Director : Herbert Ross
Screenplay : Dean Pitchford
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1984
Stars : Kevin Bacon (Ren McCormack), Lori Singer (Ariel Moore), John Lithgow (Reverend Shaw Moore), Dianne Wiest (Vi Moore), Chris Penn (Willard Hewitt), Sarah Jessica Parker (Rusty), John Laughlin (Woody), Elizabeth Gorcey (Wendy Jo), Frances Lee McCain (Ethel McCormack), Jim Youngs (Chuck Cranston), Douglas Dirkson (Burlington Cranston), Lynne Marta (Lulu Warnicker), Arthur Rosenberg (Wes Warnicker), Timothy Scott (Andy Beamis)
Footloose is a decent movie that arrived at the perfect time. It was released in the early winter of 1984, the same year that MTV fully hit its stride as a cultural institution (by then it reached more than 20 million households), Sony was selling millions of Walkmans, and the home video market, which at the time tended to favor more televisual films that could be watched in fragmented form over and over, was on the rise. Previous films like Saturday Night Fever (1977), Fame (1980), and Flashdance (1983) had already paved the way for the modern movie musical, as well as created an appetite for tie-in soundtracks. In other words, the culture and the market were in perfect alignment for a film like Footloose, which reignited the youth genre with the dynamics of music video aesthetics and has remained a cultural touchstone ever since.
Set in the fictional Colorado town of Bomont, Footloose tells a familar fish-out-water story about a rebel with a cause. The rebel-out-of-water, in this case, is Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon in his first leading role), a high school senior who is having a tough time transitioning from the urban excitement of Chicago to Bomont’s restrictive small-town environs. Having just moved there with his newly divorced mother (Frances Lee McCain), Ren, with his shaggy-chic haircut and New Wave wardrobe, is having a hard time fitting in, especially when he discovers that Bomont has a city ordinance against public dancing, which for Ren is the ultimate expression of his individuality. The town looks to Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow), the local pastor, for guidance in all moral matters even though his teenage daughter Ariel (Lori Singer) is the local bad girl who listens to confiscated rock tapes, sleeps with her trashy boyfriend Chuck (Jim Youngs), and has the audacity to wear red boots. Ren finds an unlikely friend in Willard Hewitt (Chris Penn), a decent good ol’ boy who appreciates Ren’s urban experiences without being able to participate in them (that is, he can’t dance).
This essentially sets up a moral showdown between Reverend Moore, who sees dancing and modern music as gateways to sinful behavior, and Ren, who wants to be freed of adult shackles and finds in Bomont’s ban against dancing an issue with which he can define himself and save the town’s teenage population from cultural obscurity. Not surprisingly he becomes involved with Ariel, who can’t resist the allure of the new boy from out of town, which only cements his reputation as a “trouble maker.”
Written by Dean Pitchford, who until that point was a successful pop lyricist who had won an Oscar for the title song for Fame, Footloose is a high-concept musical perfectly formulated for the MTV Generation. As a songwriter, Pitchford obviously had a feel for how music could be integrated into the story without the traditional diegetic numbers in which actors bring out into song and dance. Rather, as in Flashdance, the music in Footloose (all of which was original to the film and most of which was co-written by Pitchford) emerges naturally from the world of the story--boom boxes, car tape decks, and so forth--and the dancing we see feels naturalistic even as it expresses the characters’ emotions (the only time a musical number nudges into pure fantasy terrain is Ren’s angry one-man dance against the system in a deserted warehouse). Thus, a chicken race with tractors (a rural riff on the pivotal scene in Rebel Without a Cause) is given an additional emotional and narrative dynamic via Bonnie Tyler’s pulsating “Holding Out for a Hero” and a scene in which a drive-in hamburger joint turns into an impromptu dance scene reflects both the local teens’ desire to cut loose and the strong moral imperative that drives Reverend Shaw to keep it clamped down.
Not surprisingly, Footloose is fairly one-dimensional in its treatment of religion, small town values, and personal freedom. The people of Bomont are so rigid that they actually hold a book burning in the town square (when they refer to Kurt Vonnegot’s Slaughterhouse Five, I swear they’re saying Slaughterhouse Vile), something that even Reverend Moore can’t abide. Pitchford’s script runs into trouble when it has to actually deal with the collision of different value systems, which is why a crucial conversation between Ren and Reverend Moore at the end of the film is left entirely off-screen in favor of the good pastor having a sudden and inexpicable change of heart in deciding that Ariel is grown up enough to make her own decisions about whether or not to attend a prom.
That said, Footloose is frequently more interesting than many people give it credit for, and the very fact that you can talk about it and moral/ethical issues in the same sentence suggests that it runs deeper than the typical Hollywood teen genre fare. It helps that veteran director Herbert Ross was behind the camera. Having recently helmed an honest-to-goodness musical (1981’s Pennies From Heaven) and directed Richard Dreyfuss to an Oscar in The Goodbye Girl (1977), he was well-suited to the material, drawing out its kinetic qualities without losing all sense of genuine drama (his casting of then-unknowns like Bacon, Penn, and Sarah Jessica Parker is also spot-on). Of course, one could certainly see Footloose as an example of crass ’80s commercialism in which story and substance come a distance second to soundtrack sales, but the fact that the film has persisted as long as it has (spawning both a Broadway musical and a remake) suggests that its tale of youthful rebellion and the desire for individuality speaks across generations.
|Footloose Deluxe Edition Blu-Ray|
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, French Portuguese|
|Distributor||Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||September 27, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Unfortunately, the 1080p high-definition transfer of Footloose is something of a disappointment since there are obvious levels of image enhancement and noise reduction that take away from the naturalness of the image and make it look overly processed. Detail is certainly sharper than on the DVD, but this often comes at the expense of an image that is clearly not film-like (there is rarely a hint of grain); one surmises that the transfer may have been overly boosted to keep it from looking like an older, softer ’80s movie and more like something shot on modern high-def video. Darker scenes are sometimes a bit muddy and crushed, but colors are generally appealing. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is excellent, with a powerful and enveloping lossless DTS-HD 6.1-channel remix that makes the film’s musical moments truly resonate.|
|If the image is a disappointment, the supplements are not. The Deluxe Edition Blu-Ray contains all of the supplements from the 2004 Special Edition DVD, which includes the two-part Footloose: A Modern Musical retrospective documentary, “Footloose: Songs That Tell a Story” featurette, and the original theatrical trailer. There is also a host of new supplements, starting with two new audio commentaries: a solo track by star Kevin Bacon (who admits halfway through the he hasn’t actually watched the movie since the ’80s) and a track by producer Craig Zadan and writer Dean Pitchford, which is particularly interesting in terms of all the background they give on the production and its various incarnations (the studio was reluctant to cast Bacon, at one point they were circling Tom Cruise for the lead, and for four whole months Michael “Heaven’s Gate” Cimino was going to direct it). Also new is an 11-minute video interview with Bacon, an 8-minute video interview with Sarah Jessica Parker, and “Remembering Willard,” a featurette about the late Chris Penn that features interview footage from the actor in 2002 as well as thoughts from Bacon and Parker. A particularly nice inclusion is scratchy footage from Kevin Bacon’s original screen test, which features Sixteen Candles actress Haviland Morris playing Lori Singer’s role. Bacon offers some commentary during the test, and it is fascinating watching the genesis of what would become his first starring role and how his performance here differs from what eventually wound up on screen.|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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