DIRTY DANCING

★★★★

HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE FOR THE FIRST TIME

4K UHD REVIEW
By Daniel Lammin
29th November 2022

One of the worst traits a film buff can have is being a snob about a film they haven't seen. I'm as guilty of it as anyone. You look at a popular film - particularly from a previous decade - with what you decide is a silly premise and you dismiss it as unworthy of your time. It perpetuates an idea that films have an objective worth. It isn't so much a question of taste for a specific genre, but more the assumption that, because something was a big cultural hit, there must be something populist and thus lesser about it. I can cry foul when anyone does this to 'Titanic', but I've done this to a fair share of films myself.

A few weeks ago, my cousin and I were talking about movies we used to love as kids. She was horrified to find out that I wasn't a big fan of 'Hocus Pocus' and had not properly seen 'Beaches', but the omission she was most offended by was 'Dirty Dancing', the gigantic dance-driven 1987 hit. How had I gotten away without seeing it, especially when so many of the women in my family had watched it religiously while I was growing up? I'd always assumed it was silly romantic nonsense (even though I love silly romantic nonsense), and despite hearing a growing rumble of love for the film over the past year, I hadn't gone out of my way to find out for myself. My cousin, incredulous, insisted that I do, and like some sort of cosmic sign, the new 4K UHD release of the film from Via Vision arrived in my letterbox a few days later. Now I had no excuses left.

Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) is vacationing with her family at a resort in the Catskills in 1963. Despite all the (relatively benign and conservative) activities on offer and the eligible young men paraded in front of her, Baby is more drawn to the free-spirited staff, especially Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), a particularly handsome and talented dancer. Baby offers to help with an upcoming dance Johnny needs a partner for, despite having no dance experience, and as they train and rehearse in secret, they fall head-over-heels for one another. But she's from a wealthy family and Johnny has a rough edge to him, making their romance a forbidden one.

It sounds like every typical 80s romance you can think of, probably the reason I'd never felt inclined to watch it, but every cliché has to come from somewhere, and often when you trace it back to its source, you get a big surprise. At some point, that stock-standard idea was a fresh one, and no matter how many times it is imitated, it never looses its originality or electricity. Which is a long- whined way of saying that I nearly lost my fucking mind over how much I loved 'Dirty Dancing'.

It's for all the reasons you would hope for - the dancing is incredible, the romance is all swoon-y, everyone in it is a babe - but what took me completely by surprise is how accomplished it is. Eleanor Bergstein's screenplay devotes a lot of energy into making the characters feel well-rounded and their motivations clear, underpinning it with just the right amount of historical subtext. We're sitting at a turning point in American history, where the affluence of the post-war period has settled in and Kennedy is still alive, but we're also in the thick of the Vietnam War, and the ideological and social gap between young people and their parents is starting to widen. All of this informs Baby, who is far from the pristine innocent of lesser romantic dramas. She's determined, independent and frustrated, increasingly uncomfortable with the dependably safe world her parents (Jerry Orbach and Kelly Bishop) have made for her. Baby's rebellion isn't just about her feelings for Johnny, but also trying to make something of herself that can be her own. The other surprise with Bergstein's screenplay is how frankly it handles issues around sex and gender for an 80s film. Sex is not painted as a dangerous, forbidden act, even with the delicately handled abortion subplot with Johnny's childhood friend and dance partner Penny (Cynthia Rhodes). The danger is in a partner who doesn't respect your steps, so to speak, and Baby finds more respect and consent within the dirty dancing staff than the seemingly-respectful young men at the resort. Judgement is only passed by the film when a character conducts themselves in a cruel, inconsiderate manner. Even Baby's father Jake is quick to pass judgement and later realises the prejudices that come with that assumption.

'DIRTY DANCING' - 'THE TIME OF MY LIFE'

At the heart of it all is the romance between Baby and Johnny, and what makes it such an intoxicating screen romance is the extreme chemistry between them. Dance becomes the language that brings them together. It begins with precision, dedication and control, but this is the path to free expression, and with each passing moment, Baby takes more of the lead. Her pulse might quicken at the sight of Johnny (I mean, don't we all), but the magic of their connection is the sense of play. Grey and Swayze are a match made in heaven, a once-in-a-lifetime screen couple. There's so much ease to every moment they're on-screen, an intelligent mix of affection, attraction and lust in all the right ways. There are moments in 'Dirty Dancing' so sexy, so electrifying that I almost felt faint.

What brings the whole thing home is how exceptionally well-made it is. Director Emile Ardolino leads with a confident hand, keeping the flourishes to a minimum so as not to distract while giving the important emotional beats the room to breathe. Nothing is thrown away or frivolous. He also understands that the spectacle of the film are the two leads and the dancing, especially when the two are combined. The camera simply needs to point and capture the energy radiating out of every dance sequence. It also has an all-timer soundtrack, mostly hit songs from the period but, as the romance between Baby and Johnny blossoms, the sound of the 80s begin to creep in. Rather than feeling incongruous, this sound is connected to and generated from Baby and Johnny, supporting their story arc rather than detracting from it. It's some of the best use of modern music in a period film I've seen. Choreographer Kenny Ortega and his incredible team of dancers build from the music, combining their collective dance knowledge to create a style that is both wonderfully dirty and technically thrilling. And it all comes together with symphonic joy in the final number. The Oscar-winning "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" kicks in, Baby and Johnny put everything they have learned together into practice, the camera sweeps around them and the audience watches in awe and the other dancers join in - and then that lift happens as the song reaches its peak and I practically elevated through the ceiling in ecstasy. Each element of this film has been carefully considered, making it all the more satisfying when they click into place.

So it turned out that my cousin had good reason to judge me for not having watched 'Dirty Dancing'. In fact, I feel both cheated and foolish that it's taken me all this time to see it. Even the 35 years of seeing it parodied and ripped off and ridiculed and dismissed couldn't prepare me for the pulse of it, the rhythm, the energy, the electricity. If I had seen this in a cinema back in 1987 (I would have been only a few months old, but stick with me here), I would have lost my fucking mind. I almost did watching it now. 'Dirty Dancing' is the real deal, the ultimate crowd pleaser, the dream romance, the perfect dance. I had, from the first frame to the last, the time of my goddamn life.

PICTURE & SOUND

Via Vision's three-disc release of 'Dirty Dancing' includes the film on 4K UHD and Blu-ray along with a second Blu-ray of bonus features.

The 2160p 1.85:1 transfer on the 4K UHD disc is marvellous, sourced from Lionsgate's 4K scan of the original camera negative (the disc itself is the 2021 4K UHD Lionsgate disc released for Region A). The film was made on a modest budget, but the increased resolution brings out some beautiful detail, especially when taking in the dappled sunlight of the resort. Dolby Vision and HDR really pop in the dance sequences, especially in the white dance studio and in the finale. What is so gratifying about this 4K presentation of the film is how it preserves the 80s aesthetic of the film. Grain hasn't been scrubbed away, the colours haven't been unnecessarily enhanced - it has the softness of a 35mm film from the 80s, now boosted with higher resolution and careful restoration. The 1080p 1.85:1 transfer on the Blu-ray disc can't quite compete with the 4K UHD, sourced from a pre-4K restoration transfer for the 2017 Lionsgate release, but it's still a serviceable presentation.

In terms of audio, the Dolby Atmos track on the 4K UHD disc is stunning. While the film may not have the most complex sound design, it relies to heavily on music, and this new track gives a tremendous amount of weight and punch to the songs, amplifying the energy of the dance sequences. It's a crisp, clear track that (like the transfer) maintains the 80s integrity of the film. The disc also includes the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track from an earlier Blu-ray release and a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that preserves the original theatrical mix. On the Blu-ray, we have a serviceable DTS-HD MA 7.1 track that doesn't quite have the power you would expect.

At the heart of it all is the romance between Baby and Johnny, and what makes it such an intoxicating screen romance is the extreme chemistry between them.

SPECIAL FEATURES

Via Vision's lavish release of 'Dirty Dancing' not only carries over all the features from the 2021 Lionsgate release, but adds the features from their 2010 release, making this one of the most comprehensive releases of the film thus far. The three-disc set comes in an elegant steelbook with the classic image of Grey and Swayze on the cover, and housed in a lenticular slipcase. The design is very different from either of the U.S. steelbook releases.

The breakdown of features include: On 4K UHD

- Audio Commentary with screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein
- Audio Commentary with choreographer Kenny Ortega, actor Miranda Garrison, cinematographer Jef Jur, costume designer Hilary Rosenfeld, and production designer David Chapman
- "Establishing Shot" (12:59 in 4K HDR) is an interview with Jef Jur about his work on the film, his career in general and how response to the new 4K restoration of the film
- Theatrical Trailer (2:26 in 4K SDR)

These are all carried over from the Lionsgate 4K UHD release, with the audio commentaries having appeared on previous releases of the film. Both the "Establishing Shot" featurette and the trailer were new to this release.

On Blu-Ray Disc #1
- Both Audio commentaries included on the 4K disc.
- "Happy Birthday, Dirty Dancing" (29:19 in HD), a retrospective on the film made for this release from surviving creatives and others involved in the many iterations on stage and television of 'Dirty Dancing'.
- "Patrick Swayze: In His Own Words" (12:52 in HD), an overview of the film with Swayze, who tragically passed away in 2009, talking about his relationship with dance and how he came to be involved with the film.
- "Eleanor Bergstein - Thoughts on a Lifetime of Dirty Dancing" (6:40 in HD) is a series of additional interview questions on various aspects of the film from the screenwriter.
- "Patrick Swayze: Uncut" (13:34 in HD) is another collection of comments from Swayze not included in the previous featurette, with a more general discussion of his work in film and music.
- "Dirty Dancing: The Phenomenon" (13:45) gives a solid overview of the development and making of the film, including the various spin-offs that came afterwards. This SD featurette was produced for the 2010 Blu-ray release.
- "The Rhythm of Dancing" (4:08) is another interview with Patrick Swayze, talking about his writing of "She's Like the Wind" and how the film helped launch his music career. This SD featurette was also produced for the 2010 Blu-ray release.
- Music Videos includes those made for "Hungry Eyes" (3:54), "She's Like the Wind" (3:59) and "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" (4:51), all in SD.
- Cast and Crew Interviews includes vintage interviews with Jennifer Grey (11:14), Eleanor Bergstein (18:38), Miranda Garrison (13:19) and Kenny Ortega (15:23), all in SD
- Deleted Scenes (11:53) gives a selection of scenes not included in the film, all in SD.
- Extended Scenes (7:50) offers extended versions of scenes from the film, all in SD.
- Alternate Scenes (2:40) offers alternative versions of scenes from the film, all in SD.
- Screen Tests and Outtakes (various) includes various screen tests for the film including a compilation of the test between Gray and Swayze, all in SD.

Via Vision have authored the disc, but it's the same disc as the 2017 Lionsgate Blu-ray release, even down to the menus. All of the content is solid, particularly "Happy Birthday, Dirty Dancing" and "Dirty Dancing: The Phenomenon". Not only do they talk about the making of the film, the interviewees also discuss the themes that made the film groundbreaking.

On Blu-ray Disc #2
- "Dirty Dancing: The Concert Tour" (1:22:56) is the most substantial feature on the set, a recording of the 1988 concert version of the soundtrack. Shot on video and presented in SD, it certainly doesn't compare to the film in quality or content, but it's a fun thing to have.
- "Kellerman's: Reliving the Locations of the Film" (12:24) focuses on the main location in the film, the Mountain Lake Hotel which stood in for Kellerman's retreat. Presented in SD, this featurette was made for the 2010 Blu-ray release.
- "Dancing to the Music" (16:32) is a really thorough look at the record-breaking soundtrack, and the stories behind the original songs written for the film. Presented in SD, this featurette was made for the 2010 Blu-ray release.
- "Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze" (12:28) uses much of the same interview featured in feauturettes on the first disc, but more specifically about the film itself. Presented in SD, this featurette was made for the 2007 Blu-ray release.
- The Tribute menu looks at the cast and crew who have passed away since the release of the film, beginning with the clip package "In Memoriam" (1:58). Also included are tributes to Patrick Swayze (15:15) featuring the actors family for the 2010 release, director Emile Ardolino (13:28) for the 2007 release and Jerry Orbach (6:33) from the same release. All are presented in SD.
- Vintage Featurette (6:45) is pretty much what it says, a publicity piece from the time of the film's release, presented in SD.
- "Eleanor Bergstein Script" is one of those strange relics from the early days of special features, a photo gallery of the complete screenplay for the film, including an introduction from Bergstein from 2010.
- Photo Gallery, featuring stills from the film.

Once again, Via Vision have authored this disc themselves, but it is a creation of their own, bringing together most of the remaining features from previous releases, using the menu design for the 2010 release. The only features missing that I can see are the Multi-Angle Dance Sequences for two key scenes from the film.

For fans of the film, this is about as comprehensive a release as you could hope for, certainly for its home video history in Australia. This steelbook set is only limited to 5,000 copies, but hopefully Via Vision will release a standard edition later down the track after this print run has sold out.

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