Pop Culture Blind Spot: Dirty Dancing

Warm up those hips and grab a watermelon because it’s time for another installment of Pop Culture Blind Spot!  And today we’re heading back to family summer camp and celebrating Dirty Dancing, which was released on this day exactly 30 years ago. Even after three decades, the movie still holds up. Let’s dive right in and revisit one of the greatest movies that defined a generation.

Statements of note from the trailer:

“The heat is in the music. The music sets you dancing. The dancing sets her free.”

“She thought it would be just another summer vacation, but it turns out to be the time of her life.”

“What they learn from each other feels too good to be wrong.”

My knowledge of this movie: Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey do a lot of dancing. Kenny Ortega of High School Musical fame choreographed it. Kelly Bishop aka Emily Gilmore is also in it, but I always manage to forget this fact.

The reason I had never seen Dirty Dancing is from a lack of not wanting to see it. By nature, it should be a movie I love – romance, impressive dance sequences, drama, comedy. I just never got around to watching it. Thank God for Netflix, amirite, ladies? So here we are, almost 28 years to the day it was released on August 21st, 1987, and I’m sharing my thoughts with you on it for the very first time. Here goes nothing.

2:20 This movie takes place in 1963? Definitely did not know that. I thought it was just another 80s movie.

2:44 I remember that Kelly Bishop is in this movie. I know, I know. She’s a Tony Award winning actress of stage and screen, but to me she will forever and always be Emily Gilmore. And to quote the Gilmore Guys podcast, Bishop is Queen.

2:57 I knew there was greenery and cabin-looking structures in this movie, but I was not aware it takes place at a sleepaway camp for families. Does anyone go to this kind of camp anymore? Do these even exist?

3:24 The cars lining up to Kellerman’s camp legit looks like moving in day for freshman at my college.

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3:54 Is Newman from Seinfeld in this? [the answer is yes]

5:00 MAMA KELLY BISHOP IS SERVING IN THIS DANCE SCENE, DESPITE THE FACT THEY’RE SMUSHED TOGETHER LIKE A BUNCH OF SARDINES.

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7:20 I get Patrick Swayze now.

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7:55 “You just put your pickle on everybody’s plate, college boy, and leave the hard stuff to me.” – Johnny Castle, an employee at a Jewish family camp, definitely NOT a porn star.

9:00 Baby is set up with some doofus who is the camp owner’s grandson, a dude named Neil who is going to Cornell for Hotel Management. Meanwhile, Baby’s got her eyes on going to Mount Holyoke to study the economics of underdeveloped countries and then enter the Peace Corps. Obviously well matched.

10:30 Johnny Castle and the blonde dance instructor Penny take center stage at this dance Baby and Neil are at, clearly auditioning for whatever the version of Dancing with the Stars was in 1963. However, they get cockblocked by the owner Max who wants them to dance with the guests instead.

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13:37 After being forced to appear in a magic show and awarded a chicken for participation, Baby wanders into the staff quarters, which is a big no no. What a rebel.

14:30 Baby runs into a guy holding three huge watermelons, but they really just look like three prop pickles. There is no way he could carry three of those on his own. Come on.

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15:00 Baby enters the secret staff dance party where the literal Dirty Dancing is going down. Basically this type of dancing is grinding on top of your partner with no room for the holy spirit at all. Which I guess doesn’t matter for the employees of this Jewish camp.

17:00 This soundtrack is amazing, by the way. I’m a sucker for 60s/Motown era music. Still blown away that this takes place in 1963.

20:00 Johnny teaching Baby how to roll her hips is the most awkward. It’s like she’s about to drop a deuce right on the dance floor. (GOD HELP ME I NEVER WANT TO SAY DROP A DEUCE AGAIN)

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21:00 For some reason, an activity for the women at this camp is to try on wigs. What else is available at this camp – How To Cook A Proper Roast For Your Man or Top Tips For Cleaning Your Curlers?

25:00 Penny is pregnant. I was not aware there was a pregnancy twist in this film. Despite attempting to help a devastated Penny, she tells her to GTFO. And apparently the father of this baby is the asshole misogynistic server in the restaurant.

30:00 To remedy this, Baby asks her doctor dad Jerry Orbach for $300 to do a “non illegal” activity – aka she’s going to pay for Penny’s abortion??? This is a lot of money for someone she just met a day ago. Is she trying to prove something or is she just a good person? Or trying to prove she’s a good person?

33:42 Baby agrees to take Penny’s place in a dance competition since she’ll be recovering from her aforementioned abortion – is there really no one else qualified to take Penny’s place? A sub dance instructor at the camp, perhaps? Baby can barely roll her hips around, as we learned earlier. She’s worse than Julia Stiles learning hip-hop in Save The Last Dance.

37:00 Jennifer Grey is incredibly skinny. Penny is even skinnier. And the two skinny waists have a weird threesome with Johnny as they teach her how to dance. Uncomfy moment #3 – it’s the same feeling I get while watching ballroom trios on So You Think You Can Dance or Dancing With The Stars.

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38:00 The closeups on the gyrating hips – not for me. Uncomfy moment #4.

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I know I keep on bringing up Dancing With the Stars, but this B plot about Baby learning how to learn competitive-level dance is totally a parallel to DWTS. The fact that you have to pick up a foreign skill quickly then perform it under the (hungry) eyes of judges is just like in this movie. Which probably explains how she won season 11 of DWTS.

40:00 Johnny accidentally locks the keys to his car inside said vehicle, so he just straight up takes a pole out of the ground to smash his car window. With ease, he does this. It’s also raining, but it’s the fakest rain ever and the sun is shining like it’s 90 degree day, and all I can think is the rain machine is blowing the water horizontally at Patrick Swayze’s face. That handsome mug must be insured, this shouldn’t be happening to him.

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41:00 This balancing on a log practice could be problematic. That is a ravine right there. Maybe don’t risk your life when you could easily do this on a dance floor? Also, I’m supposed to be shipping this right?


43:00 Johnny takes Baby to a field and subsequently the famous lake, which is much better than a log in the middle of the forest. But why isn’t Baby’s family concerned about her whereabouts? She just disappeared from camp. Isn’t her sister wondering why Baby didn’t show up to Wig Class?

47:00 Baby has somehow aged 10 years with her costume for the competition. She now looks like a New York Housewife competing in DWTS.

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51:00 Uh oh. Penny’s not looking too hot after her shotty abortion. Baby comes to the rescue again by secretly getting her M.D. Dad to help her. Jerry Orbach (RIP) is quite the Doctor Detective. And quite upset with Baby’s interaction with the Dirty Dancing sexual deviants.

56:00 Welp Baby basically just confessed her love to Johnny. He’s already got his shirt off, so she asks him to dance… But on the real tho –  this sex dance scene is still hot.

1:00 Penny clearly picks up the sex vibes that Johnny and Baby are putting down, and she warns him not to get serious with Baby. Which of course, in 80s movie terms, he obviously is.

This outfit is the reason I keep forgetting the movie takes place in 1963. This could either be 1987 or 2015, who the hell knows.

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“What is with all this rain? Remind me not to have my honeymoon in Niagara Falls.” Baby’s sister

“So, you go to Acapulco, it’ll be fine!” – Queen Bishop

1:04 Baby and Johnny can’t stop boning. She’s technically a teenager, right? Since she’s “planning” to go to Mount Holyoke? Johnny’s obviously the type to skip college in favor of living out his dreams of being a camp dance instructor, so is this forbidden love even more forbidden?

1:07 Oh hey, a scene I actually have scene before. This makes sense in context now. Before I thought it was just some weirdo lip syncing to a song.

1:09 Neil, the annoying grandson, is like the Patrice of this movie. He wants Johnny to dance the Pachanga for the final show, and Johnny’s response is one that made me legit LOL: “He wouldn’t know a good idea if it hit him in the Pachanga” 1:12 Johnny’s bad boy side comes out when asshole waiter sees him kissing Baby, and the scene is like a fight between the Jets and the Sharks.

1:13 Baby’s sister singing I cannot.

1:18 There’s some side plot about Johnny’s cougar dance client setting him up as a kid who stole her husband’s wallet, but Baby comes to his defense by providing an alibi that he was with her at the time of the alleged theft. Not really important.

1:19 Baby goes to confront her upset father about basically admitted she slept with Johnny, and the whole conversation looks like a scene from The Bachelor when one of the final girls meets the bachelor’s dad for the first time to talk about how in love they are with their son.

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1:22 Johnny’s heading out of town because of all the “trouble” he’s caused, and as he rides away, She’s Like the Wind plays in the background. Yes, the hit song by Patrick Swayze. TOO META. BTW, what exactly is Johnny’s accent? And does he not look like The Terminator in this scene?

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1:26 This camp has its own theme song. This is just such a foreign culture to me that I’m having a difficult time believing it’s real. This tune is a cross between a traditional hymn and one of those camp songs you hear in like Troop Beverly Hills.

1:29 Ah yes, the iconic “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” scene. In my head she was in a literal corner of a room, sitting in a chair as if she had been punished. In addition, Johnny was gone for like 2 hours they’re all acting like it’s been years. ALSO Queen Bishop looks so hot rn!

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1:30 So here’s my problem with Baby and Johnny dancing to Time of My Life – it’s a song that was made in the 1980s, but supposed to be set for a performance in 1963. This is why I’m confused. However, I will say that this song in context also makes so much more sense with the movie. Oh, and how did Johnny coordinate a flash mob so fast??

“I think she gets this from me.” KELLY FREAKING BISHOP

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There are some interesting characters in the crowd, including the guy who predicted wearing sunglasses at night long before Corey Hart, the band leader dancing with Penny, and the two larger women happily dancing with each other. The movie ends with a pan out on the dance floor, with a spotlight on Baby and Johnny DIRTY DANCING. Bless. Also, it’s very reminiscent of the High School Musical 3 finale, because as you remember, Kenny Oretga is a mastermind of both these epic films.

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(Previously posted in August, 2015)

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Questions, Comments and Concerns: Dirty Dancing (2017)

Dirty Dancing was the coolest, most grown-up movie when I was eight years old and it was an entirely different movie. The 1987 film was a mainstay of sleepovers and cable tv throughout my ’90s childhood, and it’s where I learned about family summer camps, partner dancing and I guess also abortion. [Traci saw it for the first time as an adult – read her pop culture blind spot post here.] Thirty years (? and also !) have passed since the release of the original Dirty Dancing. Since then we’ve been treated to 2004 sequel Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, a stage musical that I saw only because it was part of my season package, and now ABC’s TV movie treatment. The 2017 version of Dirty Dancing loosely adapts the original screenplay, makes it a musical – sort of – and stars Abigail Breslin as Baby, Sarah Hyland as Lisa, Debra Messing as mom Marjorie (in what I can only assume is a bid to make us feel even older than we did when we realized Dirty Dancing was 30), Colt Prattes as Johnny and Nicole Scherzinger as Penny, among others. I wanted to like it a bit, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea.

Question: Does this meta-Dirty Dancing framing device serve any purpose?

Dirty Dancing (1987) is the story of a young woman going to family summer camp in 1963 to learn about dancing and herself.

Dirty Dancing (2017) is the story of a 30-something woman going to a stage musical in 1975, of a movie that in the actual universe was released in 1987 (but don’t worry, the 1975 musical still has INCREDIBLY ’80s-looking posters),  which is the story of the time she went to family summer camp in 1963 to learn about dancing and herself.

Maybe ABC just wanted to show off their green screen technology:

Places I’ve seen a more accurate depiction of a person standing on a street in NYC:

(1) New York, New York in Las Vegas

(2) Epcot

(3) Sesame Street

(4) snowglobes

Comment: Baby is an early adopter of Betty Friedan-era feminism

Neither a question nor a concern, just mentioning that the first dialogue is a convo about The Feminine Mystique for whatever reason.

Concern: A costume designer hates Abigail Breslin, a cute young lady

Or is completely unable to tailor clothing to a non-hanger-shaped human. Not sure which would be worse. Two more inches and some work on the darts, PLEASE.

Comment: At least Baby still has anachronistic hair

One of my tv/film pet peeves is anachronistic hair in period films. It was especially prevalent in films of the 1950s to 1980s, but even in this 2017 version Baby has hair that would’ve looked positively nutty in the early ’60s. Still not as bad as Jennifer Gray’s ’80s perm.

See also: Jennifer Gray’s 80s-style jean shorts, crop top, keds combo.

 

Question: How many former So You Think You Can Dance contestants do you think are in the Den Of Vice where the employees go to sing and dance after-hours?

They do a good job.

Comment: Baby looking bemused while wearing Wendy Darling’s nightgown is my vibe during this whole movie.
Question: Honey, what’s this, what’s happening, what’s going on here?

A word on fashions of the late ’50s and early ’60s. Foundation garments were still a THING and ’50s-’60s silhouettes are immensely flattering on ladies with boobs, butts, etc. because the waist is emphasized. These ill-fitting costumes without a proper foundation are just all wrong – even if a fashion-clueless teenager might have looked dowdy by accident, there’s no real need to do that here. Making such an adorable girl dress like my grandma after she gave birth to her fifth child in 1960 ought to be a crime.

Concern: Everyone is really crabby at Baby. Constantly.

Baby: I’ll pay for your abortion.

Johnny: Literally buzz off forever, Baby.

Comment: White struggle: learning to move/clap on the twos and the fours.
Comment: What gets me is, I KNOW Abigail Breslin can sell a dance number.

While I’m watching the classic log scene, I’m blown away by how stilted the dance sequences are, and not just in a “Baby’s just learning to dance” way. I don’t know what to blame – the choreography, the direction, the chemistry – but I stop short of blaming Abigail Breslin because we all remember how she totally sold that iconic dance scene in Little Miss Sunshine.

Question: Is anyone watching Dirty Dancing for middle-aged parents coping with a stilted, loveless marriage?

Doesn’t matter. That’s what you’re getting.

Comment: The scene with Penny and Baby dancing is kind of cute.

The Penny/Baby friendship chemistry is a hundred times better than the Johnny/Baby romantic chemistry. Then they start singing, which is a thing that happens in this production. It’s fine. Oldies, not original songs, which is the way to go I think.

Concern: I have to wait for the end of Johnny and Baby’s mambo performance to find out if it was supposed to have gone well or not.

The audience cheers.

No lift, though.

Started on the two.

Success?

Question: Why was Johnny in prison?

I mean, Johnny was in prison for car stuff. But WHY, you know?

Comment: White struggle #2: Having to leave family camp early.

Not my particular struggle (the idea of my parents ever spending money on something like a family resort-camp is laughable), but presented like it’s a very real tragedy here. Debra Messing pointedly sings They Can’t Take That Away From Me, which is how women in 1963 showed their emotions when their vacation and marriage was about to be cut short.

Concern: Is Debra Messing’s lawyer in her rolodex?

Marjorie wants a divorce and says “I called my lawyer” (and also “I’d rather be alone than lonely”), which causes me to hop on the memory train and get off in the era before cell phones and internet. She either had her lawyer’s number written down or memorized, or the main office had a yellow pages for her home region. Then she either had to use the office phone or a pay phone. Which is all to say that she wants this divorce hard.

Concern: Talk-singing.
Comment: Baby has to tell her whole family she slept with Johnny in order to absolve him of stealing a watch.

And THAT is why you don’t go to summer camp with your family.

Question: Could the costume designer be trolling us?

All of the ’60s styles that would look gorgeous on Abigail and they do this:

Comment: The last half hour of the movie.

Hulu keeps freezing, but I caught the last hour on live TV so we’re good.

The parents aren’t getting divorced because the dad sings the same song the mom did earlier, which is the magic formula to undo divorce feelings.

Debra Messing gets a nice dress. Abigail Breslin gets a better dress than before.

Sarah Hyland learns how to play ukulele and instead of the fun warbling off-key song from the original, we are treated to her singing Bob Dylan. Yes, just a week or so at Kellerman’s and she’s a Betty Friedan-reading, Dylan-listening folk singer with an interracial love interest. As Hairspray – another ’80s flick set in the ’60s with a (better) 2000s remake – would say, Welcome To The 60s. (Marco, Lisa’s friend who teaches her about ukulele and probably love, is cute and charming, played by newcomer J. Quinton Johnson. I like him. And Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright) Is probably one of my top 10 Dylan songs, anyway.)

The less said about the closing song, the better. I’m just going to say this: the spoken phrase “I had the time of my life” segues into the sung phrase “I had the time of my life.”

Concern: Oh. This framing device, again.

We’re back in 1975. A baby-faced 30-year-old Baby leaves Dirty Dancing, the smash 1970s musical, and runs into Johnny, who stars in it? Directs it? Choreographed it? The musical is based on her book. Their romance belongs to the past, just like the last three hours of our lives. Baby has a husband and young daughter (who really does resemble young Abigail Breslin) who is probably way under the target demo to be watching Dirty Dancing or to care about her mother’s coming-of-age summer. Baby FINALLY has makeup, hair and clothing that suits her. I kind of wish they went full This Is Us and set the bookends in the present day with Abigail Breslin aged up to 70 years old, watching this telefilm from her living room as a grandchild distractedly live-tweets it. Now THAT is an unnecessary framing device I could get into.