I was the benefit of some good timing for this month’s blindspot selection, which is Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 debut film Strictly Ballroom, which won the People’s Choice award that year at TIFF.
Last night, TIFF officially began their 40th anniversary celebrations with the start of their annual TIFF in the Park outdoor screening series. Strictly Ballroom was chosen as the first film of this 40th anniversary edition, which consists of past festival favourites. Since I had already had Strictly Ballroom down as my July blindspot, I headed down to David Pecaut Square, next door to Roy Thompson Hall, and watched the film with a park full of cheering people.
Strictly Ballroom focuses on Australian ballroom dancer Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio), who has been groomed since he was six years old to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship. However, the problem is that Scott likes to perform improvised “crowd-pleasing” dance steps, which does not make either the conniving Dancing Federation President Barry Fife (Bill Hunter) or Scott’s overbearing mother Shirley (Pat Thomson) happy. However, Scott may have found the perfect partner with shy notice dancer Fran (Tara Morice).
Strictly Ballroom is the first film of what would become known as Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy, which would also consist of 1996’s Romeo + Juliet and 2001’s Moulin Rouge. Strictly Ballroom began as a short play, which was inspired by Luhrmann’s own childhood experiences with ballroom dancing. Even though the film is an Australian production starring mostly unknown actors, it establishes the very unique style that Baz Luhrmann will become known for. This includes the film featuring some outrageous and over-the-top sequences, before switching to more dramatic scenes later on. The film also showcases Luhrmann’s love of the use of pop songs in his films, through the use of a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” during a practice montage.
While the romantic plot of Strictly Ballroom is the typical “ugly duckling” story, with Fran being seen in the first act of the film with glasses and acne, there is a very compelling chemistry between stars Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice. The two have some very excellent dancing scenes together, including a great crowd-pleasing climatic scene.
I really have to say that I very much enjoyed Strictly Ballroom. While I may still consider Moulin Rouge to be my favourite of Baz Luhrmann’s films, this film is now a very close second. I will definitely look forward to seeing this one again.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ | LOVED IT