A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Strictly Ballroom

July 1, 2010

Strictly Ballroom

It’s been a long time since I last saw this Baz Luhrmann piece of fluff. Several years at least. What’s odd, watching it again tonight, is how instantly I feel as though I’m coming back to an old familiar friend. This movie isn’t like Spaceballs or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I haven’t watched it so many times that I have the whole thing memorised. Still, it’s such a charming and simple story, and told with such flare and panache, that seeing it again is a load of fun.

Strictly Ballroom is the story of Scott Hastings, an amateur ballroom dance competitor who’s on his way to the Pan Pacific Grand Prix. Everybody knows it’s his year to win. Especially his demanding mother Shirley and his instructor Liz. The problem is that Scott is no longer interested in dancing the stilted, carefully prescribed steps of competition dance. He wants to dance his own moves. Much to the chagrin of his partner, his mother, everybody in the dance circuit and most especially League President Barry Fife.

From there on its a predictable and delightful dance. His partner dumps him because he insists on using his new steps. He starts to secretly dance with pretty-ugly girl Fran, who has been dancing by her lonesome at Liz’s studio. Scott meets Fran’s disapproving father. Ultimately he has to decide which is more important to him: winning the competition or dancing from his heart.

But all that’s not important. It’s not the story that drives the movie. It’s all about Baz Luhrmann and his directorial style. From the tone of parody established at the very beginning of the movie with close up shots of the chief villains using wide angle lenses to make them appear all distorted to the exiting ending set to the strains of Love is in the Air. Then there are the lengthy dancing montages – Scott and Fran dancing on the studio roof and the two of them dancing the night away with Fran’s father and grandmother. There’s a great flashback that is told in a sort of interpretive dance segment with voice over.

It’s also a very tightly edited film. There’s all the dancing of course, which must have been miles of footage to wrangle. But there is also the deft way the montages are put together, and the way the editing is used almost as a character in the movie to deliver punchlines. Frequently a scene or character will be introduced by a bit of dialog that leads directly to the next bit. They use that same gag at least three times in the film, and it’s good for a quick laugh every time.

They must have had some interesting camera rigs as well. One of the shots used over and over to get into the dancer’s head is a close up of their face as they whirl about the dance floor. I’m guessing they had some kind of whirling turntable that the actors could pose on with the camera right up in front of them, because no steadycam operator could keep up such a smooth shot of a moving person.

I find it odd, in a movie that is all about dancing, that IMDB doesn’t have the credit for the film’s choreographer John “Cha Cha” O’Connell. I’m not a dancer so I can’t speak to how good the dancing is from a technical standpoint, but I can say that the performances are fantastic. It’s easy to believe that these characters are caught up in the music and have been taken over by the dancing. It helps that Baz lets the music have some character as well. The stodgy and scripted dancing is introduced using a particularly slow and grinding rendition of the Blue Danube, which is contrasted to Fran and Scott dancing later on to Cindi Lauper’s Time After Time.

In general the movie very clearly has a theme of youthful exuberance triumphing over conservative stonewalling. And with such wonderful directing, choreography, and dancing you can’t help but be swept up in it all. Not a deep movie, but a satisfyingly familiar one.

July 1, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,


  1. You are the first person I’ve met (well sort of met, you get the picture) that has seen this movie! I love this movie. It was my go-to film my last few years in college. Every time I needed something to watch but nothing was on, in went Strictly Ballroom. Great to read this post!

    Comment by Trisha | July 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Seriously? I find that odd. I think of Baz Luhrmann as a big time director what with his Romeo + Juliet and his Moulan Rouge, so I kind of assumed that most people had seen Strictly Ballroom as well. Maybe it’s that when this came out I was living with my sister who is a professional ballerina, so it was a huge hit amongst her friends.

      As always I do hope that people reading my blog will read my positive reviews and go out and see the movies they haven’t seen already, so maybe those folks out there who haven’t discovered this movie yet will now give it a chance.

      Comment by tanatoes | July 2, 2010 | Reply

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