[27 September 2007]
Watching the Flashdance (1983) Special Collector’s Edition DVD will make anyone want to put on a pair of legwarmers and hit the dance floor. The movie, directed by Adrian Lyne, still resonates with a younger generation (especially now that big hair and leggings are back in style), and promotes the idea that anyone can succeed if they dance their way through all the rough times.
In essence, Flashdance follows the story of a typical working class protagonist struggling to achieve the American dream. The viewer’s first glimpse of Alex (Jennifer Beals) appropriately characterizes her: she is a welder, wearing a hard hat that covers her face, and for all we know she could be a man. However, when she takes the hat off we see (in slow motion) that she is a sexy young women, livin’ in the ‘80s.
This is our first understanding of the nature of gender and sexuality in the film. Alex (a purposefully sexually ambivalent name) does a “man’s job” during the day, and a “women’s job” at night. The same men who respect her as an equal during the day job go to Mawby’s Club and enjoy her as a sex object after hours.
Alex is determined to make it, and to find her way through dance, but to do so, she must exercise her independence as a women, as well as just exercise in general. The film is careful about finding a balance between Alex as a sex symbol and Alex as an independent individual. She herself doesn’t want to be appreciated only for her body, though the cinematography is such that the viewer is constantly being exposed to shots of Alex’s thighs and crotch, rendering her character as a sex object for the viewer despite the over-arching message of the movie.
Alex’s day job boss and love interest, Nick (Michael Nouri) has already followed and succeeded in the American dream, presumably because he is male. He is technically an authority figure to Alex, and seems to be a threat to her simply because of his gender. Though Alex succumbs to her sexual attraction to him, she insists on acting the conventional (and sometimes stereotypical) part of the male in their relationship. She hits him when they fight, wears suits to dinner as an outward expression of how she views her own gender (and then takes off the suit jacket to reveal the worst/ most amazing shirt that has ever been made—yet another reason for watching this movie) and she gives him flowers.
Alex’s insistence on not taking any help from a male is put to the test when Nick secures an audition for her at the ballet studio. By accepting this audition, despite the fact that she did not secure it on her own, Alex is in a way yielding to male authority and power. However, in order to not make submission to male authority the final understanding of gender relations in the movie, Alex ultimately makes the decision to audition as an homage to her old friend Hanna, thus attributing her success not to Nick, but to the memory of her dead friend.
We are left with the impression that upon her entrance to the ballet company, Alex is going to change the face of the seemingly stiff and routine world of ballet by introducing to the committee members the most ‘80s dance routine ever, in which Alex’s hair seems to be bigger than it ever was before. The dance helps the admissions committee break free from their conservative caricatures, and apparently they don’t notice the male, moustache-clad body double for Alex’s break dancing scene.
Like any good dance-a-thon, Flashdance is peppered with dance numbers throughout the movie (though it lacks a good angry dance à la Footloose and the more recent High School Musical 2). The dancing itself may be distinctively’80s, but unless you are a professional dancer yourself and know better moves, Alex’s dance routines make anyone sitting on the couch feel envious. Luckily, the DVD comes with a soundtrack, so after you watch the movie, you can re-live the whole thing.
The creators of this collector’s edition are aware of the fact that Flashdance might seem a little dated to current audiences, so they provide a “History of Flashdance” and “The Look of Flashdance” so that audiences are more familiar with the culture of the time. There is also a “Flashdance: The Choreography” extra, which I was a bit disappointed to find out was not in fact a step-by-step instructional dace routine, but is instead a in-depth account of how the dance numbers were created and performed.
Though it is a bit ridiculous how seriously the cast and crew involved in the movie take themselves (“Academy Award Winner” is printed boldly on the DVD box), it’s still nice to have some behind-the-scenes and making-of footage for a day when you have nothing else to do but sit back and learn every detail of how they got the water to fall from that bucket and look so good. And, ultimately, 26 years after it appeared in theatres, Flashdance, with its sexy dance routines, unforgettable inspirational dialogue (“You give up your dream, you die!”) and attempt at a statement on gender relations, is still so hot that you will need the contents of an entire bucket of water poured on you after you watch it.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/flashdance/