about the romance *shudders*). It is one of the most typical ugly duckling, underdog love stories I’ve ever seen in my life.

word count: 1357

(well. er that was more technical than anything.. sorry bout that)

I guess it was okay though, but please don’t make me watch that again. ehehehe

ps:doesn’t this shot remind you of a tim burton character?

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Also, I’ve heard of subliminal messaging and advertisements, but just like the movie, this ad is the most obvious one I’ve ever seen in movies hahahaha i’ts hilarious.

so obvious it was laughable

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