The joys of streaming video. I just spent my Sunday evening watching the original 1984 version of Footloose. I had never seen it before, which is odd because I was a high school student when this came out. Also, I was a high school student who had moved from a (more-or-less) northern city to a smaller southern community. (Huh, I wanted to capitalize "southern" but not "northern." I think that says something about the identity of both.) Also, I led a revolt of the high school students so that we could be allowed to dance if we wanted to.

OK, that last sentence is not true. Dancing wasn't illegal in Maryville, Tennessee. But a lot of the kids were not allowed to dance or listen to that devil's music. And we didn't even have a car wreck to blame. And I can tell you that I felt a lot of what Kevin Bacon's character felt, except that I was neither athletic nor popular. I'd have been more likely to fight for a good game of D&D. Still, it's strange that I never saw the movie.

The joy of streaming video is that I then immediately watched the 2011 version of Footloose. And watching them so close together was instructive because there isn't a whole lot that is different between the versions, but what is is significant.

In some ways, the writing is better in the 2011 version. There's more tightness; it's as if the 1984 movie was treated as a first draft and 2011 is the polish. There are ways in which the interactions in the 2011 version actually felt more realistic to my memory of the experience than the 1984 version (though the hair in 1984 was spot-on). I suspect that's because the language constraints of 1984 movies kept them a little behind what was being spoken on the street swearing-wise. On the other hand, there is no possible world in which a town that is so uptight as to legally ban underage dancing would allow its high school to have such a lax dress code.

The 2011 version did a better job of humanizing the pastor. I mourned the loss of the book burning (because I think it demonstrated the philosophical underpinning of the preacher that had been warped by the accident), but showing us the accident right up front and then beefing up the conversations between father and daughter helped explain the breakdown better, I thought.

On the other hand, starting the movie with the kids listening to the original Footloose song while they drove into death seemed to blame the first movie for the accident!

It was nice to see more skin tones in the newer version. The pothead was more like the potheads that I remember. Most of the other changes didn't really affect my experience of the movie one way or the other, I think: the pretty girl's risk taking was much more focused on only sex, whereas in the original she had a range of risky behaviors; the bus race was a little more exciting than the tractor chicken, but the tractor chicken was a slightly better example of the male posturing that was going on; the fight at the end was less gymnastic, I guess.

Unfortunately, though, the second movie does a few things that break the story. For a start, setting it in the present, where everyone has an iPod and can wiggle wherever they want, makes the premise more farfetched, IMHO. I don't doubt that there are communities in Georgia where the closest city is 2 hours away, but that's pretty remote for most of the audience these days, both because of the growth of southern population centers and what I imagine is increased mobility for the youth. The 1984 jump to a bar across county lines seems more realistic. The constant ticketing for noise violations smacks more of My Cousin Vinny than a serious attack on rights.

But the biggest problem is introduced by the 2011 version for no reason that I can see and it undermines one of the most important scenes. In the 1984 version, dancing is outlawed completely. In 2011, the film goes out of its way to point out that it is "unsupervised" dancing that is against the law. School and church dances are still legal. In fact, one of the characters says there's an annual multi-church dance.

Now, I'm not saying that a church-sponsored dance is all that great a thing; however, this kills the council speech. I mean, it's great and all that the pretty girl gives him some Bible passages to quote. And in the 1984 version, that makes sense: the community is all "dancing is never good." So showing Bible people dancing with God's blessing is all to the good. But in 2011, we've already acknowledged that God-sponsored dancing is OK. All of the passages are about celebrating or communicating with God. How does that justify allowing dancing on their own when there are perfectly good dances being done at church?

Now, what I was expecting was this to be setting up a different speech. We get the separation of church & state spiel between the northerner and his uncle early on (who is clearly on the kid's side the whole time when on screen but badmouthed when off screen), but it doesn't lead to anything with the council. With that variation in the law, they should have gone down the route of church/state separation and freedom of expression. The pandering to the religious folks by validating their own scripture doesn't really advance the idea, especially with the law change.

Or maybe they should have just left it as it was in the original, which was good enough.

1 thoughtful messages from friendly readers:

Highway said...

Welcome back Abbot! That's a funny story! I didn't realize you were such a youngster! Ha ha!