Friday, 25 March 2016

Flashdance: The birth of Eighties Style

Even if you have not seen it, you know what Flashdance is.

This movie by itself is not that interesting. A girl is a welder. She wants to be a dancer. She falls in love. She gets her dream. Freeze frame. Credits.

I had not seen this film since I was a kid. Watching it again, I was struck by what a time capsule it was. And not just for 80s hair and fashion.

However, as a portent, Flashdance is a fascinating sign of the direction Hollywood was to take in the post-New Hollywood era. This is thanks to several behind-the-scenes players.

Firstly, Flashdance is the first major credit for Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and signalled the rise of the power-producer.

While on the surface, Flashdance may seem like an unlikely project for the duo, it is filled with images and concepts that would return in their later work:
  •  the garish visual style, with a focus on music-assisted montage
  • a threadbare plot that shunts the character forward without any real conflict or character development
The most important part of the Simpson-Bruckheimer template is the theme of a protagonist who is the best, but wants to be acknowledged as the best is an idea that returns again and again in their films (see Top Gun, The Rock, and Con Air for other examples). Alex (Jennifer Beals) is a self-taught dancer who wants to become a real professional dancer. She's acknowledged as a good dancer from the beginning of the film. She faces no real obstacles, and when she does finally get a chance to audition, she succeeds.

The other important players are the co-producers, Peter Guber and Jon Peters. Between them, these duos would go on to major hits (CaddyshackTop Gun), start franchises (Beverly Hills CopBatman) and re-define the role of the executive in the creative process. With his background in the music business, Peters is especially notable due to his experience with the promotion of movie-related soundtrack albums.

Flashdance is the first major credit from Joe Ezterhas, later to become Hollywood's most highly paid screenwriter and the creator of a series of erotic thrillers that would dominate Hollywood in the early 90s. It was directed by Jonathan Lynne, he was inspired by the visual style of music videos to make the movie a glossy series of set pieces.

Flashdance's major influence is its effect on popular music, especially on MTV. On a stylistic level, the narrative stops for a series of dance sequences to early 80s pop songs. It is a testament to how self-contained these scenes were that they were later released on MTV as music videos. With these 'music videos' and a soundtrack that shot up the charts, Flashdance set off the fashion for every major movie to have a hit theme song.

As stated at the outset, as a film Flashdance is pretty innocuous. However, as a testing ground for the production techniques and stylistic flourishes that would define Hollywood-style entertainment for the next quarter-century.      

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