It’s hard to credit now, but nobody had too much hope for an $8m independent movie entitled Dirty Dancing as rehearsals began in Virginia two weeks prior to the shoot. “I knew that I’d have to carry the picture but it was before any independent movies were seen,” explains star Jennifer Grey on this two-disc Special Edition. “There was no chance of anybody seeing this movie. It was more of an exercise.”
Grey, according to choreographer Kenny Ortega, had very little formal dance training despite being the daughter of noted hoofer Joel. At 27, she’d already lost out on Endless Love and Flashdance (“I auditioned eight or 10 times…”) and was toying with the idea of hanging up her leotard when she read for the part of Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman. It was a role she identified with. “I was a good girl at home, growing up,” she confesses. “But I used to sneak out to Studio 54…” Baby, of course, likewise slinks off to the staff quarters of Kellerman’s Mountain House while holidaying with her folks, lured by
Co-star Patrick Swayze, playing blue-collared, red-lipped dance instructor Johnny Castle, also saw himself on page. “The similarities between me and Johnny were pretty extreme,” he admits, referring to his upbringing in “redneck” Texas, where he trained as a classical ballet dancer. And so it was that Swayze immediately understood the tough/tender dichotomy of tart-with-a-booming- heart (“Guh-gung, guh-gung, guhgung…”) Johnny, who falls for prissy, pampered Baby as surely as she crashes for him. “A lot of people say Dirty Dancing is a movie about the loss of innocence,” says the actor. “I believe it is a movie about the rediscovery of innocence.”
TIME OF YOUR LIFE
Lost or found, innocence pervades every frame of Dirty Dancing. It is a movie set, after all, in the summer of ’63, a time that Baby notes was “before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came… when I never thought I’d find a guy as great as my dad.” And while bitter realities stain the very edges of the frame – Baby talks of “monks burning themselves in protest”, Johnny’s dance partner Penny undergoes a “dirty knife” abortion, bored wives bed Johnny while their fat husbands chomp cigars – Emile Ardolino’s crowd-pleaser doesn’t so much recreate a time and place as create it. Soft, safe; as we’d like it to be.
It’s cynical, perhaps, to manufacture a world of such sweet naivety, where Baby can lose her virginity with a dreamy smile and a fade to black (and without removing her knickers), or learn the mambo with the aid of a montage. And it’s cynical, certainly, to fashion a cosy environment where Johnny can so easily liberate Baby from the corner because nobody – least of all the filmmakers – dare discuss the real issue here: Baby, a Jew, dating Johnny, a Gentile. But then the sanitised, determinedly feelgood Dirty Dancing unspools as Baby’s rose-tinted reverie, its fakery also apparent in the theatricality of the dialogue (mostly Johnny’s) and in the ‘80s flavourings of the hairstyles, choreography and seven-time platinum soundtrack. Movies, like memory, are projections of flickering fantasies; it’s fitting that Ardolino’s presentation of the nostalgic remembrances of an idealistic 17-year-old girl should play like a dream.
That Dirty Dancing continues to fire the dreams of so many people 20 years after its release says a lot about how we yearn for a better, simpler life… and how, like Baby, we view our own adolescence through a fuzzy lens. “Sometimes a movie encapsulates a period or a moment in all of our lives in such a way it never dies,” muses Swayze. He’s right, of course – though that doesn’t excuse him then plucking up his guitar to warble ‘She’s Like The Wind’.
Despite lacking a substantial Making Of documentary, this 20th anniversary package has plenty to recommend it. Highlights include a breathless, congenial commentary by writer/ co-producer Eleanor Bergstein, Grey shuddering as she recollects filming the lift in the lake (“Very, very cold… I can remember thinking, ‘Can you die if your nipples explode?’”) and footage gleaned from Swayze and Grey’s original screen test. Their chemistry, instant and blatant, goes a long way towards explaining the movie’s success – even if they then went on to fall out during the shoot. (Not that you’ll find any such poisonous gossip here: the bonus material is every bit as sanitised as the feature it supports.)
Of the remaining bits and bobs, fans will no doubt cherish the numerous extended, alternate and deleted scenes, the most notable of which boasts a dance sequence far dirtier than anything in the movie. Staged in Johnny’s cabin, it features Baby grinding against a topless Johnny, effectively dry-humping his leg to orgasm. Watch it with rounded eyes and you’ll understand why Grey insists she was a little suspicious as to what kind of movie they were making up in those Virginian slopes. “I felt it was going to be a little blue,” she discloses with a sheepish smirk. “I was worried we were making a softcore porn movie...”
Documentaries, Interviews, Deleted/Alternate/Extended Scenes, Commentary, Music Videos & much more.