Friday, May 25, 2012

Under my head

A passel of young'uns snapping their whippers
As far as I can tell, the 2011 remake of Footloose is a pretty good for what it's meant to be, an excuse for tweeners to get out of the house and dream about how exciting it will be to be in high school.  (This sort of fantasy is always accomplished with the help of 27-year-old actors pretending to be 17.)  It is competently put together, with some moments of visual excitement which may be attributable to the skills of director Craig Brewer, who has made much more challenging films prior hereto (Hustle and Flowand Balck Snake Moan).  I am sure this was driven both by the paycheck and genuine affection for the original 1984 film, an affection I cannot feel, as I was already too old for the first film when that one came out.

Yet I see many films for which I am not the target demo, yet they reach me in some way.  I didn't mind Footloose, I didn't dislike it, yet I find it difficult to write anything about it because it felt like just a bunch of bits of film edited together so they would last an hour-and-three-quarters.  Nothing specific was communicated to me.  I know that was just me-- the film inspired both pleasure and displeasure from many, but I just felt a pleasant numbness.

What makes a film land or not land for any individual viewer?  I could say that I think the whole premise is phony and artificial -- that towns don't outlaw dancing, although specific religious sects do.  Director-co-writer Brewer tried to increase the plausibility factor by putting the fatal accident that triggers the repression at the front of the film (after a quite energetic title sequence), but a film like this is not meant to be believability, and such things almost damage the film.  I'm reminded of films that Laurel and Hardy made in the 1940s at the major studios, rather than the independent Hal Roach studio where they had done their best work.  The studios changed their make-up and lighting to be more natural and beelievable, and in the process destroyed much of what was charming about Laurel and Hardy.  They were always strange and fantastical characters, and to put them in the real world revealed them as aging, overweight men who seemed to be so simple that they should have been under medical supervision.  No longer golden fools dancing in the moonlight, they were old and pathetic.

Moreover, the film is not a musical.  Musicals I like.  Musicals I understand.  They have a special grammar and logic that appeals to me and bypasses the rational mind.  But Footloose wants to be rational.  The key, turning point scene consists of the villain and the hero making speeches.  Not singing, not dancing, but talking.  Talking about dancing.  But talking about dancing is not dancing.  This is an out-and-out confession that the filmmakers do not know how to make dance dramatic, or indeed even narrative.  Instead, dancing is appliqued onto a story of generation clash, and the same script could be used (and doubtless will be) for tagging, skateboarding or hang-gliding or whatever those wild kids want to get up to.  It would be unsurprising to see Tuesday Weld show up as a troubled teen.  In any event, the film is a romantic melodrama with comedy overtones and a lot of footage of young people dancing.  But not a musical.

The dancing, need I point out with overmuch emphasis (as Peter Cook said), is devoid of narrative content.  The boys and girls dance because they want to dance, because they are young, and because both in movies and the real world, dancing is a socially acceptable form of public foreplay -- almost communal foreplay.  Consequently, the single best sequence in the film is the "Let's Hear It For The Boy" montage in which the non-dancing comical sidekick gradually learns to dance, and with attitude and style.  That sequence alone gives me hope that Mr. Brewer will stop his flirtation with music and make a real full-out musical someday. 

Thus I think the best audience for this film are groups of happy 8 and 9 year olds watching the movie in large basement rec rooms watching the screen and aping the dance steps as they go along, although I shudder to think of the kiddie hip grinding that is likely to ensue.  Maybe the film should be issued in a karaoke dancealong version.

Ultimately the point is that there is no point in reading anything anyone writes about Footloose.  Because it is called Footloose, the name of a 1984 film, you know almost exactly what this is and you are capable of deciding whether you will like it or not, based on that fact.  That it is decent and professional is gratifying, but irrelevant, and people like me are irrelevant as spectators.

I hope it earns Mr. Brewer the privilege of making something closer to the heart -- his and mine.

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