Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Love: I Had The Time of My Life, Tribute to Dirty Dancing




                                                                      Oh, yes, that one!   

Of all the summer romance movies of all time, this one has to be on the top of the list. You can't resist Patrick Swayze as Johnny, the bad boy dance instructor who teaches Baby (Francis) how to dance, and so many other mysterious things about life . . . cough.   If you missed this love story, you're missing a swoon worthy classic.  It's another top shelf summer romance movie.  Why? Well, as with Grease, and with this story, each of us has had that high school crush, that first love, first brush of true romance that happened during our summer vacation.  

It could be a time share, a resort, a camp, or campground. A summer cottage or home.   Doesn't matter if your family is wealthy or not, the romance of the summer months and being on vacation is heady stuff for a seventeen year old girl.  It's wandering the camp or resort area at night, with just friends, no parents around. A giddy feeling of freedom and bliss, an endless round of summer days and nights devoted to fun as school is out for the season. I remember stolen kisses under the stars, near the lake, or around a campfire surrounded by other teens. 

Our timeless lovers this week: Baby and Johnny, endure in our hearts.  Baby (whom I will refer to as Frances from this point on), is seventeen. The story is set in the summer of 1963, before Kennedy was shot, as the grown up Frances tells us in an opening monologue that infers a time of innocence for her as well as for the nation. 

Jennifer Grey plays Frances in the film. She is adorable, both innocent and yet has that hidden intellect behind melting brown eyes. She's the younger sister. Her older sister is college material, and as mom, dad, Frances and her sister Lisa go off to the resort for a summer vacation, there is the usual bickering in the back seat. Frances is treated like the baby by her family, including her bitchy older sister, and hence, they continue to call her Baby in her high school years. 

When she arrives at the resort, she is shy and slinks about in the background. She overhears the manager telling the staff to schmooze it up with the guest's daughters, dance with them dazzle them, give them what they want to make their stay here memorable, even if they are unattractive. After all, that's what the staff are being paid to do. Frances sees a cadre of young men dressed as waiters and tennis teachers, dance teachers and the like, all standing in a row like soldiers being give their orders by their general; go out and entertain the guests, but keep it clean!  No dirty, no nasty, just a few flirtations and chaste kisses. 

Johnny Castle is there. He's hot, who wouldn't fall for this Adonis clad in black?  Patrick Swayze is delicious in the role of bad boy Johnny from the wrong side of the tracks.  He first brushes Frances off as just another rich kid.  But then, when trouble comes and Francis bravely steps in to help, he notices she's more than just a wealthy doctor's spoiled but innocent little girl. He starts to see her as a strong, determined woman instead of a child.  This is an important moment for Frances, as no one has thought of her in those terms before. She grows up a little bit more, realizing she is so much more than Baby, the youngest daughter of Doctor Houseman.

To briefly bring you up to speed, in the story, set in 1963, there is a certain level of prudishness that still exists among the upper class. The free sex and free love thing isn't in vogue as yet, as it's the early 1960's. That comes in the latter years of the 1960's with Woodstock and the Summer of Love. In this time, girls are still supposed to bevirgins til they marry, or they are considered bad girls. And boys who get girls pregnant are the bad boys.  Johnny's dance partner, Penny, has gotten pregnant by another member of the staff. She tries to get the guy to take responsibility, he blows her off, calling her a whore. Johnny tries to help Penny through this, as a true friend would. He's trying to come up with the money for her to get an abortion, but can't. Francis gives him the money for it. Now Penny can have her abortion, but there is another dilemma. Johnny and Penny are scheduled to perform at another resort, the Shelldrake, at the end of the week, but she can't do it if she has this surgery. Frances steps in and says she'll do it for Penny. She'll learn the dance steps and perform with Johhny at the Shelldrake. This is the point where the storyline just sizzles! 

 Johnny spends the next week teaching Francis the steps, and it is pure magic, pure romance. They spend hours together, in each others arms as Frances learns the steps of the exotic and sensual dance, and you guessed it, they fall in love, or at least she does. The dance scenes in this movie are so hot, so sensual, you will literally melt with delight, and sigh and swoon. You may even wish you were Frances for a moment or two, being swept away in Johnny's arms. They do this in secret. Frances sneaks off away from her parents and meets Johnny in his dance studio each afternoon. They have a blast together and hearts collide.

We know Johnny likes her a lot but he still considers her a kid as he is about twenty by now, a working man trying to earn a living by teaching rich people dance steps. But, he does have a particular fondness for Frances and admires her for helping him and his wrong side of the tracks friends. He's in love, really, but just doesn't know it yet.  

They successfully perform at the Shelldrake Resort, but when they return from their triumph, they find Penny has taken a turn for the worst. Her abortion was a back alley sort, and she is very sick and in pain. Everyone is frightened among the staff, uncertain of what to do. If they reveal to the boss the reason for Penny's illness, she'll b fired. So, once more, Frances, the 17 year old girl everyone discounted as just a kid, step in to save the day. She goes to her father (its the middle of the night), and askes him to come with her to help a friend who is ill.

Once on the scene with the ailing Penny, Francis's father, Dr. Houseman, askes the staff gathered, "Who is responsible for this young lady?" A question that back in 1963 meant, who is her lover, her fiancee, her husband--who will take care of her. It's a sexist question, to be sure, but we're a few years before the women's movement, so yeah, women were still considered SOMEBODY'S (A male somebody) responsibility. 

Good old Johnny, with his heart of gold, steps up and says. "Me!" He's being gallant, and you just can't not love him for it. Frances does. And so do we. But, his answer sets in motion a set of misconceptions:  now Dr. Houseman thinks that Johnny is the father of the child, (he isn't) and this puts Johnny on daddy's bad list. This comes back to haunt Francis and Johnny later, when daddy refuses to give his blessing for their love. 

  Now Daddy Houseman is very upset, because he doesn't want his daughter hanging out with this group of racy young people. He saves Penny, but forbides Frances from hanging out with any of the group from now on, including Johnny. Especially Johnny as Dad thinks the guy is the one who knocked up Penny and then paid for an abortion for her instead of marrying her.

Well, as parents, or as teens ourselves, we all know how that usually turns out . . . . 

Frances continues to see Johnny on the sly. It's a story as old as time. They make love, become lovers, and daddy finds out. 

 Frances is now on her parent's bad girl list. No, she's not knocked up, but they are disappointed in her for her behavior in seeing Johnny behind their backs, and her dad won't even speak to her. I think he took it pretty hard to learn his innocent little girl has been sleeping with the dance instructor, no longer a virgin--a big deal in 1963.  Oh, well. In the end, the lovers triumph. They dance at the end of the season party for the audience, and steal the show.  

 There are other subplots throughout the movie, but the romance is front and center. One subplot/dilemma is that the resort owner realizes his days are numbered, kids don't want to come to camp anymore with their parents. Kids are bored with the camp routines. He's at his wits end trying to find a new and fresh idea to appeal to parents with teens to bring them to the resort.  In the background, Johnny has had some great ideas about dancing classes, but his boss keeps telling him to shut up and just do what he's told. Johnny would love to teach modern dance steps, like the kids want. He can't, he has to stay traditional to keep his job.  Well, at the end of the movie, when Frances and Johnny, along with the other dancers, give a send off that is modern and popular with the young and old alike, the resort owner now realizes he has a gem in Johnny, and Johnny's dance moves may save the guy's business. Nice twist. 

  Only problem with the movie is this for me. We don't really know if Johnny and Frances had their happily ever after. The movie ends, and did they get togeher forever or was it just a summer fling?  That is the only thing I would change in this movie.  It has great songs, and a soundtrack that rocks. You'll recall that old song that sticks in everyone's head, "I had the time of my life"  it comes from this movie.  Also, Hungry Eyes, Love is Strange, Big Girls Don't Cry, and many others. You can order the soundtrack on amazon or iTunes.

If you love dance movies, you'll love this one. The dance scenes are plentiful and awesome. If you love romance, this is it, girls--a timeless classic that will make your heart soar again and again.

Sadly, Patrick Swayze died of cancer in 2009.  He was a brilliant star, a great actor and dancer. His movies included Ghost, another one which I discuss in length in another timeless loverss post Haunted Romance   back in October of 2013. 



 He starred in several movies and miniseries, including my favorite, North and South, as Orry Main, a southern plantation owner's son during the civil war era made back in the 1980's that might be worth your time if you like miniseries with historical themes. He has a tragic love story in it as well and plays a strong lead as a civil war soldier and a plantation owner.

 Enjoy your summer, timeless lovers fans, and don't forget to make your own romantic memories. Take time to fall in love or renew an old love.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Oh Those Hot Summer Nights! Grease Tribute

Famous Lovers Sandy & Danny from GREASE, 1978

Well, it's officially summer.  The kids are out of school and looking for adventure. 

Remember those wild high school days?  Well, even if you don't, you probably remember the musical GREASE! It's a summer annual for cable movies.   I recently watched it again and fell in love with the goofy characters again.  Never mind that it's a bunch of twenty and thirty something actors playing teenagers in high school, it's still magic, with the storyline, the music, and the 70's tribute to the 50's in this kitchsky musical.   

Travolta sporting a 'Fonze' Look

 John Travolta was young, and stud worthy in the roll of Danny, the greaser bad boy who meet a girl during the summer that was sort of a goody two shoes. He left his cool Fonzie act behind when he went on vacation with his family that summer, and just spent time romancing Sweet little Sandy away from his buddies and his overwhelming and notorious image back at school. He was just 'Danny' to her, and as she put it, he was very sweet. Aw, can't you just see how this would ruin our bad boy's rep at school if word got out?  

Well, it gets worse, when good old Sandy shows up at his high school the first day back. Seems her family moved to California, and she's going to Danny's school. Not Cool. Not for Danny, because his reputation is at stake.  

Sandy, well, I had mixed feelings about her all along. At first, when the movie came out and was taking up prime real estate on my TV screen via re-run movies, I didn't like her. I thought she was such a sissy. Really, what did Danny see in her. Boring. Then, I was sort of mad that she went and changed her image, became the hot sexy mama type just to get his attention. That seemed like a sell out to me. Ah, yes, this is a blog about timeless lovers, and it's also about me, my thoughts and reflections. So, my feelings for Sandy have changed quite a bit over the past few decades. I went from yuck in her pristine form, to resentment in her change to biker chick form, to actually liking her and admiring her for her chops in trying to emerge from her pink fluffy cocoon.  Yes, I did dislike her, for many years. Now I think she's a heroine worthy of praise. With age comes wisdom, as they say---my age--not hers.  Sandy is still just a high school teen in the movie.  

Why is GREASE so perennially popular to the masses? What is the appeal.  

Sandy, pristine, fresh, naive, but sort of adorable in her innocence

I'll tell you this, back in 1978, I was just 18 years old. I was a high school graduate. And I thought GREASE and the characters were dumb, at that age. Mostly because it was sort of cheesy in 1978, the movie, that is. I was a die-hard heavy metal chick, obsessed with KISS and Alice Cooper, so the whole 50's musicale and high school sweetheart drama was lost on me. But, give it a few years . . .. ahem. ...... decades.  

When my kids were young teens, like about 13-14, I didn't like Sandy any better. I liked Danny, and the boys. But, as a mother, I worried what kind of message this movie was sending young girls-----"You need to change who you are to catch the guy you like." 


Now, like most moms, I didn't want my 13 year old daughter to start strutting about in stilettos and a skin tight black outfit just to get her 1990's version of Danny to notice her. I didn't need to fear, because as it turns out my daughter is extremely self confident and opinionated. She despised Sandy for changing, too. Not because we thought Sandy the pristine virgin was anything special, but simply because we, as women (girls if you count my daughter then) held the strong belief that you should not have to change who you are for anyone. You should celebrate your uniquenss, nerdy or not. What a relief. So, now that I've addressed the mommy worry, let's toss it aside and move on.  

What's the big deal about GREASE?  Why do these characters resonate with us as adults? 

For one thing, many adults idolize their high school years; the feeling of cameraderie with chums, being part of the gang. It is a time of innocence for most of us as we dont' have to live in the real world yet with all the cares of job hunting and unemployment. We have to pass Biology and we have to find a date to the prom or we are screwed. Simplier problems, or so we like to think now when we look back on what life was like then. Its not so easy being a high school kid, not today. But I digress. The appeal of GREASE, for one thing, is the 50's lifestyle, the cars, the music, the malt shoppe, parking and necking, that kind of freedom from cares that adults crave.  And it's also usually the time we experience our first true love, if not our first crush. we're on to something....... that romance in our heart over the one that got away?  Or the perfect someone we thought if we could catch their eye our lives would be complete. Isnt' that what true love is all about? The myth of true love making your life complete is a perennial one. And young love, high school love, is idealized in American society. High School Sweethearts? 

Alas, not all high school romances are as successful. Most give us nightmares, or bitter memories. 

Summer Dream, ripped at the seams! But oh that Hot Summer Nights!

Yes, you got it right----those hot summer nights, when we were free to play with the boys . . . . or girls!  I recall being in high school and going out with friends, someone with a car would pick everyone up. We'd go to a movie, or just hang out somewhere and B.S. all night, just like the characters in GREASE.  We all wanted to be part of group at 17, and we wanted to be loved.  


Rizzo wanted love, beneath all her tough girl act as the leader of the Pink Ladies. She just wanted her guy Kinichie to notice her.  Sure, she like to play queen bitch of the high school and mess with people, because she could. Rizzo could be the wild child she is or she could be the prom queen type, she's still the popular girl that everyone wants to be. And, she reluctantly lets Sandy into her exclusive group. And didn't we all want to be part of certain social group in high school. Lucky for Sandy, she had Frenchie in her corner, Frenchie wanted Rizzo to let Sandy in the group, so she sort of sponsored her, socially. Sandy's inclusion into the group of Pink Ladies signifies our own need to belong to the group, our high school self that we still carry along with us. Memories of belonging, or wishing we belonged to the group, memories of our first love.

 Okay, again with the LOVE.  Yes, it's a romance movie, a sort of goofy romance with plenty of over the top acting, but it's fun. Rizzo and Kenickie get together in the end, and so do Sandy and Danny.  On my most recent viewing of this movie, just this month, I was touched by the oft ignored part in the movie where Danny Zuiko tries to change for Sandy. We are so inudated with the last scene where she changes into a sexy mama for him, we overlook and forget that Danny tried to become an athlete for Sandy, so she'd like him. He goes out for different sports, trying to find his groove so he can get a letter sweater. After many false starts, he finally finds his groove in running track. He does that to try to straighten up for Sandy, and she of course, tries to loosen up for him.  That's what love is about, really, trying to make the other person happy. That's the timeless message in this story, and I choose Sandy and Danny as this week's timeless lovers for that reason. Love changes us, whether it's for the best or worst, we do change as Love takes hold. 

And aside from the love story in GREASE, it's a classic because of the great music!  Yes, I said it. I now love the music from the Movie. It's sort of hard not to, you know, when you hear it all the time . . . . .It's a classic.