When my husband saw the cover of Strictly Ballroom after it arrived in the mail, he groaned. He thought I had ordered a video on how to ballroom dance. Now that we have watched the movie together (it only took a little bit of arm-twisting on my part), he is singing a different tune.
Strictly Ballroom combines the not-so-new tales of star-crossed lovers: the ugly duckling, and up-and-coming youth against stalwart tradition. Australian dancer, Scott Hastings (professional dancer Paul Mercurio), finds himself at odds with the Australian Dance Federation as he longs to dance with freedom and spontaneity, including dance steps forbidden by the Federation. He longs to win the coveted Australian Pan Pacific Championships but his chances are grim when his partner leaves him for someone willing to toe the conventional line. Ugly duckling Fran (Tara Morice) volunteers to follow his lead as they blaze a path toward non-conformity.
In spite of the familiarity of the basic plotline, I found myself glued to the screen as we watched the dancing and unfolding drama. Somehow this movie manages to combine the familiar melodramatic struggle of youth against entrenched traditions and ideas with a comedic twist that will draw us to this movie again and again.
Baz Luhrman uses artful cinematography to maintain visual interest and heighten the emotional intensity of the movie. While there were times I thought the camera work made it harder to follow and enjoy the dance steps of the performers, overall, the richness of the scenery and the flash and sparkle of the costumes added to the movie’s overall appeal.
The DVD’s extras include a documentary about dance called “Samba to Slow Fox” (1986, 30 minutes). In it we get a look behind-the-scenes at actual dance competitions, a view that we necessarily witness in Dancing with the Stars.
Baz Luhrmann; Catherine Martin, production designer and co-costumer; and choreographer John “Cha Cha” O’Connell provide insightful audio commentary. Who would have known that Luhrmann’s mother was a ballroom dance teacher? In the “design gallery,” we get to see pictures of Baz in his own competitive dancing days.
While the moral of the movie (“A life lived in fear is a life half-lived”) is communicated a bit heavy-handedly, the point is still a good one. I’ve never laughed so hard while learning a moral like this one.