Never Scene It – Volume I
There is an inevitable side effect of being a movie geek, which is after a certain amount of time you acquire a reputation for being ‘that guy.’ You know ‘that guy’ – the one who’s seen all the right films and owns the right DVDs. Well, I thought for a while I was going to be ‘that guy’ but I’ve started to realise that there are some serious gaps in my movie knowledge. I’m not just talking about films that you’re supposed to have seen, (we’ve all got a few of those after all) but rather films so popular that when I crestfallenly admit I haven’t seen whatever classic slice of cinema is in question that the response is usually something along the lines of, ‘BUT HOW CAN YOU HAVE MISSED THAT!’
The implication, of course, being that maybe I was raised by wolves, or inside a small steel lined box which no culture could penetrate because anyone who hasn’t seen whatever classic is in question CANNOT EXIST, right? So to spare the pitying glances of some I’ve decided to cure myself – to mend the gaps I my cinematic knowledge and actually sit down and watch some of these films.
First up, Grease.
(But HOW can you never have seen Grease!?)
See that ^ don’t do that again…
So, here we go. Grease is a 1978 musical film based on the 1971 stage musical of the stage name. It’s also just an awful, awful piece of work and doesn’t deserve anything approaching the veneration and plaudits it seems to have garnered. Allow me to explain, the plot, (such as it is) follows Danny and Sandy who meet one summer and then have to navigate the path of adolescent ‘true love.’ After a frankly bizarre series of sub-Python credits we see a couple frolicking on a beach, both of whom are clearly completely unaware that frolicking hasn’t been non-ironically committed to celluloid ever. And frolicking isn’t a thing.
But enough nit-picking.
So, who are these people? What are their names? Wither is their motivation and why should we care? These are all reasonable questions and questions that the film has no interest in answering. Through dull, exposition heavy dialogue we learn their names are Danny and Sandy and that, far from breaking up, this is ‘only the beginning.’ Placed at the beginning of the film it is hard to see how anyone could have figured that out for themselves and it is truly considerate that the amount of cognitive energy the audience has to extend is kept to the absolute minimum.
Danny, it turns out, is a greaser, which is apparently 1950s style slang for preening ass that wears leather and constantly cracks misogynistic jokes. He hangs around with a bunch of guys who wear the same thing and do the same thing. At the same time as he goes back to school with his awfully unlikable friends, guess who turns up at the same school? Why, it’s the girl he met over the summer. And talked to. And both of them, in the time it took for them to fall in love, never communicated the tiny insignificant fact that they both attended the same school. Look at the way the coincidences are just PILING up in violation of any rules of good story telling. Well, you better get used to that because if you don’t like contrivance and poor story-telling, then you are watching the wrong film my friend!
On working out who they two of them are and the fact they both like each other Stockard Channing (by far the best person in this) arranges for the two to cross paths again. So, they can catch up and we can finish things here, right? Ready…
BBBUUT WHAT’S THIS!?!?
Danny acts like a complete douche because he can’t let his group of friends see that he might have *gasp* FEELINGS and Sandy runs off confused and humiliated. Here’s a thing though – he didn’t have to do that. At all. I mean come on; he couldn’t let his friends see that there was a girl he liked? They all just finished a song talking about the hot girl he met over the summer (including the first of many lyrics that include horrible rape jokes – y’know, for kids!) I know things were different back in the dark ages of 1959 but what would have happened if Danny had admitted he knew who Sandy was? The film would have ended. Instead he acts like a total jerk, which doesn’t make him a compelling protagonist – it makes him an irritating tool. And stupid. And a tool.
So, there you have it folks, that’s the set up and the rest of the plot is a contrived attempt to get the two back together. Yes, there are a few sub-plots thrown in, including one where Donny Osmond turns up to sing about staying in school, but the main story line is whether Olivia Newton John (30 years old, playing a high schooler) will get back with John Travolta.
Seeing as this film is about that, let’s pause for a second and talk about the sexual politics here. I’m not going to say that this aspect of the film is bad, but that is only because it regularly plummets down to horrible levels. The lyrics are amongst the worst aspects (*did she put a fight?* ewwww) with the guys being universally portrayed as sexual predators and girls are mocked if they aren’t giving in. This film gets angry when a woman turns down a man’s sexual advances – the guys get furious when “chicks2 don’t “put-out” like they should. The best example of the rape culture of the film is the drive-in scene, where if this film hadn’t been so insanely happy-go-lucky and upbeat, where if it had been any other film, that scene would be the one where Olivia Newton John fights off a guy who is trying to sexually assault her.
Finally the two DO get together though but only after Sandy has transformed herself from the kind hearted non-smoker who Travolta professed his love for at the beginning to a Greaser girl in skin tight leather. Thus the film ends with the moral that yes, you can find love if and ONLY if you change everything about your appearance to keep the man happy, if you start smoking and look skinny.
Oh, and then the two of them fly off in a car.
That was the thing that got me, and it’s here people tell me to stop over-thinking things. ‘It’s a musical Jon! Suspend your disbelief!’ No. No, sorry but you can’t pull that out of the bag at the last second. “Look, they’re together ohandbythewaycarscanflyinthisuniverse ROLL CREDITS.” Is it a magic car? A car that is in any way explained to be special? No, it’s a car that we’ve seen do a street race. And now it can fly.
Sexist. Contrived. Poorly written. And cars fly.
Screw you Grease.