Friday, March 03, 2006

Strictly Nowhere Man

I screened "Strictly Ballroom" yesterday which was probably my umpteenth viewing of this film. To me, it's a nearly perfect piece of work. An extraordinary vision (from sound to sets, photography, editing, etc.) from top to bottom that never wavers in its style, tone and impact. (Something that's almost unachievable in Hollywood where almost everything is designed by committee.)

Somehow, they managed to burlesque a bizarre and unusual world, subtly drawing us in and, despite the "oddities," we find ourselves swept up in the characters and what matters to them.

On the surface, the theme is simple. "It's okay to color outside the lines." Not bad subject matter, especially in times when no one wants to be the person who does that. Even the "oddballs" of our times want to be considered "normal." Sad.

But as I watched it last night, as enthralled as the first time I saw it, I picked up on something that had never struck me before. The movie is a serio-comic, dancing, musical version of "Nowhere Man." It goes far beyond "coloring outside the lines."

The "Federation" (of Ballroom dancing) is a perfect analogy to "Them" (as we affectionately called the bad guys in NwM.) Though handled in the film's broad, burlesque style, the Federation is no less threatening, corrupt and taken with their own power than their real-life counterparts. Barry Fife, head of the Federation might make us laugh but, for what he represents, we should be "very afraid."

If Scott (the film's lead character) is Tom Veil -- then the Federation goes to no end to get him to "give us the negatives." They hit him from every end. Humiiation, manipulation and, ultimately, lies about his father. Even the "silly" mystery of Strictly Ballroom took on new significance as I watched it last night. Again, the allegory isn't the point (nor were Tom's negatives.) It's what the allegory is trying to tell us.

And, like NwM, most friends and family were desperate to be on the "Federation Team." Though, in the movie, their fear was not based on threats; merely their own terror that they (therefore anyone else) should ever risk non-compliance. (A far more accurate depiction of why, as Dr. Bellamy said, "in the end, most people go along.")

There's another subtle, though significant point that emerges beautifully in the film. In the end, it's not just an individual's success for having survived "Them," but a demonstration that most of the true beauty and important contributions in this world come from those who resist the effort to turn mediocre. After all, though the "lawn" might look nice, it's the "weeds" that make a difference. And, as with weeds, some need to be yanked out by the roots. Some, however, are all that bring music, poetry, art and innovation to an otherwise "neatly manicured" culture. Sigh.

And, if all this wasn't enough, there's the simple "Cinderella" love story aspect of Strictly Ballroom. If you listen to the podcasts, it's no secret that I'm an easy touch in the "romance" department. Fran's transition from homely doorstop to glowing beauty is movie cliche at its best. The performances are so good, you want to believe every second of it.

As Tom Veil found a few fellow travellers, so does Scott. Both Fran and his father (if not Fran's entire family) provide support to give Scott courage. Scott isn't perfect and, more than once, is ready to "hand over the negatives." But Fran isn't Allison. In the end, not only are "Them" defeated (momentarily, of course) but the "world" celebrates that defeat and Scott and Fran kiss. WOW!

Did I say I adore this film? Did I say that nearly every frame is perfect? Oh, maybe I did.

If and when they ever remake "Nowhere Man," I vote for music and dancing.

1 Comments:

Blogger knowwhereman said...

"It's okay to color outside the lines."

Our world is filled with people and
structures whose goal is to ensure
everyone stay "inside the lines". Things have never been more "under control" than they are today. This
planet is becoming a THEM paradise.
A dispirited population has been beaten into submission. Our world is being engineered into a bland, docile, managed, regulated, generic
and spiritless fog of conformity and sameness. It's always been OK to color outside the lines. At least it used to be. But the day is coming when coloring outside the lines will be viewed as too rebellious, antisocial, uncivilized, dangerous and threatening for THEM (and many of us?) to tolerate. When that
happens, all the crayons can just stay inside the box and rot.

"In the end, it's not just an individual's success for having survived "Them," but a demonstration that most of the true beauty and important contributions in this world come from those who resist the effort to turn mediocre."

THEY didn't want Tom's negatives.
They wanted his mind. They wanted
his spirit. They wanted his soul.
Subduing someone's mind and soul is a victory only when the person puts up a fight for their identity, integrity, and yes, their desire not to be mediocre. The game's getting too easy for THEM these days. Too many people today don't want to color outside the lines. Too many prefer the banal over the exceptional. This isn't so much a victory for THEM as it is simply surrender. Maybe Tom Veil didn't know who he really was. But whoever he was, at least he put up a fight.

7:48 PM  

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