Royale With Cheese Movie Club: “Dirty Dancing”

Wait – Chuck, you’ve never seen Dirty Dancing? Really? Everyone in the whole wide world has seen this film, and you’re telling me you haven’t? What’s wrong with you? I mean, really?

Trust me. Nobody puts Chucky in a corner.

I can honestly say that, until last night, I never really had a chance to watch the movie.  I didn’t see it in theaters, it didn’t interest me at the time.   Heck, at one point in time my ex-wife Vicki had three copies of the film – two on VHS and one on DVD – and I still didn’t bother watching it.

And I know there was a TU fundraiser last year where I could have watched it, but it was a choice that night of seeing the movie or photographing a star trail in the Adirondacks, and … well … the Adirondacks won out.

So, last night, I fired up my online rental service, requested Dirty Dancing, and actually sat and watched it as part of the “Royale With Cheese Movie Club” – the films that everyone in the world, sans me, has seen.

I sat through the entire film – the arrival at Kellerman’s, the dance scenes, the love scenes between Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman, the final climactic dance scene..

And I gotta say this.  With all honesty.

This film bothered me a lot.

It’s not that the dance scenes in the film weren’t impressive – they certainly were, in a multi-cut, music video sort of way.  But the dance scenes were just symbolism to what was the real story of this film – the underlying caste system of the 1960’s, where people were expected to stay within their own socio-economic or religious backgrounds, and not to get involved with someone from a different caste.  Heck, at some point in the film I expected Rita Moreno to walk into the bungalow where Baby and Johnny Castle were cuddling and tell Baby, “one of your own kind // stick to your own kind…”

And the whole concept of Kellerman’s as a Catskills vacationland and a matchmaking / “arranged marriage” service kinda bugged me as well.  Look at all the nice young boys who are going to be doctors and lawyers, and they’re working as waitstaff at Kellerman’s to show their humility as a future husband for the daughters of their guests.

I realize that this film plays best as a “wish fulfillment” story, about the girl who’s trapped in a “conventional” family life, who has this image of a white picket fence and a husband and 2.5 kids, and wants to rip that image off of her like a scab off of a scar; and just strike that image down to wage her future on a union with someone from a different socio-economic strata.  But in the end, it’s all a cheat.  We know that Baby and Johnny are going to end up together, from the first time Baby hauls a watermelon into the staffworkers’ bungalow, to the moment when Johnny and his dance buddies are dance-marching into the banquet hall, with Baby ready to perform “the lift” into Johnny Castle’s arms.  They’re star-crossed lovers, people.  They’re going to get together like a sewing machine and a garmentworker.

Oh, and one other thing that bothered me about this film?  The music.  Not the period songs by the Ronettes or the Drifters or the Contours or the Four Seasons; those songs made sense in the period and time of the film.  But whenever there were other “made for the picture” songs – and yes, I’m talking about “She’s Like The Wind” and “Hungry Eyes” and “I’ve Had The Time of My Life” – they didn’t seem authentic.  They weren’t in the style of music from the 1960’s.  And every time I heard them – especially songs like “Hungry Eyes” – it pulled me out of the suspension of disbelief that I’m watching a scene from 1963, and it suddenly becomes a scene from 1963 with music from the late 1980’s.  I mean, couldn’t Eric Carmen have written a song that sounded like a pre-Beatles era song, and not like a late 1980’s power ballad?

And I’m sure right now there are people who are reading this and thinking, “Geez, Chuck doesn’t know a good film when he sees one.  How can he not appreciate Dirty Dancing?”

Well, I got news for you.  I didn’t like the film.  I’m sorry, but it just felt like there was a bigger film trying to get out of what was essentially an extended music video.  And that bigger film got trampled by a series of film cliches.

Maybe the next Royale With Cheese movie will work for me.  We shall see.