The Welcome Page on this website lists some of my favourite films. It includes classics both old and modern, some widely forgotten gems nestling next to recent big cinema releases and powerful fantasy masterworks from around the world.
There is one film on the list though that I am prepared to admit might stick out a little, a film that doesn’t seem to sit comfortably amongst such esteemed celluloid company.
That film is Footloose.
The fact is that I find Footloose a total joy from start to finish. The plot is pretty preposterous, some kids get killed in a car crash on the way back from a disco so the town bans dancing (not alcohol, dancing!), but it is all played with such earnest emotion that you take it seriously. Sort of.
There is a chance that the whole thing is an allegory and that dancing is a metaphor for something else. Certainly the courtroom scene in which the young protagonist quotes the bible in an effort to expose the fragile nature of the argument that revelry is ungodly has a new resonance following some of the clergy’s recent attempts to put forward a religious argument against homosexuality. This said I do think the events of the film are supposed to be taken at face value. It doesn’t need any deeper meaning, the daft plot is part of its appeal.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a case of a film being so bad it is good. Footloose is no guilty pleasure film like The Transporter or Deep Blue Sea. It is silly and it does make me laugh but the conviction with which the whole thing is put together carries it through. Sure it is cheesy but the angst of youth and heartbreak of having to let your children grow up is convincingly portrayed and it is a film that the cast, including Kevin Bacon, Sarah Jessica Parker, John Lithgow, Diane Wiest and Chris Penn, should all be genuinely proud off. The section of the film where Bacon’s Ren teaches Penn’s rhythmless Willard to boogie is simply one of the most smile inducing three minutes and ten seconds ever committed to celluloid and is far superior to any dance montage Dirty Dancing has to offer. (http://youtu.be/s7FGbhpr2pg)
Still, none of this really gets to the rub of why Footloose is one of my favourite films. It nicely captures the loyalties and passions of teenage friendship, it has a great soundtrack and in the case of the game of chicken and the standing in front of the train, some quite exciting moments but these all comes second to how gloriously eightiesy it all is.
More than most films it is totally grounded in the decade in which it was made. Movies like Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, When Harry Met Sally, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and even The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink are fairly timeless despite bring a product of their time but this is not the case with Footloose. It hasn’t dated though, it has aged.
Almost everything about it is quintessentially 80s, the strains of synth in the soundtrack, the attitudes, the clothes, the expression of anger through the medium of dance and the sublime parade of footwear that plays under the opening credits. This is all pretty funny but it is an affectionate laughter. I understand that the 80s was terribly hard for many people and the recent reaction to the death of Margaret Thatcher has highlighted this. The thing is, for me the 1980s were huge fun, a time I look back on with very fond memories. I was seven at the turn of the decade and obviously seventeen when it closed. Those are formative years for anyone and Footloose is a wondrous celebration of these years of my life. I have no idea how it would be received by a young audience now.
Obviously it has been remade recently but this new version must work on a completely different level. (If indeed it works at all, I couldn’t comment.) I’ve haven’t seen it, I didn’t want to. I am happy for it to exist (how generous of me) but I would sooner watch a remake of Casablanca than see a reinterpretation of Footloose.
I did see the stage show which I enjoyed immensely but only because of my affection for what had come before. I am also sure that my love of this film gave me the ability to live through the High School Musical trilogy with my patience in tact, the middle film of which even includes an angry dancing scene. Zack Ephron definitely owes a debt to Kevin Bacon.
In fact lets talk about Kevin Bacon for a minute. He is one of those actors who brings an instant likability to any character he portrays, even though he has played some pretty unlikable people. Even Sebastian Caine in Hollow Man and Captain Ross in A Few Good Men generate some sympathy and this is a credit to Mr. Bacon. Of course he has a very impressive filmography (hence the game) and is always good and sometimes brilliant, although it is no surprise that ‘The Woodsman Kevin Bacon’ is not featured in those cinema adverts for EE Media.
There is no denying that Footloose is a little cliched but only in retrospect. All cliches were original ideas at some stage and it is like Top Gun in that respect. Huge aspects of the plot are predictable and corny now but that stuff was new and cool about thirty years (yikes!) ago.
The bottom line is that Footloose never fails to make me smile. It is fun, serious, overwrought, melodramatic, impassioned, exciting, cheesy, silly and brilliant all at the same time and if you’ve not watched it recently I dare you to give it a go.
I wonder how Romancing the Stone holds up?
“Hey hey! what’s this I see? I thought this was a party. Let’s dance!”