Last week, Baz Lurhmann announced he’d be returning to his theatrical roots, making his beloved Strictly Ballroom into a musical. Originally a stage play in 1984, Lurhmann turned it into a film in 1992, and now it may be a musical by 2013. No one can say he rushes into anything!
Maverick dance competitor Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) jeopardizes his career when he breaks with ballroom dancing tradition and it’s rulebook toting judges. His dance teacher mom Shirley (Pat Thomson) is determined to see her son win the Pan Pacific Grand Prix Championship. His non-regulation steps have already cost him a lesser competition and his dance partner.
Since it takes two to tango, he must find a partner immediately. Meeting with little success, hope is found in his mom’s frumpy dance student Fran (Tara Morice). As her dancing improves, they draw closer and it’s Fran that teaches him about the true passion of dance and love.
Competitive ballroom dancing isn’t just couples dancing the rumba in freakishly shiny outfits, it’s a full-blown sport in Baz Luhrmann’s directorial début. He’s moved to more grandiose works like Moulin Rouge! and Australia, but in this first work you can see the creative genius emerging. Strictly Ballroom is highly stylized and crowd pleasing. For me, this is his best film.
The Scott and Fran characters had terrific chemistry and wonderful performances. Their emotions showed through in the eyes and movements. You can also see how a favourite Baz Lurmann signature device is born; the purposely over the top acting and straight faced narrative. It’s delightfully farcical, in particular the judges and Scott’s parents. The film is populated with a great supporting cast.
This movie has one of my favourite cinematic experiences. It’s where Scott teaches Fran to dance, back-dropped by a Coca-Cola sign to Cyndi Laupers’s Time After Time (sung by leading lady Tara Morice). It’s simply iconic.
The power of dance films is in their ability to express metaphors, showing emotions and journeys in short hand. Recently I watched 2010′s L’Arnacoeur (Heartbreaker) and it had one dance segment, but it’s the best part of the film. Strictly Ballroom is peppered with dance scenes and they are all memorable.