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Summer of ’87: Dirty Dancing, Take One

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Summer of ‘87: Dirty Dancing, Take One

Shot in shaky black-and-white and presented in hypnotic stop-motion, the opening sequence of Emile Ardolino’s Dirty Dancing floods the screen with a whirring array of moving bodies. They’re clutching at one another in a slowed-down frenzy that is best described by the movie’s title (itself emblazoned across the screen in a daringly pink, lipstick-on-mirror font that later turned into a bankable logo). The pervading sense of uncorked voluptuousness—barely kept in check so as not to push the movie beyond its PG-13 realm—makes the scene play like a watered-down version of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, itself shot in the summer of 1963 (which is when Ardolino’s film takes place). As different as it can be from Smith’s Utopia of successful gender blur, Dirty Dancing nevertheless shares a crucial quality with Creatures…: namely, it’s a sexual reverie.

The plot unravels in a dear-diary mode of gentle recollection. When one Baby Houseman (Jennifer Grey) goes to a Catskills resort to spend her pre-college summer with her parents and annoying sister, she gets so much more than she could have possibly asked for. Instead of a quiet prelude to a fastidiously planned future (joining the Peace Corps; studying “economics of underdeveloped countries”; possibly giving a single-handed boost to the latter), the summer of ’63 proves to be a time of sexual awakening, combined with a crash course in applied class relations. Baby falls for a underprivileged dance instructor named Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), brings out the best in both him and herself, as well as recognizes the pettiness of those perched on the higher steps of the social ladder. When Johnny’s dancing partner Penny (Sylvia Rhodes) gets impregnated by a sleazy medical student named Robbie (Max Cantor), Baby not only recognizes his moral repugnancy (signified by a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead he wields), but also organizes a hasty abortion. After it’s botched, she turns to her doctor daddy (played by Jerry Orbach) for help and then spends the rest of the movie regaining his respect after having violated his trust (it’s him, after all, who had unwittingly paid for the procedure). And what better way for a dimpled babe to make up with her grumpy pops than to do a great dancing routine…? Ask Shirley Temple, she’ll tell you.

While seemingly a typical young adult story, the film is surprisingly levelheaded in its avoidance of agitation about matters of sex. Apart from the steamy dancing they practice together, Baby and Johnny have no coital scenes—those are always nipped out by a discreet cut—and not once are we forced to witness Baby being stereotypically smitten by her first lover’s assumed prowess. These kids are a pair of instantly mature lovers, enjoying sex without freaking out about it. They don’t need that old Blue Lagoon magic of naïve, touchy-feely discovery of orgasm as a revelatory experience—and even though the movie is willfully sappy in presenting their bond as unbreakable (if not downright sacred), this certainly isn’t a union in which the woman succumbs to the man as the sole provider of pleasure.

The movie is many things at once: a distaff coming-of-age story, a Marxist parable of dancing and sex as simultaneously class-reaffirming and class-leveling forces, a period piece, as well as a backstage musical, with an unwanted pregnancy enabling the aspiring performer to get her big break and shine (thus replacing the traditional 42nd Street ankle injury). Contrary to another celebrated generation gap musical—Bye Bye Birdie, shot the same year Baby’s adventures take place—Dirty Dancing is not a spoof of the early 1960s’ pop-fueled teen discontents, but rather a loving recreation of an era that’s deliberately rendered just this side of goofy. The Catskills resort itself, with Wayne Knight ostensibly fine-tuning his later Newman-cackle in the role of an outlandish barker-cum-emcee, seems like a funhouse image of lazy, exaggerated privilege. The cynical owner of the place (played by Jack Weston), as well as his reptilian princeling (Lonny Price) are mere ciphers, designed to provide a trial for Baby’s classless creed and moral resilience, both of which prove to be unbreakable.

The film’s oddest creation is by far Patrick Swayze’s Johnny. While there can be no doubt that this is Baby’s story (since the entire plot serves to vindicate her correct moral instincts), Johnny is a fascinating specimen of Frankenstein-like approach to patching a character together from assorted pieces of pop mythology. Athletic and forlorn, aloof yet affable, forever hinging at the cusp of gulp-inducing shirtlessness, Swayze is part Marlon Brando, part Conrad Birdie in the making. His looks are destined to make the audience swoon; his righteousness starts as abrasive (when he treats Baby with derision) and ends up being celebrated (when Baby’s dad apologizes to him for priggishly assuming he was the father of the aborted child). Johnny is presented as both victim of sex-starved older women he depends on and as a near-virgin (he’s been saving his heart, so to speak). He’s both experienced and pure: a perfect teenage-girl-fantasy construct. (It is in that context that Richard Kelly’s salient joke of casting Swayze as a smarmy charlatan-pedophile in Donnie Darko acquires its full flavor.) At the same time, there’s an unmistakable streak of James Dean-like pain in Johnny, who longs for fatherly acceptance and even confesses to Baby that he dreamed of her dad putting his arm around him.

Dirty Dancing proved apparently too much to handle for the dying Communist regime in Poland, and thus remained unreleased in this writer’s homeland until 1989, when people were already subconsciously preparing for a mambo danced upon the remnants of the Berlin wall, and the phrase “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” was about to acquire a new, ecstatic meaning. Rendered near-impossible to get into for me and my horny older friends by its Polish distributor’s suicidal title change (“Mom, can I go see Spinning Sex…?” is a don’t-try-this-at-home line if there ever was one), the film gained its second life within the burgeoning VHS-craze of the early Nineties.

The glow given off by Patrick Swayze’s fantasy incarnate—as silly as it is irresistible—has enveloped an entire generation and to this day is being referred to as a landmark of erotic assurance (except when it’s parodied as Ken-like narcissism, which was best proven by Ryan Gosling’s recent ironic homage in Crazy Stupid Love). Twenty-five years after its premiere, Dirty Dancing is still the ultimate, filth-free teenage dream of sex as a fiery fulfillment of the era-defining fantasy of making love, not war—which at the time of the film’s opening must have felt much more quaint than “dirty.”

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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