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Flashdance (A Video Review)

Updated: Jul 27, 2023


Starring Jennifer Beals, Michael Nouri, Lilia Skala, Sunny Johnson, Kyle T. Heffner, Lee Ving, Ron Karabatsos, Belinda Bauer, Malcolm Danare, Phil Bruns, Micole Mercurio, Lucy Lee Flippin, Don Brockett, Cynthia Rhodes, Durga McBroom, Stacey Pickren, Bob Harks, Liz Sagal, Robert Wuhl, Matt Landers and Marine Jahan.

Screenplay by Tom Hedley and Joe Eszterhas.

Directed by Adrian Lyne.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 97 minutes. Rated R.

There are certain movies that just take you back to a certain time in history.

Take Flashdance. Even though it wasn’t all that great a film, just slipping on this latest video reissue of this film is like taking a time machine to the summer of 1983.

37 years on, it’s hard to remember what an out-of-the-blue phenomenon Flashdance was, particularly for a film with no real stars. Michael Nouri was the big name here, for goodness sake, and while it looked like the film would turn Jennifer Beals into a superstar, that never panned out. While she has worked fairly steadily ever since, mostly in supporting roles, Beals never captured the superstardom predicted for her.

However, for about six months to a year, Flashdance sort of ruled popular culture. This tiny little film became the third biggest film hit of 1983, scoring a box-office take of $90,463,574. (Remember, this was in 1983 dollars, which was a pretty huge draw.)

Flashdance redefined fashion. Suddenly, women were wearing leggings and strategically cut-up inside-out sweatshirts everywhere you looked. The film was also on top of the hip-hop beat, being one of the first movies to show kids breakdancing on city streets (though that craze was considerably smaller than people believe these days.)

Most importantly, its music was the soundtrack of that summer. Most of the women I knew at the time had the Flashdance soundtrack taking up permanent residence in their car tape decks. The film spawned two number one singles – though interestingly like the film’s cast, these came from lesser-known artists.

The title track – “Flashdance… What a Feeling” – was sung by Irene Cara, who was better known as an actress, though she did have two hit singles from her 1980 movie Fame. Michael Sembello was a total unknown, and ended up being a one-hit-wonder for his song “Maniac,” which was a remake of an older song he had written about a homicidal killer (“He’s a maniac on the prowl”) whose lyrics were changed to fit in to the storyline of Flashdance.

There were a few early 80s hitmakers whose songs made it onto the Flashdance soundtrack, like Laura Branigan, Kim Carnes and Donna Summer – but most of the other songs were by the long-forgotten likes of Shandi, Karen Kamon, Joe “Bean” Esposito and Cycle V – pretty much the high points in most of these artists’ careers. (Joe “Bean” Esposito did have a bigger hit later in his career with the Brenda Russell duet “Piano in the Dark,” as well as another soundtrack favorite with “You’re the Best” from The Karate Kid.)

The Flashdance album pretty much kicked off the 1980s soundtrack boom and was arguably the first time that a soundtrack record entirely created such a buzz for a movie and made it a hit. (Other earlier soundtracks like Saturday Night Fever, Xanadu and Fast Times at Ridgemont High did help with the box-office draws of their films, but there were always other factors that led to the film’s popularity as well.)

So, beyond the soundtrack, how does Flashdance hold up 37 years later?

Well, it was always a bit of a schizophrenic little story, so I guess you get out of it what you bring in. (It was, after all, cowritten by legendary schlockmeister Joe Eszterhas of Basic Instinct and Showgirls fame.) Just the concept in general was always kind of ridiculous – Alex (Beals) works as an industrial welder by day and a soft-core lingerie dancer by night, but she really wants to be a ballerina.

She works at Mawby’s, a Pittsburgh joint that must be one of the oddest places ever. It is a blue-collar dive bar that just happens to have a stage that is nicer than many small theaters, which includes a catwalk, revolving scenery, sophisticated lighting, wind and water effects, even props. The “flashdancers” do wildly elaborate interpretive dances for the wildly cheering Joe-Six-pack bar regulars, occasionally getting down to lingerie, but never stripping.

You can’t help but wonder how Mawby’s stays in business and the dancers survive. The dancers do not appear to get tips and unless the place was charging a hellacious cover charge, which seems doubtful with their clientele, it’s hard to imagine them making enough on beer to pay for four-to-six dancers to be working at a time.

Interestingly, it works better as a time capsule than it did when it was brand new, although there are some definite elements that have aged poorly.

For example, the whole subplot of Alex’s boss at the steel mill basically stalking her until she agreed to date him feels a little awkward in the #MeToo era. In fact, they even had a scene where Alex tells the guy (played by Michael Nouri) she can’t date the boss, and he says, “You’re fired. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 8:00.” It was a joke, and even a fairly funny one, but it does show how much society has changed in 37 years.

Also outdated were the scenes with Richie (Kyle T. Heffner), the cook who dreams of becoming a standup comic. He had no shot, his jokes were awful, and he laughed hysterically at his own punchlines. Also, almost all his repertoire was a series of Polish jokes, which were about a decade outdated even in 1983. I get that was the point, he was such a bad comedian that he thought his material was fresh. However, it still feels a little weird hearing it with modern ears.

However, it is unfair to expect a film from 1983 to be woke to the mores of 2020.

The film also has one of the most cringe-worthy film shots of the 1980s, of a dance academy judge blowing his nose in time to the music – though that one was an embarrassment even when the movie was new.

Still, like I said earlier, Flashdance works better as nostalgia than it does as a film. As such, if you keep it as a time capsule, some of the film’s flaws are easier to overlook. And they get extra coolness points for hiring punk singer Lee Ving of Fear in the villain role of the cocky owner of a nearby strip club.

Flashdance sometimes also tried too hard – the updated Tom Jones scene where Alex erotically eats lobster in a crowded restaurant comes immediately to mind – but that just shows the movie’s plucky underdog aesthetic. Just like its lead character, Flashdance is sweet and innocently naughty and just begging for attention. And it is the closest you are going to get to time-travelling back to 1983.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: May 18, 2020.

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