Friday, June 24, 2011

I Don't Gotta Cut Loose...

I saw the trailer for the remake of Footloose yesterday. It looks truly awful, and not just in comparison with the 1984 Kevin Bacon classic, which, I must confess, I loved as a pre-teen boy. Judging by the trailer, this new version just has all the earmarks of an objectively bad movie. It’s hard to justify an overall impression of that sort. The first minute or so of the trailer is full of melodrama, a lot of uncomfortably close camera work, and disorienting fluctuations in lighting. It looks simultaneously like a completely formulaic teen comedy, and a completely formulaic teen dance movie, which apparently is a genre unto itself now. However, if you didn’t notice any of these things on your first viewing of the trailer, you probably won’t sense them much more clearly after I’ve pointed them out.

But it’s that dance movie formula, which becomes particularly evident at the 1:20 mark, which gives me something distinct and analyzable to criticize. It shows a scene that presumably takes place somewhere in the middle of the movie, wherein a rather absurd number of teenagers are dancing in a large parking lot, and not merely shuffling and swaying, but showcasing rigorous choreography and acrobatics. So apparently, in this modern update of the town of Bomont, dancing by young people is outlawed, but all young people residing in the town are trained dancers, and they all still dance in spite of the law. Got that?

But then that looks even more ridiculous when you rewind to the first seconds of the trailer, and see a bunch of kids dancing at the party that led to the deaths that set the stage for the dancing ban. In that case, they all appear to be dancing by simply jumping in place – that is, dancing the way normal teenagers do. So in light of the apparent weird discrepancy, Bomont is actually a place where a few kids died in a car crash, the town outlawed dancing, but teenagers continued to dance for the three years of the ban, and got really, really good at it. Sensible plotline.

And that’s just it really. The final moments of the trailer also feature the female lead being pushed out of the way of a speeding train and a school bus exploding with two characters leaping into the air in the foreground. I get the impression that they’ve done about all they can to strip the film of any pretense of believability. The original was not a science fiction film; it required a fairly modest suspension of disbelief, and all of the events plausibly could have happened in the real world. The new version apparently sees no value in making a realistic drama inside of which the viewing audience can easily see itself.

This plays into the post that I made recently about analysis versus escapism, and may well say something about changing approaches to filmmaking and film viewing. When I watched the 1984 film and was not yet an adolescent myself, I cast myself into imagining what it would be like to be in the setting of the film. Bomont was not like any place that I was likely to live, but reactionary social pressures are real in every time and place, and with that as the antagonist, Kevin Bacon’s character was something to admire. I could watch him leaping across the screen and fighting his rival for the girl’s affections and think that if I kept up my martial arts training, then I too would be able to perform his feats of strength and agility. (I haven’t quite lived up to those ideals, admittedly.) I could watch him speaking before the town council and think that his conviction in the face of overwhelming opposition was something I should emulate as I grew up. But it was possible to identify with that character, because when the music kicked it, it wasn’t a stage play with three dozen hand-picked extras all with four years of modern dance and seven of jazz-tap, it was just a physically fit, outgoing guy dancing in the company of his friends. Not so with today’s version, or with any of a number of movies just like it.

I imagine that any child or adolescent who watches this sort of movie nowadays must be either so seriously deluded that he thinks that with a little work he can be talented enough, cool enough, and good-looking enough to join in with the crowd depicted on the screen, or so personally detached from the entertainment that he’s only interested in the spectacle, consciously recognizing no themes of personal significance underlying it.

When I heard about the remake of Footloose in the first place, I wondered, why on Earth does this need to be remade at all? What relevance has it really lost in the two-and-a-half decades since the original was made? Now that I’ve seen the trailer, I wonder, why on Earth was it remade like this? But on the other hand, it has at least answered part of my original questions. Apparently, the relevance that has been lost is the very presence of any relevance at all in the original.

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