Sunday, August 16, 2015

Strictly Ballroom

Directed by
Baz Luhrmann
Written by Baz Luhrmann, Andrew Bovell, Craig Pierce
Starring Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter, Pat Thomson, Gia Carides
IMDB Entry

Some film careers take off like a rocket, only to fizzle out.  For a while, Baz Luhrmann looked to be a great new film talent, and this was clear from his first feature, Strictly Ballroom.

It’s about Scott Hastings (Peul Mercurio), a ballroom dancer trying to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix.*  Scott has his own idea about how things should be danced, which angers the traditionalist judges, who look disdainfully on “crown-pleasing steps.”  Fed up, his partner Liz Holt (Gia Carides) leaves him for another partner several weeks before the competition.  He tries to find a new partner, and is drawn toward Fran (Tara Morice), who had no experience in ballroom.

She does have experience in dancing, however, and introduces some new – and unconventional -- steps to Scott.  But the steps are not strictly ballroom, and Scott wonders if he’s made the right choice.

While the arc of the story is hardly new, but the movie is fascinating from start to finish.  Luhrmann’s style is distinct even in his first time:  quick cuts, visually striking people, and a general operatic style.  The movie originated from a stage play written by him when he was a student, and went through several incarnations before becoming a film’'; Luhrmann insisted he direct.

From this, he went on the direct Romeo+Juliet, a brassy and wonderful Shakespeare adaptation.**  Next was Moulin Rouge, a bravura tragedy.  All three films share the same operatic sensibility.

Luhrmann made movies more sporadically, concentrating on theater and opera.  His Australia is a overlong epic*** and Great Gatsby was a modest success.

But this is where he began, and it clearly showed a strong visual sensibility coupled with some high drama.

*Despite its grandiose name, the even seems to be pretty small time.

**One of the few that figured out to improve on the original.  In Shakespeare, Romeo discovers Juliet is dead and drinks poison in his grief.  Juliet wakes up a few minutes later.  Luhrmann changed the play so that Juliet wakes just as Romeo is dying; he sees her face before the poison fully takes hold.  Far more dramatic.

***Almost a double feature: one movie takes two hours, and the second one takes another hour.

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