Saturday, May 11, 2013

The One That Started It All

Some 20 years ago (long before it was in the public eye thanks to Dancing With the Stars), a young Australian director made his feature film debut with a comedy set within the world of competitive ballroom dancing. Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom actually began life as a stage show when he was a student at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Australia and is, perhaps, his most personal. Baz's mother was a ballroom dancing instructor and Baz himself took lessons as a child. The lead character of Scott Hastings, the rebellious dancer that is tired of dancing by the rules and just wants to do his own brand of "flashy" moves, is very much a stand-in for Baz as a filmmaker. His own "flashy" style has since become his trademark. But the groundwork for all his future films can be found in that first film.

The Red Curtain Opening

It's fitting that the first film in his Red Curtain Trilogy would also begin with the shot of a red curtain rising. The theatricality of the films is presented right off the bat to make the audience aware that things are heightened–this isn't a kitchen sink drama. R+J, which has more of an MTV style starts off with its own version of a curtain rising: a television set being turned on.

Star-Crossed Lovers From the Wrong Side of the Tracks

Let's face it–Baz Luhrmann is a big ol' romantic at heart. Every single one of his films is about Love. And they all involve 2 people from different backgrounds(it could never work out!), that somehow fall in love. In Ballroom, Scott is a golden boy who's been a champion his whole life and Fran is the ugly duckling from a poorer family that shows Scott that "A life lived in fear is a life half lived." (I didn't even plan it, but the couples are all lovingly coupled on the same side as well. Man, when picks a theme he really goes with it.)

Rendezvous on Logo-Adorned Rooftops

Scott and Fran have rehearsals (and the start of their romantic feelings) on the top of a roof with a glittering Coca-Cola sign. You have to admit, it's a pretty romantic setting. The advertisement for love even found its way into an actual commercial when Baz directed Nicole Kidman in a Chanel No 5 ad. And it's not just limited to his films, as the look also found its way into his Broadway production of the opera, La Boheme. 
Covers of Pop Songs

Music has been a constant presence in Baz's films, as important to his vision as quick cuts and sweeping overhead shots of cities. And Strictly Ballroom is no different. As Scott and Fran begin their dance rehearsals (cue the montage!), Cyndi Lauper's popular "Time After Time" plays. But, it's not Cyndi's version. The song in the film is actually sung by the actress who plays Fran, Tara Morice. Baz would also have his leading lady sing a cover of another song of an 80s pop princess–when Nicole sings "Material Girl" in Moulin Rouge! And that wasn't the only song to get the Baz cover treatment. The disco song "Love Is in the Air" was used in the film and and released as a single in Australia.  R+J, whose soundtrack may be more popular than the film, featured covers of Prince's "When Doves Cry" and the disco song "Young Hearts Run Free". And his latest film, The Great Gatsby, features Beyonce doing a cover of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black".

Dance Scenes With Crazy Costumes


The dance scenes may not be as raucous as the party scenes in the later films. But all the glitz, glamour, and excess where all there from the beginning. Just look at the bangs on Scott's dance partner!  You thought those early 90s bangs couldn't get any worse...and then they put rhinestones on them. The feathers! The shine! Baz established the outrage looks very early on. But, the Capulets, Harold Zidler, and Jay Gatsby wouldn't have their lavish parties if it wasn't for a some ballroom dancers and their love of outfits as big and bold as their bangs!

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