THE WIZARD IS BAZ IN THIS "BALLROOM" @ 4 December 2010 12:42 PM
Before he started making movies with Hollywood names and geting known for the breakneck editing techniques of Moulin Rouge, Australian director/co-screenwriter Baz Luhrmann gained international acclaim and a shelf of awards for Strictly Ballroom, a quirky, highly stylized light drama about a young dancer who apparently isn't allowed to improvise and the young plain Jane who becomes his partner.

Filmed with a marvelous Aussie cast, Luhrmann made up for a clearly limited budget with flashy lighting, dynamic color and a an eclectic mix of musical styles. Though referred to as musical, there is no on-camera singing and the songs are used as dance background for the most part. Doris Day's hit, "Perhaps" is referred to by Luhrmann as a "pricey" acquistion for the film but very much worth it.

Disney fans will want to listen for "Os quindines de ya ya" which serves as the key music for the father's dancing past. "Ya ya" was the big number in Walt Disney's The Three Caballeros in which the produce lady danced with Donald Duck, the townspeople and an animated dancing city. Another song, "No Other Love," was a '50s pop tune adapted from Chopin which was a hit for Jo Stafford and was one of the handful of Disney songs that were not created for movies but just as pop hits, like "Shrimp Boats" and "Mule Train."

I never could quite cotton to the whiplash pace of Moulin Rouge, so even though Strictly Ballroom sometimes has a Howard Hawks rate of speed, it's not all in the editing but rather in the performances, which are uniformly excellent. The opening scenes were so raucously done that they reminded me, of all things, of an episode of The Monkees.

Parents should take note that, although this film has a PG rating and is not as gritty as it might have been, there is some strong language and one scene in which a dance judge and and a young woman are seen in bed, vigorously engaged what my dad used to call "spoo-ja-doo."

This special edition DVD includes an audio commentary from 2002 with Luhrmann, Choreographer John "Cha Cha" O'Connell and Production Designer Catherine Martin and a new half-hour chronicle of the story behind the film, which was a Cinderella story in itself, from a student musical to a plucky little film with a first-time director and star to a dubious opening with a negative review, all the way to a Cannes Film Festival award win. This film was quite a change of pace in its day, many years before the dawn of popular TV dance competition shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.

Have to add, though, that the first time Antonio Vargas and Paul Mercurio begin the pivotal paso doble dance, it can't help now but conjure up an image of Buzz Lightyear's Spanish mode in Toy Story 3.

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