And we are talking about the original 1984 version here, not the 2011 remake. I know many people prefer the remake; good for them. I found it bland, lacking something the original had (and I don't mean Lori Singer), and was just redone without having anything further to say.
As I mentioned in my 1984 films column, this is my favourite film of that year. And it is more than just the film – the soundtrack is simply amazing. I know the film is rarely regarded as the best of anything (though I do feel it was robbed at the Oscars®), but it is a feel-good story with, to my mind, some good messages: be yourself, think for yourself, blinkered adherence to a dogma does not do anyone any favours. You know, standard things in a teenage film in the 1980s.
The film was not well received by critics (though it did quite well at the box office), but my friends and I enjoyed it, and when we got it on VHS, we enjoyed it again and again. It's a film I am yet to introduce to my children; I'm not sure how a modern teenager would react to its, well, quaintness.
Sometimes, though, it seems the film only exists to give comedians something to play off against Kevin Bacon… like Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show:
Go on, tell me you didn't smile at least a little bit when you watched that…
And, again, this film is not something that is going to be studied by students of cinematography. The script is clichéd and it is not an exactly original story, but it is fun and likeable and, in the end, you feel good for having seen it. And I contend that the acting is better than many films of the same era, and there are no really creepy scenes that are washed over (like in The Breakfast Club) and it does not involve making the adults look like idiots and punishing people who are just trying to do their jobs (like in Ferris Bueller's Day Off).It actually still stands, despite its "quaint" 1980s setting.
But, as with the other two movies I've looked at like this, the soundtrack is an amazing piece of work that complements the film really well. One man, Dean Pitchford, was involved in writing the lyrics for all the songs on the original soundtrack album and he was also the screenwriter, so the film really sat on his shoulders in many respects. While some of the tracks are very "80s" and do not translate well to today's music culture, many have that "classic rock/pop" feel that means they get played again and again. To give an example, I have a friend whose daughter turned 25 recently, and she told me that they played the Kenny Loggins version of '[I[Footloose[/I]' at a club she went to! It's that sort of soundtrack.
Like Flash Gordon, I have not seen a combo DVD-CD set of this one, but I reckon it would also be an incredible buy.
So, as has become usual, we'll start with the CD.
Footloose Original Soundtrack by various artists
The original soundtrack album only featured songs written for or adapted for the movie, none of the incidental music. Which is fine; if you bought the album (as I did – duh!), you were getting all new songs. It adds to the appeal of buying something like this.
Of course, the first track is the title song 'Footloose', performed by Kenny Loggins. It is one of the most recognisable songs from the 1980s, a song that for the duration of 1984 to probably 1988 you could not avoid. I don't think I went to a Blue Light Disco in that time where it was not played at least once, and the entire crowd joined in screaming (we called it singing) along. This is one of the best feel-good songs ever recorded.
'Let's Hear It For The Boy' by Deniece Williams is the next track. It reached number one when released as a single, and yet it is my least favourite song on the album. It sounds cheesy to me, but I do understand I am in the minority on this one. It was one of the few songs used in its original form in the 2011 remake of the film.
Third track is 'Almost Paradise (Love Theme from Footloose[/I])[/I]' by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson. I really like this song. When I was with Barbara in 1987, I chickened out of playing this song for her because I thought it would be too much. Yes, I thought a song from a movie soundtrack would be too overbearing in a fledgeling relationship. It really did mean a lot to me. But that is by the by. This song is a great love song, and it should be better remembered today.
One of my favourite tracks on the album is next – 'Holding Out For A Hero' by Bonnie Tyler. More than that, it was based on a song by Jim Steinman, 'Stark Raving Love'. Yes, a Steinman song. Of course, it's great. "Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?" is how the song starts, and that encapsulates the way a lot of kids were feeling at the time… still feel? But the song – played during a game of chicken in the film – is just so wonderful and glorious and over the top and I defy anyone to not go "[I[do-do-do-doooo[/I]" along with the backing chorus.
'Dancing In The Sheets' by Shalamar is up next. Very 80s sounding track, doesn't hold up real well in today's music scene. I mean, it's okay, nothing great, just a standard mid-1980s pop song. That's all.
'I'm Free (Heaven Helps The Man)' by Kenny Loggins is next. Another Loggins song, it's not too bad at all. In the landscape of the time it did not stand out, but with those rose-coloured glasses of nostalgia it does come up as better than it seemed at the time, even if the lyrics are slightly trite.
This is followed by 'Somebody's Eyes', performed by Karla Bonoff. At the time, I was not a big fan of this song, but it has grown on me over the years. It is of the style I think called Adult Oriented Rock (or "middle of the road"… depends on your tastes, I guess). It does have that tinny 80s drum sound which dates it, and it could have been performed by any of a dozen female artists of the time. However, that does not diminish the fact it is not a bad song.
'The Girl Gets Around' by Sammy Hagar is up next, the sort of big hair metal song he later perfected while with Van Halen. It is different to the rest of the tracks here, and so stands out, and in a good way. It's certainly a harmless rocker and quite a bit of fun, with some nice, 80s rock guitar throughout. Yes, very much a song of its time, but I really like it.
And we finish the album with 'Never' by Moving Pictures. Who? That name sounds familiar… Yes, they did the original version of 'What About Me?', and this song is definitely not a rehash of that. It is a great rock'n'roll song, played in the film when Ren was in the warehouse doing gymnastics dancing. I always associate it with high-intensity training, though I don't think I ever used it for a performance of my own. Odd… Anyway, here's the scene from the film:
Now, if you were lucky enough to buy the 15th anniversary extended soundtrack (which I was, as it was the version I bought when I got the album on CD to replace a rather worn cassette), you got a number of extra songs, incidental music, for want of a better term. None of them had input from Dean Pitchford and they were just there in the film. We had: 'Metal Health (Bang Your Head)', the single edit, by 80s blink-and-you-miss-them hair metal band Quiet Riot; 'Hurts So Good' by John Cougar Mellencamp (though he released it under the name John Cougar originally), a classic rock song known by many; 'Waiting For A Girl Like You' by Foreigner, another classic rock track known by many people of the time; and, finally, the 12" remix of 'Dancing In The Sheets' by Shalamar, which is really not one of the better or more inventive 12 inch remixes I've heard, as it's just a longer version. So the extra songs are okay, but they don't fit in with the Dean Pitchford music we have had. They're certainly not indispensable. But that original soundtrack album, nine tracks, about 40 minutes – very nice indeed.
So the album is a really, really strong soundtrack album. The songs don't exactly tell the story or help it along, but the film would certainly be lesser without them. And I challenge you to listen to the title track and not have it stuck in your head like the truly intrusive ear-worm that it is for the next week…
Directed by: Herbert Ross
Produced by: Lewis J. Rachmil & Craig Zadan
Written by: Dean Pitchford
Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack
Lori Singer as Ariel Moore
John Lithgow as Rev. Shaw Moore
Dianne Wiest as Vi Moore
Chris Penn as Willard Hewitt
Sarah Jessica Parker as Rusty
This film is actually a film with a decent message that doesn't try to beat you to death over the head with it. And that message is not "dancing is good!". The message is about being true to yourself, and living your own life… plus the slightly darker and more subversive idea that blind adherence to anything or anyone is probably not a good thing. Considering this is a film that was made at the height of Reagan's popularity, that is quite the message to be giving audiences.
More importantly, what the kids in the film do is something that kids could do. They organised their own dance when the town said they couldn't. Other kids, following the dogma that had been forced onto them, tried to stop it (violently at times), although there was the issue of one of them being dumped by Ariel. There are no scenes of gun-play, no kids doing things kids can't do – these were normal teenagers facing something they wanted to change, and changing it in a way that makes sense for teenagers. It was not out of the realm of possibility.
The story is about Ren, who comes to the town of Bomont, a dot on a map, really, when his father dies, having spent his life in Chicago. He is the outsider, and made to feel as such, until befriended by a big hunk of a farmboy named Willard. He meets Ariel, daughter of the local minister, and her boyfriend Chuck.
Exposition time! Ariel's older brother died after drinking and dancing in a car crash, and that was what lead Reverend Moore (her father) to have music, dancing, alcohol, etc. banned in Bomont, a cause taken up with relish by many in the town. It is also the cause of Ariel's many risk-taking stunts; she is trying to be more than just her father's little girl, and all she can do is be like her brother. It's like she feels guilty for her brother's death and what it did to the town. The self-destructive streak we see in Ariel is not something we find in many of the heroines of the time (maybe Demi Moore's character in St Elmo's Fire was similar, but there were different issues there… still…). That's a pretty complex character arc for a teenage film.
Anyway, back to the action. Somehow, Ren gets challenged by Chuck to a game of chicken using tractors. Ren wins thanks to subterfuge from Rusty, Willard's female friend. This results in retaliatory abuse, Ren getting kicked off the gymnastics team, and Ariel being forbidden from seeing him. However, she does sneak out and Ren takes her, Willard and Rusty to a bar where they can dance. Willard can't dance and gets into an altercation with some-one who does dance with Rusty. Thus Ren teaches him how to dance, and then the idea comes to have a senior prom.
The town council, of course, forbids it. This leads to Ren facing the council and, with Ariel's help, use the Bible to push what the dance might mean for the students. It still gets voted down, but the warehouse where Ren works is just outside town limits and so they decide to use that. The Reverend and Ariel face off in quite a stunning scene, but it is cut short when the Rev is called to stop a book burning. He can see where things are headed. He starts to wake up. The kids didn't teach him; the stupidity around him did. Again, not normal for a film aimed at that market – the adults are reasonable people who can work things out for themselves.
The prom is duly organised and the Reverend even gets the congregation to pray for its success. Then, on the night, Chuck and his goons rock up, and try to ruin things, but Ren and Willard stop them and, finally, we have Ren's exhortation to, "Let's dance!" Cue happy ending and kids dancing who had never danced before, like they'd suddenly taken choreography pills. Unfair, because it feels good and is a really cool scene, and I still smile when I watch it. Yes, people do the robot, they break dance, and its corny and 80s, but, damn, it's fun. Actually, the chances are, kids have been dancing, in the privacy of their own homes, so it's not out of the realms of possibility that they know how to do this; the ban hasn't been in place forever, just a few years, since the accident. Again, logic. It does make sense.
There are so many great scenes in the film. Willard learning to dance, Ariel and the Rev having their discussion, Ren and the Rev talking about death, Ren's response when he sees Ariel ready for the prom… yes, this is feel-good and all that, but it is also based on more of a reality than many other films. The film was never anything more than a fantasy, and yet the responses and situations are so real. I know a few ministers and lay-preachers, and the comment Rev Moore makes about Satan being not in books but in the heart is something that the one I showed that scene to said was exactly right, and he said that was how he would react to a book-burning. Yes, some of the dialogue is stilted and sometimes it's a bit preachy, but films have to allow for things like that. Apart from that, nothing really to complain about. Nothing at all.
Maybe that was why it did so well in the box office, why my friends and I liked it so much, why it still strikes a chord today – unlike a lot of other films of the time, it is something real, something tangible, something we can identify with. We are not superheroes, not the jocks, not smart-arses with all the answers – we are people, and the problems in this film are solved in the way people would solve them. The way we would solve them.
No, this film is not a masterpiece. But it is a really good film, and is worth it. The acting ranges from fine to really good. The two leads are likeable. (And, yes, I had the biggest crush on Lori Singer when I was a young teenager.) The adults are not portrayed as the bad guys, not really. There are reasons. It makes sense, in its own way. It is actually well-written in many regards, and it looks real.