Strictly Ballroom (1992)

strictly ballroom

“Listen to the rhythm. Don’t be scared.”

The Scoop: 1992 PG, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice and Bill Hunter.

Tagline: A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.

Summary Capsule: Romantic comedy was never so surreal, so Australian, or so sequinned.

Louise’s rating: Fife out of Fife ‘Dance With Barry Fife’ Videos.

Louise’s review: I truly believe this film to be a 90s classic, a dance/musical classic and an Australian cinema classic. The first of Baz Luhrmann’s so-called Red Curtain Trilogy, Strictly Ballroom is a romantic, gently satirical story set in the bizarre and grotesque world of competitive amateur ballroom dancing.

Scott Hastings is an arrogant young dancer, who has been training since he was a child to win the Pan Pacific Latin-American Amateur Dance Champion Grand Prix competition (the ‘Pan Pacifics’ to its friends, and I think that’s the correct full name…). Scott has the looks, the talent, the sequinned suits, the partner; but he is bored with the steps he knows, and wants to come up with his own flashy, crowd-pleasing choreography. Perhaps beginner dancer Fran can offer an alternative to toeing the established line of the Australian Dance Foundation (not to mention its sweaty-lipped president Barry Fife)? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

During the course of the story, Scott learns that he has much still to learn about dancing, love, family history and being brave enough to follow his dreams. Fran has the, nay, *the* most obvious duck-to-swan transformation ever seen in motion pictures. Our dancing lovers have a wonderful, beautiful training montage set to the song ‘Time After Time.’ It’s all good.

Rewatching Strictly Ballroom, I am struck by the storytelling tools employed by Luhrmann – the mockumentary of the opening scenes, the bright colours, the surrealism (for example, the moment when Scott’s partner Liz makes a wish and it happens immediately, complete with a choir of angels), the over-the-top characters and the digs at the silliness of ballroom dancing, its costume, make-up, competitiveness, rules and jargon. Luhrmann’s films are always very stylized, which makes for a rather overwhelming experience. Strictly Ballroom is not as exhaustingly edited, dubbed or computer-generated as Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet, in fact compared with them it is very gentle and naturalistic, but I can definitely see how some themes and situations from this first movie developed in his later work. Scott’s teachers and family encourage him to renounce Fran and his own style of dancing in a way that is similar to Zidler’s attempts to steer Satine away from Christian in MR.

There is a fascinating juxtaposition of love and beauty with ordinary, humdrum or disappointing life. They call that ‘bathos’, kids. I’m particularly thinking of the classic/famous moment when Scott and Fran dance on the roof in the sunset, but instead of the Eiffel Tower, there are only the flat roofs of a shabby suburb, and instead of the moon, there is a massive glittery Coca-Cola sign. It breaks the romantic movie spell, but it’s also funny and makes you smile, and it’s still a romantic moment. As in, a hopelessly romantic moment. Ah, we say, love among the bins.

A life lived in fear of tans, teeth, glitter, shameless fairytale plots, laughs, sentiment and some odd acting, is truly a life half-lived.

And that’s just the guys… Na, just kidding! Ladies, you look beautiful. Keep shining.

 Intermission:

  • What happened to the mockumentary? Was it just forgotten about?
  • Fun Fact: Louise can never watch the scene where Scott and Fran first dance in front of Fran’s family. She is so embarrassed for them she has to fast-forward it.
  • Look! They’re selling videos! Videos! Remember them?
  • Props to our Aussie friends out there. Guys, your accent is inherently awesome. Everything you say sounds funny, especially “bogo pogo”.
  • Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice (Scott and Fran) went on to have careers mainly in Australian television. However, Tara had an important role in Oranges and Sunshine in 2010 and apparently played a lady of the night in Moulin Rouge as well.
  • The soundtrack is cracking. Notable tracks include Doris Day’s ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’, the ‘Blue Danube’, ‘Happy Feet’, ‘Love is in the Air’ and, of course, ‘Time After Time.’
  • Big signs, like the Coca-Cola sign in Strictly Ballroom, recur in Luhrmann’s work. Think about Christian’s room in Moulin Rouge, Marcello and Rodolfo’s flat in his production of La Boheme, and the optician billboard in his upcoming Great Gatsby.

Groovy Dialogue:

Various cast members: Bogo Pogo!

Fran: A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.

Scott: I’m bored with it!
Shirley: I don’t believe I’m hearing this! I’ve been with your father for twenty-five years. Do you think I ever get bored? Of course I do!

Kylie: A bit of musicality, please!

Liz: What do I want? I’ll tell you what I want. I want Ken Railings to walk in here right now and say, “Pam Short’s broken both her legs and I want to dance with you.”
Ken: Pam’s broken both her legs, and I want to dance with you.
Kylie: That was unexpected.

Doug: We lived our lives in fear.

Barry Fife: A Pan Pacific Champion becomes a hero, a guiding light to all dancers, someone who’ll set the right example.

Scott: The rumba is a dance of love. Look at me like you’re in love.

If you enjoyed this film, try:

  • William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Dirty Dancing

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