Dirty Dancing

March 21, 2011

My daughters and I settled in to our home cinema to continue our Patrick Swayzee marathon. The Patrick Swayzee marathon began for the purpose of their cultural education, and in particular to rectify their ignorance concerning references to Patrick Swayzee’s ghost (made by the comedian Ross Nobel in an hilarious send-up of the movie Ghost), and the origins of “Time of My Life (dirty bits)” by the Black Eyed Peas.

It’s an entertaining exercise to ponder over the re-emergence of retro-, popular film and television, and the shape that the re-emergence takes. Why do some scenes in movies become iconic? Is it possible to tell which scenes from modern cinema will become iconic in their turn? Isn’t it funny that children use lines from movies that have become iconic without having experienced the original scene! I think Bakhtin had something to say about the propensity of language to re-emerge with new meaning. One does not have to have seen Dirty Harry before being entitled to use the phrase, “Make my day!” It has been appropriated within modern vernacular. A speaker who appropriates the phrase, “Make my day”, will notice its social force upon the listener, and in turn the effect upon him or herself. The phrase has a cultural “weight”. The speaker is signified  as cool or in control or somehow cleverer than the person it is addressed to because its iconic (and because there is no come-back!)

I hadn’t seen Dirty Dancing since it came out in the eighties and was sceptical as to whether it would measure up to my children’s exacting standards. My children are now 18, 16, 14 and 11. To my delight, they and I enjoyed the movie. My daughters thought Jennifer Grey played a delightful ‘Baby’.

“Oh she is soooo sweet”, they crooned.

Baby is very cute when she first enters the dirty dancing room carrying a watermelon, when she rehearses the dance steps by herself all day and when she stands up to her father. Patrick is hot! and the older girls appreciated that. There was enough of a build up throughout the movie, to be absolutely blown away by the final dance. It’s totally a feel-good movie!

It affected Rosie (my 16 year old) the most. She has downloaded the original sound track and wants her own copy of the movie to show all of her girlfriends. Her favorite scene was the “Baby, Oh Baby” song when they are rehearsing together and miming to each other. I’d forgotten this bit. It’s girly fantasy in its essence and Rosie is at the right age to dream.

Emma (the 14 year old) identified another cultural reference to add to my growing list of points towards their cultural education:

Patrick’s character said, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”

“OMG”, said Emma, “That’s something you say! I never knew where it came from”. Emma was delighted to have been enlightened (and also thoroughly amused that she had heard the phrase often without knowing its origins). She laughed.

I hadn’t heard the phase used in a modern context. In a reciprocal sense, Emma was educating me.

Another reverse-educative consequence of the whole project has been my appreciation of The Black Eyed Pea’s version of the song. Since my children have understood and appreciated its origins there was no need for me to stay on my high horse. Now occasionally Rosie appropriates my kitchen ipod speakers and plays the original sound track; Sally plays her Black Eyed peas album including the cover version; and we dance and sing around the kitchen to both. (Sally has a particular skill in doing hilarious moves to the rap bits. She has us all in stitches!)


To my surprise the children and I enjoyed Ghost. I had forgotten that it was full of intrigue, suspense and comedy!

The highlight of the movie for my children was overwhelmingly Whoopie Goldberg’s performance. Watching it through their eyes and experiencing their reactions made me appreciate Whoopie more than I did when I watched it way back on its release. My memory of her in Ghost had been scant, and condensed into the scene when Patrick commands her body. I had awkwardly been anticipating this scene but it was pulled off as credible in the context of the movie.

Another highlight for my children was the pottery scene before his death.

“OMG”, said Kat, “they do that scene on Family Guy!” Apparently on Family Guy there is a scene where Peter gets a massage by Demi and Patrick and his back turns into pottery…

“Very good”, said I feeling as though I was adequately performing my parental role as custodian of cultural knowledge, “more cultural references that you now understand!” I added Peter’s pottery massage to the comedian Ross Noble’s on-stage encounter with Patrick Swayzee’s ghost on my growing list of points towards their cultural education. The next one had to be an appreciation of the original sound track ahead of the cover version of Time of My Life.

Before discussing their reactions to Dirty Dancing, I would like to reflect a little more on Ghost, and in particular, the young Demi Moore. My reaction to seeing young Demi on the home screen was of instant familiarity. Not only did I remember loving her in the movie the first time I saw it, but I also remembered having my hair short back in the day, wearing baggy high-waisted trousers and vests, and being relatively flat chested. Demi in that movie represented a femininity of the eighties: independent, without make-up, without breast enhancement, creative, spontaneous. She represented the young eighties woman’s psyche, and I had lived it. It was slightly confronting, suddenly facing the caricature of my young-self’s aspirations. As well as shocking me with familiarity, and provoking reflexive consideration of who I was back then, I was confronted with the immediate capacity to compare my teenage world to the world offered as iconic to my own and other teenaged girls today. How different is young Demi in Ghost to modern representations of girl-power!

Whether movie characters reflect or set societal trends, young Demi’s influence on me (or her reflection of the world I inhabited as a teenager) was inescapable evidence of the power of the trend. I was not as individual as I thought I was! Messages filtering into my daughters’ psyches about what it means to be a girl differ greatly from those of my youth, but we have all been subjected to them. I sympathised with my daughters. Living up to the world’s expectations these days would be tough.

To be continued (next up, Dirty Dancing)…

Inspired when my daughters all sang along to the Black-Eyed Pea’s ‘Time of My Life (dirty bit)” on the car radio, I hired “Dirty Dancing” on DVD. And thus began our Patrick Swayzee marathon.

I came home from the Video shop with weekly-hire copies of Dirty Dancing and Ghost. The kids chose Ghost to watch first. I think the reason for their choice was curiosity. I’d taken them to see Ross Nobel (the comedian) live at the Palace Theatre in St. Kilda during Melbourne’s Comedy Festival last year. One of Ross’ themes during his act was Patrick Swayzee’s ghost and I remember laughing but also feeling slightly guilty. It’s not that the scene on Ghost doesn’t need to be sent up, and that Ross’ miming of on-stage affection with Patrick’s ghost was not the perfect way to do it… it’s just that poor Patrick himself is now really a ghost, and that’s a sad thing in any individual’s life.  Thus my laughter was tempered. It was also tempered by the thought that my children would not have understood the references. The question on all of their lips was, Who is Patrick Swayzee? And the question on the younger one’s lips could possibly have been, Why is Ross gyrating?

As we set up Ghost on our home cinema and lay back in our red recliner chairs I was sceptical as to whether a movie from the eighties (which I could hardly remember) would entertain these children of mine, born into the modern era. They have high expectations. They don’t like films that moralize (when I grew up I had no choice). They are fussy about special effects and general cinematography (such as appropriate camera angles and whether the director has panned or zoomed in appropriately). They don’t like cheesy. They do like ‘random’ (as in ‘Hot Rod’). They do like suspense. And they do like genuinely sentimental (such as in ‘Up’).

If you haven’t seen Ghost in awhile, I’ll give you the opportunity to view it for yourself before I continue with their reactions and my reflections…

(To be continued).

First Impressions of Amsterdam

September 12, 2009

I went to Amsterdam recently to attend a conference. The thought of traveling to a European city alone was daunting and exciting all at once. However, my initial fears of not speaking the local language were not realised. Signs everywhere were in English as well as Dutch and most people were bilingual. It was the traffic system in Amsterdam that presented the most difficulty in adjustment.

For most of my visit I was in danger of being run over by a tram or bike. Not only did they drive on the opposite side of the road to what we do in Australia, but their roads had parallel lanes for cars and bikes separated often by an extra curb. These double lanes in both directions had to be negotiated when attempting to cross safely from one footpath to another. Often I forgot the bike lane was there, intuitively expecting I’d arrived at a footpath only to find I was in immediate danger of being roller-coasted (the equivalent to being stampeded but with wheels). In American cities and Rome and Paris I adjusted quickly to the different travel direction learning to look the opposite way to what I am accustomed before crossing, but with the added bike lane and the volume of push bikes and motor bikes using it, my confusion lasted much longer. Even by the end of the week I wasn’t fully adjusted.

I would have liked to have had more free time to develop the confidence to commute by bike. A bike tour would have been a good place to begin; having someone to follow initially, and then branching out on my own to tour the city by bike and even ride to the conference venue daily.  Alas, attending the conference daily limited my time for such pleasures.

By the end of the week, however, I had mastered their public transport system, found some excellent restaurants in a variety of  restaurant districts, found a couple of shopping spots, been for a long walk around Vondell Park, a short walk into the red light district,  experienced a concert at the Concertgebouw, immersed myself in the evidence collected at the Anne Frank Huis Museum, contemplated Van Gogh’s life and work at the Van Gogh museum and attended a Dutch language and culture course put on by the conference organisers.

Most of the time I spent with my favorite colleague from Melbourne. Exploring the city together was a delight. She did not want to ride and that was another reason for not pursuing my desire to join the Dutch in their riding culture. However, on the day I walked through the park my colleague rested in our hotel. I walked alone. I decided to capture their riding culture in a photographic study. I will share some of the photos with you now. I was amazed that no one wore helmets, both on push bikes and especially on motor bikes. In Australia it is compulsory. The other difference is that the Dutch wear street gear on simple bikes and in Melbourne we tend to ride complex, geared bikes in lycra riding gear and cleated shoes. Also, our baby bike seats are protectively designed with extended backs and sides enfolding the toddler in racing-harness-style seat belts for their own safety. In Amsterdam, it seemed any box or seat would do, without seat belts!










Ang Lee to the rescue!

August 6, 2009

I’m having a bit of an Ang Lee marathon. It started when I hired ‘Lust Caution’ and loved it. The tragic story and scenes from the movie haunted me for days afterwards. Its R rated because of the sex scenes, but these are not gratuitous. Without them the movie wouldn’t have been as powerful and the twist in the story wouldn’t have made sense.

Following this I remembered the first Ang Lee film I’d ever seen and had the desire to see it again (more than fifteen years later). I remembered it as a comedy of errors. I hunted it down online and had it shipped to home. I loved it, but its now outdated in a funny way and that made it enjoyable for different reasons. I’ve now lent that DVD to a friend who’s teenaged son is suffering through confusion about his sexuality…

This week I’ve been a couple of times to the video shop for Kat. She is going through a phase of watching horror movies. She’s trying to find one that actually scares her. This is something I do not understand. I find no enjoyment in the horror genre and avoid them outright. However, on our last visit I found  ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ in the World Movies section for weekly hire and picked  it up for myself.

I’ve been home nursing Kat this week and this includes sleeping outside her room on an camp mattress to deter her from raiding the kitchen during the night. After three nights of this I’m completely worn out. Needing a lift and a spot of relaxation, I have decided to watch ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ tonight. I am excited because I’ve heard its his best, and if its half as good as ‘Lust Caution’ it would still be amazing.

Tonight I met Libby at Her Majesties Theatre to see the preview to Melbourne’s Billie Elliot. The show begins here in December. Libby was invited to the preview because she coordinates group bookings for the school where she teaches music. I used to work with her. She often invites me to join her when she takes her students to shows, but this was the first preview I’ve been to.

I admit, I was expecting to see the whole show tonight and was initially disappointed when I sat down in the Stalls after complimentary champagne to learn that this was not going to be the case. However, tonight I heard one of the producers and one of the key actors speak about the show, I was introduced to the four “Billie’s”, I watched them perform together and saw the DVD of the audition process. 

A big deal was made of the fact that two new “Billies” were joining the show for the Melbourne performances. Like many of us who are not aware of the logistics of staging shows of this scale that employ over fifty children, it tickled me to listen to the producer talk of their “Billies” in plural. It was an education for me and a delight to have ‘met’ all four of them.

Each of these Australian boys, when interviewed, spoke in familiar Aussie accents, yet in character produced a thick Irish twang. Their performance of the song at the moment when Billie describes how he feels to dance brought a tear to my eye.  These four boys danced sublimely, each of them obviously gymnasts as well as classically trained. 

I came away from the preview rather inspired on a number of levels. Firstly, the quality of dancing in the Billie’s performance was astonishing. It would be for this reason alone that I will see the show, and take as many family and friends as I can with me. 

Secondly, I came away with a feeling of pride for Australian theatre. Billie Elliot has been running in Sydney for a year. Australia is the second home of the musical Billie Elliot. It doesn’t open on Broadway until later in the year!

In April I was in New York, staying on Broadway. I was there for a conference, but saw Chicago the day I arrived. Aspects of the show were disappointing. For example the lawyer was poorly cast (played by a non-charismatic character who couldn’t tap), and the set and costuming were unexciting. 

A couple of weeks later in Melbourne, I saw Guys and Dolls with Libby and was impressed with it in comparison to Chicago on Broadway. At the time I remarked to Libby that I needn’t have gone to New York to see a great show. I’m feeling the same way tonight after previewing Billie Elliot: Its all right here at my finger tips in Melbourne!

The Big Screen

July 27, 2008

Do you remember when home videos became popular? Was it in the late eighties? Everyone said, “Oh that spells the end of cinema”.

Now everyone is creating home cinema experiences with purposefully made recliner chairs, blue ray DVDs (not sure what these are, but my kids are up to date with it), surround sound (not that surround sound is new – my boyfriend in the late eighties had it. He was so proud after he’d installed it. Is this a guy thing? Personally I don’t mind if the sound of an approaching train emanates from the telly. For my enjoyment it does not have to appear to be coming from behind me to the right), projectors mounted from the ceiling and large screens on the wall. We’ve got one of these in our new house too – the home cinema room. Our four-seater recliner (in red) is yet to be delivered.

Even so, the kids don’t want to wait until the new releases hit DVD. They’re off to the cinema as often as ever. During the school holidays Prince Caspian, Kung Fu Panda, and Get Smart drew them to the box office. For the children, I believe their motivation for going to the cinema is to be up with the conversations rather than the desire to get out into society. For me, its all about getting out. Sitting at home with surround sound and blue ray will never replace meeting a friend in the foyer, squeezing in a drink or dinner before hand, filing in after purchasing a choc top to watch a movie on the big screen and chatting about it later (not to mention the people-watching opportunities), and you never know who you might bump into when you’re out.

The Debut

July 16, 2008

My eldest wants to be an actress. She joined a drama group this year and recently performed on stage for the first time. All of the other kids in the group had been acting together for years. I wondered how Kat would shape up compared to them. 

The night I drove her to the theatre prior to her performance she was buzzing.  She wasn’t nervous and she didn’t rehearse her lines in the car. She was chatty and excited. I don’t think she realised it, but she spoke to me in an English accent.  I didn’t comment on this to her at the time. I didn’t want to interrupt her funk (or whatever it is actors need to do prior to these things: move outside of themselves or get into a flow).

I had tickets for the whole family for the following night’s performance. At the theatre entrance, I dropped her off and wished her luck. When I returned a couple of hours later to pick her up, the foyer was deserted. At the box office I made enquiries about the finish time. There was still forty minutes to go. 

“My daughter is in there”, I told the box-office girl, “I’d rather catch the last forty minutes than sit waiting in the foyer”.

“I can’t sell you a half ticket”, she said strictly, “and I can’t let you in for free”. She had a well-that’s-that look on her face and was surprised when I insisted on going in.

“Then I’ll purchase a full ticket. I’m not going to sit here while she’s in there”.

She hesitated but eventually sold me the ticket. “I feel guilty selling it to you for only forty minutes”, she confessed.

I rolled my eyes (inwardly wishing she would just hurry), paid for the ticket and moved quickly past ushers and black curtains into an intimate theatre space. Momentarily in the dark I felt disorientated. Scanning the stage, I ascertained that Kat was not on it, settled back into my seat and waited. At every entry of a new performer, my heart rose in my chest. Would this be her? I’ve had this feeling before, many times. Scanning groups of school children at school pick-up time, the sight of your own child’s face is like a home coming. Intimate familiarity registers and you can see it on their face too, as your eyes meet. I was ready for the charge of instant familiarity. But I knew she wouldn’t be able to see me. She didn’t even know I was in the audience. 

A change of act, and suddenly her familiar face was before me. It was my Kat, but they had dressed her in a long auburn wig, raunchy seventies gear and platform shoes. She looked adult and stunningly beautiful. I starred in disbelief. Waiting for her to speak her lines I almost held my breath. She delivered her lines in an English accent with confidence and conviction. Her character was convincing as a gossiping trouble maker (which is funny, because Kat is not that type in real life. She is trustworthy and thoughtful). 

I fossicked in my bag and pulled out my camera. My thoughts at the time were to capture Kat in the wig to show her sisters. I locked the camera onto no-flash. Furtively I captured the following two shots:

After the show I found a seat in the foyer. From this vantage point I watched as other patrons merged and converged and actors were reunited with boyfriends, girlfriends and families. Finally Kat emerged flanked by a group of other actors. I wasn’t the only one who noticed them. A large group of kids about the same age as Kat and the others converged on them. The talk was excited. There was lots of hugging. I approached the group in time to hear Kat’s friends complimenting her on her performance, how surprisingly well she walked in high heels, and the look of her wig. Kat’s smile was enormous as she joked about stealing the wig and worrying whether she would roll her ankle in the shoes. 

She confessed to me in the car on the way home that she loved wearing the wig.

“Seriously”, she laughed, “I want that wig. It was like I was fulfilling a little-girl fantasy or something”, was the way she expressed it.

“Oh, I know why”, I said, “Its like Areal the Little Mermaid. Do you remember dressing up like her when you were four?”.

“No! But that explains it lol”. (Yes, she really did say lol. Kat and her friends actually talk chat-speak sometimes. lol).

“You really did look beautiful in it”.

“Thanks. Everyone was coming up to me back stage saying Kat, grow your hair that long, dye it that colour, you look hot! or Kat, marry me in that wig! It was cool”. 

We laughed.

She was on a high. I thought she was chatty on the way there, but it was nothing compared to her elation on the way home!