Strictly Ballroom: Special Edition
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
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Strictly Ballroom, the first entry in Baz Luhrmann’s “Red Curtain Trilogy” (followed by Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge), is by far the most charming of the series but also, tragically, the most overlooked. As an Australian import about organized, competitive ballroom dancing, preceding by a decade the trend in television that resulted in shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, it’s no surprise that the film was widely overlooked by mainstream American audiences upon initial release. But Buena Vista is given North American audiences another chance to experience this quirky, romantic comedy with the release of the Strictly Ballroom Special Edition, featuring an all-new, exclusive, retrospective documentary about the film.
The film opens with a hysterical, Christopher Guest-type mock-umentary about a regional competition in which promising young dancer Scott Hastings nearly destroys his career as a competitive ballroom dancer by performing “new steps” (gasp!)— something the Federation, headed by the nefarious Barry Fife, strictly prohibits. Many of the film’s funniest moments arise from this exaggerated strictness in regard to the dancing, which results in competitions in which all the couples dance identical routines in perfect circles on the dance floor.
The story of Strictly Ballroom is admittedly conventional, as Scott is torn between his urge to break from the Federation’s prescribed style of dancing and his mother’s expectations of his triumph at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix. There’s also a bit of Dirty Dancing thrown in— Scott trains a passionate, amateur dancer named Fran to be his partner in secret, much to the dismay of his fellow dancers and her family when their relationship is discovered. Most of the film’s narrative threads play out as expected, but the terrific look of the movie, which finds all the characters adorned in gaudy pastels and sequins, and its contagious spirit more than compensate.
The special features on this release include an audio commentary; Samba to Slow Fox, a documentary about the sort of competitive ballroom dancing on which the film is based; a deleted scene; a narrated design gallery; and the aforementioned exclusive featurette. This featurette, “Strictly Ballroon: From Stage to Screen,” is as wonderfully quirky as the movie itself, featuring extensive interviews with Luhrmann and the film’s producers with loads of wonderful footage behind the scenes of the production.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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