35th Anniversary Movie Screening
If you ever see photos from the early ’80s in which people are wearing torn sweatshirts, don’t think these folks were too poor to buy decent clothes: They were simply following the fashion trend inspired by FLASHDANCE, one of the greatest box-office sleeper success stories of all time. No one expected much of director Adrian Lyne’s R-rated Cinderella-meets-MTV drama when Paramount dropped it into theaters in the spring of 1983. But thanks to near-miraculous timing, smart marketing and an Oscar-winning theme song by Irene Cara, FLASHDANCE became a worldwide phenomenon.
The astounding appeal of FLASHDANCE can be traced to its connections to a few pop-culture developments. First of all, even though break-dancing had been around since the ’70s, FLASHDANCE was the first mainstream movie to really showcase it. Second, MTV had been launched almost two years before the movie opened, but it had not been readily available on cable systems across the nation until shortly before FLASHDANCE arrived; Lyne’s quick-cut, high-gloss directorial style was perfectly in sync with the typical music videos of the day, and audiences ate it up, even though many critics crabbed: “With a score by Giorgio Moroder, and with ingenious costumes that are utterly au courant, FLASHDANCE contains such dynamic dance scenes that it’s a pity there’s a story here to bog them down,” noted Janet Maslin of The New York Times.
There was also the youthful radiance of Jennifer Beals, an unknown who had been discovered in auditions and cast in the role of Alex, an independent-minded, self-sufficient young woman in downtown Pittsburgh who works as a welder during the day and spends her nights dancing in Mawby’s, a venue that looks like a cross between a blue-collar dive bar and an upscale European cabaret. Yet Alex still dreams of being a “real” dancer, studying at a conservatory and receiving professional training.
Until then, Alex keeps putting on that ripped sweatshirt and perfecting her moves in her jaw-droppingly spacious warehouse “apartment,” when she’s not flirting with Nick (Michael Nouri), her wealthy boss and prospective Prince Charming.
Beals’ engaging charisma and beguiling smile captivated viewers, and even revelations that she did not do her own dancing (French actress/dancer Marine Jahan doubled for her) did nothing to diminish the movie’s allure. She was as crucial to FLASHDANCE’s appeal as John Travolta was to the success of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. How strange then that FLASHDANCE would end up being the only major screen role for Beals. Her follow-up film, THE BRIDE, a twist on THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN with Sting and Clancy Brown, was a thorough disaster, both critically and financially.
FLASHDANCE, however, would become — for better or for worse — one of the most stylistically influential films of the ’80s. Its soundtrack was also a scorcher: In addition to Cara’s powerhouse theme song, it also included Michael Sembello’s No. 1 hit “Maniac” and killer tracks from such major names as Kim Carnes, Donna Summer and Laura Branigan. No wonder an entire generation was inspired to “take your passion and make it happen.”
Rated R / Running time: 97 minutes