I'll never forget that summer at the Catskills. AHH....Memories. It is forever burned into my soul. Everyday I think about that magical three months. Sorry, sometimes I slip into a Baby voice-over, but just like the movie, it will only happen once at the beginning....
You know it. You love it. And if you don't, you are kinda an asshole. Even if you don't know all the words to "YES!" by Merry Clayton or reenact the scene where Lisa is brushing Baby's hair, you cannot deny the power that is DIRTY DANCING.
Oscar winning Emile Ardlino knows something about dancing. His documentary HE MAKES ME FEEL LIKE DANCING snatched the Oscar for Best Doc in 1983. His first major project would go on to be his legacy, but he had another just as beloved film in his body of work. After CHANCES ARE failed to capture an audience, but found a small devoted following (myself included) he directed the sequel THREE MEN AND A LITTLE LADY. But it was 1992, that he found success. It's true. The man behind DIRTY DANCING also directed fucking SISTER ACT!! You know what I love about Ardlino? He knows how to have a good time. I have seen people THROW DOWN while watching SISTER ACT. Nun exploitation at its best.
Written by Eleanor Bergstein, who at the time was only known for penning the Jill Clayburgh classic IT'S MY TURN. The theme song "It's My Turn (Theme from It's My Turn)" is one of my favorite Diana Ross songs. Eleanor decided for her next project to go deep and keep it real. Always write what you know and she did. She not only wrote the script to Dirty Dancing, but she fucking lived it. She spent summers in the Catskills and was nicknamed Baby by dad. I don't know if she fucked the dance instructor, but that is where imagination comes in! I like to think that someone really did walk down a flight of steps while "Wipe Out" played.
The magic of DIRTY DANCING is in the casting. It is so perfectly cast, that you cannot even imagine another person in the role as Baby or as Johnny Castle. Or as Lisa Houseman for that matter, but we will discuss her later. Jennifer Grey, who had managed to capture my heart in RED DAWN and RECKLESS, when right into FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF And stole every scene she was in. She managed to get two of the biggest laughs in the movie. But it would be her next project that would launch her into super stardom and let her finally live her dream of becoming friends with Madonna. At 27, she was 10 years older than her character was, but nobody cared. She embodied Baby. She became Baby. And I think most people just assumed that she was an 18 and on the verge of becoming a woman. Never has a character became so interwoven in pop culture so quickly and so beloved. Baby got to live the life we wanted. She got to speak her mind, dance like crazy, make hot love to Patrick Swayze and carry a watermelon.
What can you say about Patrick Swayze that hasn't already been said? His mother Pasty Swayze (a world famous dancer) schooled her son in the ways of soft shoe and being nice to people. He already had legions of fans from his work in THE OUTSIDERS and as Orry Main from the massive mini series THE NORTH AND THE SOUTH. He was just under the radar though. When he came to DIRTY DANCING, he would explode into mega A list and did it all with a wink and nudge, that would charm the pants right off you. Which is never a bad thing. The minute we get to see Swayze, you are enraptured in his magic. Hip shaking, girl tossing, sass mouthing, finger wagging and undressing you with his eyes are all in a days work for Johnny Castle. He is dumb, but has a heart of gold. Schooled in life, he lives by the creed, Be kind and don't take any shit off of anyone. Who has the time? The scene where Baby hands over her watermelon for a lesson in dirty dancing with Johnny has so much sizzle to it, they need to turn the fire hose on those two! And just like Baby, we are left staggering around in the middle of a dance floor, dazed and confused, but excited by the prospect of what could happen next. Swayze was magic through and through. No, i take that back. Swayze IS magic through and through. And smartly enough he went right into the shockingly amazing ROADHOUSE. Where he was allowed to do two things. Kick Ass and look good while doing it.
Jennifer is able to capture a certain sense of boredom that most teens can relate too. Life seems pointless, but also infinite. It would take sometime of such great magnitude to break the spell and that is when the movie goes SWAYZE CRAZY! After the dance, the movie launches into full throttle mode to make sure you are swallowed whole by the magic. The jest of the film is that bored ugly duckling gets caught up in the drama of all the dance people and she becomes one of them. All the way! She manages to gain the respect of a group of people that have been taken advantage of their whole lives. People who's startling talents have been exploited every summer by rich fat cat resort owners. But through her actions, they all learn that people are not what you always think they are and vice versa, I'm sure. It seems that Johnny's dance partner, Penny ( the impeccable Cynthia Rhodes) has gotten knocked but that the local creep bag, Robbie and she has to get an abortion. NERDS! Baby overhears their troubles and offers them the money, which they take. Days later, Penny has returned from a back alley abortion clinic and once again Baby saves the day. This girl is runnin' all over the resort. GET IT GIRL! She has to do everything.
Well, Penny is out and the dance people need a new recruit. Guess who just happens to be around? Correct. Baby starts training and then something insane happens! THE DANCE MONTAGE! THIS SHIT IS CRAZY TIME! The minute the first notes of Eric Carmen's "HUNGRY EYES" starts, I am transported back to when I first saw this scene. I thought I was watching the sexiest thing EVER! I didn't understand sex or the concept of what to do with it, but I knew that when Patrick, Penny and Baby were dancing together it was sexy. And that is all I needed. Watch your back if you are around me and I hear that Eric Carmen song, because you will get danced with! It has happened before and it will happen again. Then we get to watch the iconic scene where Jennifer gets tickled by Patrick and laughs over and over....BUT then she nails it and everyone SCREAMS with joy!!! It is like we all learned how to do it!!
The movie is so full of Iconic moments that you always have to pick your favorites or you will go on and on forever. Two favorites are Baby spotting the old couple at the other resort! A CLUE!! Another favorite is when Johnny smashes the wooden post through the car window while it is pouring down rain! VERY HOT! When that happens you know they are going to do it. The morning after Baby awakenings to a smell of outdoorsy and man! She is loving it and wants more! But fucking between the help and guest is strictly prohibited, even though it seems everyone is doing it. They have to go back to their regular lives. The tension is so tight whenever they are in a room. They just want to dirty dance! No such luck. Johnny gets accused of stealing a bunch of shit and is fired! But remember Baby's clue?! Once again doing the right thing, Baby has to confess she spent the night with Johnny therefore he could not have stolen anything. Too Late! He is fired anyway for humping a guest! NERDS!
One of my favorite ballads, "She's Like The Wind" (Sung by Mr. Swayze, thank you very much!) begins and you are wrapped up in a bittersweet goodbye, but everything seems so up in the air....just like life....But then the movie flashes to the last night and you know something is up. The ending of DIRTY DANCING is very special for many, many people. There are a lot of emotions connected with the big finale. After the first virgin viewing and not knowing what to expect, you would think the joy and rapture of the last scene would have grown stale and kinda lukewarm. That is the magic of DIRTY DANCING. It doesn't. You can watch the entire movie over 5 times in a row (it's been done more than once) and still experience the same bliss you did as the first time you saw Johnny walk back in the motherfucking movie!! It is one of the best "OW SHIT YEAH!" moments in a movie ever. Johnny grabs Baby out of her metaphorical corner and takes her where she truly deserves to be. On stage in front of a cheering crowd of guest and workers. All awashed in her glory of self respect and humility. The man of her dreams joins her on stage and she takes her moment of glory for everyone to see! And not only is she payed tribute to for all her problem solving and running around the resort, she inspires everyone to start DANCING! Old ladies dance with other old ladies, some TOO CUTE kids dance together and even the cranky old boss dances. If Baby can do it, so can we! The finale shot is of Swayze mouthing the words to "I Had The Time OF My Life" to Baby. He points his finger in her face (more of that finger wagging!) and mouths the words, "And I owe it all to you!". Baby smiles. Dreams come true!!
So many things work so well in this movie. The cleverly placed 60's soul songs and the not so cleverly placed songs that were made in the 80's but suppose to be "60's"! Girls and gay love them. Most straight men aren't too keen on the soundtrack, but there are a few here and there. Each song moves the film into a direction of such frenzied emotions that by the time you reach the mind blowing climax, you are SPENT! UNDERSTAND?! SPENT! The choreography by the then little known Kenny Ortega is breathless and the supporting cast is full of Emmy and Tony winners.
But there is one person in the cast that I kinda goes bonkers over. I haven't written about her much in this entry, because once I start talking about her, it gets deep. I will try to contain myself. Jane Brucker's take on sibling rivalry and sisterhood is so hauntingly portrayed in her role as Lisa Houseman, that it defies explanation. Who is this woman? Where did she come from? She seems to be place smack dab in the middle of DIRTY DANCING and just like any obnoxious older sister, she thinks it is all about her! She is constantly talking about her plans, her boyfriends and what she should do with her life? She is totally out of touch with reality and doesn't seem to know what the hell is going on. All she cares about are two things: Going all the way with Robbie the lecherous ASS and her big number in the resorts talent show. Both dreams are shattered, but girl gave it her all. Can't say she didn't try. And as much of a nightmare she was, when Baby needed someone to comfort her, she was there. She didn't ask any questions and she didn't judge, she just offered to do her hair. Sometimes that is all you need. Beautiful. Sisterhood can be an amazing thing. Lisa Houseman we salute you in all your hula girl glory!
There I got it out of my system. Okay, I haven't. I will just tell you a little more. Okay. I will just tell you everything. I was so pissed when DIRTY DANCING: HOT HAVANA NIGHTS came out. They ruined my chance at screenwriting the long anticipated sequel. It was going to be a high concept involving LISA! So Johnny and Baby eventually separated and Baby went into the Peace Corp. and years later, Lisa and her family go to the Catskills, because it is the last summer before it closes forever. Her teen daughter, who sports her mother's raven black hair and eyebrows falls for the dance instructor who turns out to be Johnny's son! More dancing montages, more sexy moves and lots of eyebrows. I would have Jane Brucker come back as the mom, who finds love also and she re-creates her song for the talent show again, but gets interrupted by her daughter! Credits roll. It could have been a real charmer.
DIRTY DANCING not only holds up, but it has aged gracefully. It is fun to laugh at the okay attempt at recapturing the 60's, I wasn't there so I ain't judging. But it also is a tribute to life, old noses and the man himself, Patrick Swayze. You will be forever missed.
***** Once I was talking about dirty dancing in general and someone said, "oh you mean FUCK DANCING?" I guess that is what I meant.*******