Well, first of all, there was the issue of choosing the film. My first impulse was to select a movie from one of my favorite directors, John Hughes, but as you can see here, I’m pretty much obsessed with the man, so how could I rewatch his films with fresh eyes when I never outgrew them? I went through a list of non-Hughes films and there were a few that I recalled fondly that I hadn’t seen in ages, but I was confronted with another problem: FEAR.
As I mention in this post last year, I have become a lot more critical of films and books since I started to write. As my expectations have grown, it’s increasingly difficult to find stories where I can lose myself and not think about what the director or writer were trying to do. My fear when watching a once-beloved film was that I would realize that it was not as wonderful as I remembered, and that nostalgia wouldn't be enough to forgive all the film’s flaws.
I pondered for a few days about movies that I used to like but wouldn’t be overly devastated if I discovered all their imperfections and I finally picked one that:
1) I was desperate to watch when it came out, but had to wait a few years due to my age;
2) was incredibly popular during my childhood years; and,
3) I hadn’t seen in a VERY long time.
So without further ado, I bring you...
Flashdance, for those who haven’t seen it, is the story of an 18-year-old girl who is a welder by day and dancer by night. She lives in a warehouse-turned-apartment with her massive dog and dreams of becoming a ballerina. The problem is she’s a self-taught dancer who doesn’t have the education nor the references to enter the prestigious dance school of her dreams. Her best friends also have goals of their own: one longs to be a professional ice skater while another one is a short-order cook who wants to become a stand-up comedian. As Alex witnesses her friends’ dreams collapse, she must find the strength to go along with hers, even it means swallowing her pride and having to face rejection.
My first reaction when I watched the film again was excitement over the soundtrack. My friends and I used to sing these songs to the top of our lungs (even though we didn’t know what exactly we were saying) and we used to play the tape over and over again during our first dance parties. I am convinced that a big part of Flashdance’s appeal was the music.
The second thing I noticed was how young Jennifer Beals was (I'd thought the character was in her twenties, but she was only eighteen). I also questioned details I'd never considered before: Where is Alex’s family? How did she become so independent at such a young age? How did she meet her mentor, Hanna, the lady who encourages her to apply to dance school? And how and why did her elder friend die? Last but not least, how did she learn to weld (and what on earth was she building)?
The other detail that blew my mind was how many sexual comments between Alex and Nick I had missed when I first saw the film (and how I may have been too young when I watched it!). I didn’t even think it was weird that she removes her bra in front of him! (She probably wants to be more comfortable, I thought.)
Plot wise, it’s not the most complex or unpredictable story, but it follows a familiar underdog/Cinderella journey that pleases most audiences. It also offers a few positive messages. One, the 80s became a turning point for women’s fitness. In Flashdance, not only does Alex ride her bike everywhere, but she also works out at her home-gym (an impressive routine which I tried to mimic once but somehow was not as graceful as she was) and lifts weights with her friends. Two, Alex is a good role model. Despite her youth, she has a clear sense of right and wrong (something her best friend doesn’t always have). She initially declines Nick’s invitations because she “doesn’t date the boss,” she’s self-sufficient, doesn’t allow men to disrespect her and saves her best friend from ending up in a strip club for the rest of her life. In addition, she has sophisticated tastes like going to the ballet with her elder friend and eating lobster (in a very provocative manner!) But the best thing is that the film sends an encouraging message about following our dreams no matter how far-fetched and difficult they may seem.
In the end, I’m happy to report that I still found this film enjoyable.
What do you think of it?