Thursday, March 31, 2011

Grease (Kleiser. 1978)

"Tell me about it, stud...."

How about I try to write about one of the most seen and loved films in all of American history? That is what the 1077 Films to See Before You Die is forcing me to do by including Grease on the list. This is a film that managed to take over the entire world for a multitude of reasons. Though the picture is not a particularly good one, it still gets a mass amount of style points. It had the power to start a throwback phenomenon which has lasted even after the dreadful sequel.

In 1978, Grease was a throwback to the culture of the 1950's. Today we see it all differently. We now realize that Grease is a massively simplified version of the rock and roll decade that features cardboard stereotypes of high school students. Though this is not a problem that Kleiser cannot overcome using great performances by select members of his cast.

Olivia Newton John gives her most well known performance as the clean-cut Aussie, Sandy Olsen. She is sweet and soft spoken for the majority of Grease, but she delightfully flips the switch to vixen with minimal effort. She was easily my first Hollywood crush growing up....something I now regret.

It is also important to note the performances of Stockard Channing as Rizzo and Jeff Conaway as Kenickie, but not as individual performances. As a couple, these two characters bring all of the edge to Grease. They may be watered down silhouettes of Rebel Without A Cause (1955), but they are still important nonetheless. High school films draw us in because they make us believe that issues like breaking up, making out and pregnancy scares are life and death to these characters. Without this additional drama there would be nothing to help Grease jump off the screen. It would be a very flat picture.

But obviously the highlight of Grease is the performance of John Travolta as the greaser, Danny Zuko. Travolta radiates campy musical machismo with is slicked back hair and custom T-Bird leather jacket. He is the image that we automatically associate with the 1950's. Not unlike Saturday Night Fever (1977), Travolta proves in this picture that he can dance. One thing we did not know at the time was that he could also sing. Let us set aside what we now know about the career of John Travolta. When we look at Saturday Night Fever and then a film like Grease - we can see why he is a much beloved Hollywood legend.

We all know that Grease is based off the Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey musical by the same name, and this is one of the reasons that people love it so much. The feel of the whole production just oozes idyllic nostalgia with revved up cars, poodle skirts and leather jackets. The music, some of which was not originally featured in the stage production, blends the sounds of the early rock and roll and R & B generations. The landmarks are, of course, Greased Lighting, Sandra Dee and You're the One That I Want. But each song is memorable and fun.

Of course every not-great film has its flaws. Grease is one of those select high school films where everyone in the picture looks to be about 45 years old. As you get older, the entire production becomes more and more difficult to believe. That being said, I still strongly recommend that you see Grease.

Grease: C+

My Next Film....Wild Strawberries (Bergman. 1957)

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