Tuesday, October 17, 2023



[Back in 2018, there was a social media challenge on Facebook in which a person posted a picture a day for 10 days of 10 films that made an impact on them. However, I went a step beyond and posted an explanation as to why they made that impact. For the sake of posterity, they're being reposted here in their entirety (with some modification/update where warranted)]:

Day 6 of 10 movies that had an impact on me. 10 films that inspired you, 10 days, one image. I was nominated for this challenge by Andrew Baldwin. If you want to participate…what?...today should have been day “8”? What happened to days “6” and “7”, you ask? Hey, no one said nuthin’ ‘bout it havin’ to be consecutive….


There are some common themes in my previous selections, but this one is different. To paraphrase another film, as far as I can remember I always wanted to be a dancer. Actually, that’s a misstatement because “wanted to be” implies a conscious choice. It was something I already was. According to my parents and people who knew from birth, it seemed I could naturally boogie right out of the womb. When I discovered Tom Jones, I would emulate his performances using my bed as a stage with a disconnected tape recorder mike in hand. So when John Travolta’s “Tony Monero” exploded on the pop culture scene in his now-and-still-iconic white suit, I had to see it. While the women (and some men) were screaming for the sex symbol Travolta had become almost overnight (“Welcome Back, Kotter” notwithstanding), my eight-year-old self was enraptured by the dance. To subsequent generations, the music and styles may seem the height of cheese, but dancers GET IT. Life is movement, movement is life, and dance is its ultimate expression. The music and the moves made me come alive inside. The electrifying soundtrack fronted by the Bee Gees and including the likes of Kool & The Gang and Miami's own KC & The Sunshine Band (which was only used in post; Travolta and the other actors were dancing to Motown standards during filming) was the highest grossing of all time until Prince's "Purple Rain” and is inextricable from the film.

However, that same little person wouldn’t get much of the narrative or its motifs until he got older; themes that would run parallel to his own life in many ways: Dance as an escape from a dreary existence; the longing for something more (in common with other films on my list); the quest for an identity, the desire for respect in a world that withholds same; the realization that the party can’t last forever, where one has to dismiss the superficial and be stripped to their essence to see what is there and determine what comes next. When the (dancer’s) high is gone and all one’s left is an empty dance floor…to borrow a song lyric, “[o]h, yeah, life goes on…long after the thrill…of living is gone.”  

The film is dismissed in many circles as schlock, but that’s mostly due to aesthetics. For all its party atmosphere, it’s a particularly deep piece of cinema dealing with very adult conflicts. It’s a time capsule of its period, but its story, and the issues it tackles, are timeless. It’s a difficult coming-of-age story with no real resolution (let’s just pretend the Sylvester Stallone-directed '83 follow up never happened). But in the backdrop of life's capriciousness, there is the momentary, unbridled joy brought about by the dance. The film posits that it may be transitory, but that is what makes it all the more powerful and exultant.

This image is so iconic that the film’s title need not be mentioned.* Suffice it to say, in December, 1977 in a movie theater on a Saturday night, I was struck with a fever; and you know what?

I didn’t want to be cured.

*Except in this article’s title, natch. 

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