Monday, November 8, 2010

Dirty Dancing: You Know You Love It

Last week I finally talked about the musical of musicals.  Now it's time to talk about the '80s movie of '80s movies...or at least to every girl alive in 1987.  It's "Dirty Dancing" today!

Do I even really need to talk about the plot?  I know you all know it...and love it!  (Come on, even you guys do too.  Admit it.)  Described by some as "'Star Wars' for girls," "Dirty Dancing" stars Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in their most memorable and profitable roles ever, as Johnny Castle and Frances "Baby" Houseman, respectively.  It's the summer of 1963, and young Baby is spending it in the Catskills with her family.  While there, she meets Johnny, a roughneck dance instructor.  When she steps in to help Johnny and his partner out of a jam, love blooms.  But can they truly be together on opposite sides of the track?

This story came about from some of screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein's own experiences.   She herself grew up going to the Catskills with her doctor father and family.  She was also nicknamed "Baby," which everyone used until she was about 22.  And she loves dancing, especially dirty dancing, even participating in competitions.  She came up with the idea for "Dirty Dancing" after writing "It's My Turn" (1980) for Michael Douglas and the late Jill Clayburn after having a scene cut from the script, a dancing scene.  After shopping the script around Hollywood for a long time, the small production company Vestron finally picked it up.  "Dancing" was given a small budget of $4 million and two months for rehearsal and filming, a mighty task for such a physical picture.

As for the leads, the producers really wanted actors who could actually dance so they didn't have to shoot stand-in shots.  ("Dancing with the Stars" had not been created yet so the choices were slimmer.)  Grey, the daughter of Broadway star Joel Grey, was a perfect fit for Baby.  She was already trained, and she could pass for 17, even though she was 26.  At first, Billy Zane was chosen for the part of Johnny, but the chemistry just wasn't there between the two.  (Also, he wasn't the best dancer.)  They decided to bring Swayze in, who was classically trained in dance, and the chemistry between Grey and him was perfect.  Unfortunately, Grey and Swayze didn't get along well off-screen, after working together on "Red Dawn" (1984), but they reconciled and put the past behind them for the film (which they had to remind themselves about a couple of times throughout the filming).

When the cast was set, they all left for Mountain Lake Resort in Virginia in August 1986.  After only two weeks of rehearsals, filming began, and it definitely wasn't easy.  Summer was almost over so they needed to work fast.  Unfortunately, the weather was not in their favor, with lots of rain and temperatures in the 100s.  Then it dropped to the 40s, and autumn leaves had to be painted green as they changed.  Because the weather drew the schedule on, the infamous practice scene in the lake wasn't shot until October.  By that time, the lake was freezing.  Grey and Swayze were both professional and did their job, but director Emile Ardolino couldn't get any close-ups of the two because their lips were turning blue.  But they got it all done, and much to everyone's surprise (the producers figured the film would be a flop and were ready to release it on VHS after opening weekend), "Dirty Dancing" was a huge success, making over $170 million, one of the highest grossing films of 1987.  It then went on to create two multi-platinum albums from its soundtrack.  And it became the first ever VHS to sell a million copies.

I remember watching this movie for the first time when I was a kid.  It was at a sleepover and of course, being the huge romantic that I already was at ten years of age, I fell in love with it - you know, just like every other girl back then.  I bought the soundtrack and listened to it over and over, and it wasn't even their first album.  It was the second one released called "More Dirty Dancing."  One thing I do remember vividly about watching this movie, though, was how rebellious I thought I was being.  This was definitely the most sexually charged film I had ever seen at that time.  And honestly, I don't think I quite got the abortion bit of the plot at first.  I was only ten, for crying out loud.  But since then, it has always remained in my favorites, no matter how cheesy it seemed at times.  It was always great to me.

One of those reasons is most likely the music.  The songs made the picture, as well as the dancing.  I still listen to "Hungry Eyes" and "She's Like the Wind" to this day.  And "(I Had) The Time of My Life" is still part of my friends' karaoke catalog.  "She's Like the Wind," the great song written and sung by Patrick Swayze himself, was actually not written for "Dancing."  He and his song cowriter Stacy Widelitz had written it for another Swayze film a few years earlier, "Grandview, USA" (1984), but it was never used.  So "Dancing"s music supervisor Jimmy Ienner decided it fit perfectly in this flick.  As for choosing the famous finale song, choreographer Kenny Ortega (who would later direct the "High School Musical" films) listened to hundreds of demo cassette tapes looking for just the right song.  On literally the last tape, he finally came across "Time of My Life" and knew it was a perfect fit.  It went on to win both the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Original Song, as well as a Grammy.

So, break out those moves you practiced in your bathroom mirror and watch "Dirty Dancing" again this week!  Have a great week, everyone, and I'll be back Friday with more great trivia tidbits and suggestions.

(Post-tidbit:  "Dirty Dancing" was re-released into theaters in 1997, the 10th anniversary.  Guess who was kind of responsible for that - Conan O'Brien!  He started asking his viewers to write a petition for the re-release.  After it was in theaters, O'Brien joked that he really didn't like the film after all.  Oh, Coco...)

1 comment:

  1. I'm watching Dirty Dancing with my little girl. She loves it as much as I do!!!