Sunday, October 07, 2007

Film Review: Strictly Ballroom

Finding Our Natural Rhythm

The thoughts in this post have been provoked by viewing the very interesting film Strictly Ballroom with our fourth and fifth year students at the IFI in Eustace Street last Wednesday morning. Firstly let me say a little about rhythm in itself. It is interesting to do a little etymological digging. The Greek “ruthmos” means either “flow” (Classical Greek) or “style” (Modern Greek). I have adverted to both these terms and the concepts they both denote and connote in previous posts. When we read a rather good article or poem we are wont to say that it had an excellent flow, that is, there were no abrupt stops or starts in it. We were carried on by the flow of the article or poem as if we were being transported by a boat caught in its stream. The other term is that of “style” and I have quoted often Buffon’s famous definition thereof: “Le style c’est l’homme meme” – “Style is the man himself.” Obviously we read “person” for “man” today – Buffon was writing some 200 years ago.

To literally find one’s own rhythm or style or flow is to find what is very natural to us. I think, therefore, that rhythm is a marvellous metaphor for a fundamental congruence with the self, for a certain paramount and fundamental ease with the self. Perhaps only people very much at ease with themselves make the best dancers. I don’t know how true this contention is, but I’d imagine it would be worth studying. I have found that as I am getting older and as I’m getting more accepting and relaxed with my inner self that I’m becoming a far better dancer. Maybe this is only wishful thinking. I’m open to any comments from all you dancers out there in the blogosphere.

Rhythm is likely the most fundamental aspect of music, because percussion instruments were likely in use long before stringed instruments. Tribal groups dancing to music made only with percussion instruments is an ancient human practice, which reportedly continues today. I have long been fascinated by the rhythms of tribal and ethnic music from various diverse peoples and lands around our world. Many scholars and musicologists advert to the fact that rhythm recalls how we walk and the heartbeat we heard in the womb. This seems very plausible and most likely indeed. In meditation the rhythm of the human breath and also that of the heart are used quite purposefully.

Rhythm also leads us to relate to others. We quickly learn to walk with others, step for step, to run with others step for step, and lastly to dance with them step for step. To be in rhythm with another is to be very close to them in a symbolic way indeed.

Strictly Ballroom is a comedy and a “send up” of ballroom dancing. It was originally a play written by Baz Luhrman and Andrew Bovell which was first staged in its country of origin, Australia, in 1984. The film version was directed and produced by Baz with the help of Craig Pearse and dates from 1992. The film stars Paul Mercurio as Scott Hastings and Tara Morice as Fran. Scott is a ballroom dancer comes from a family with a history of ballroom dancing and has been training since childhood. He has become very proficient but he encounters considerable resistance when he tries to dance his own steps in preference to the more traditional ballroom moves. Scott's steps are not strictly ballroom. His dance partner leaves him because of this unorthodox approach to dancing. However, he eventually finds a new dancing partner, and love, with the plain and ordinary dancing student Fran, who unbelievably comes from a traditional Spanish family rooted in traditional Spanish dancing.

For me the film is about being true to one’s self, to one’s innate rhythms and hence to the very truth of one’s own being. Scott like his father before him sought to be inventive and creative by inventing new steps. He, surprisingly, never knew his father had been a dancer and a partner to his mother. His father is presented as a rather “cracked” individual lost in his own private world – he is downtrodden and exploited by his wife who seeks success for her wonderful dancer son. In short she has sold her soul to the devil of success and glory to the detriment of her soul and her real identity, while the father is severely alienated from his real self and is driven into a solipsist world of make-believe.

At the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix, Scott and Fran are disqualified, but dance anyway, and practically bring down the house dancing the Paso Doble, which they have learned from Fran's father and grandmother. In the end, it is not revealed whether Scott and Fran win or lose, as in the story, that is not an important factor. What is important is that they have been true to their very own individual goals and potential. They have been true to their very own unique rhythms and have not sold their souls to the staid rhythms of success. The music in the film is superb as is the dancing. This is a feel good film, and I especially loved the scene where Fran’s father and grandmother teach them the Paso Doble with the grandma beating out its rhythm on Scott’s chest. No wonder that some experts insist thatrhythm recalls how we walk and the heartbeat we heard in the womb. Get the DVD and feast your eyes on the wonderful dancers and especially your ears on marvellous music.

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