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Friday, December 7, 2012
Randal Kleiser | Grease
the death of sandra deeby Douglas Messerli
Bronte Woodard and Allan Carr (screenplay, based on the musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey), Randal Kleiser (director) Grease / 1978
Having just watched the film musical Grease again the other afternoon, I am even more amazed at the remarkable success of the work, at one point one of the highest grossing movies, and voted on Channel 4’s 100 greatest musicals, the “best musical” ever. For me the film doesn’t hold up, and perhaps was never more than a kind of spirited winking at the 1950s world for folk who weren’t yet born during that decade. Surely it has very little to do with anything I experienced growing up during the same time.
Even the film’s several nods to Rebel without a Cause merely reveal its emptiness, particularly in the scene paralleling the game of “chicken,” which in the original sends one car and its driver over a seaside cliff. Here the scene is played out in the protective culvert of the Los Angeles river, where only a little bit of mud might send the speedster’s out of control. Even the Ben Hur reference to the evil Leo’s attempts to drill through Danny’s car, result in little more than a flat tire, and the race comes to end with both sides blithefully surviving.
In between, Kleiser stuffs his movie with other iconic figures from the period, including Eve Arden, Dody Goodman, Sid Ceasar, Joan Blondell, Ed Byrnes, Alice Ghostley, Fannie Flagg, and Sha-Na-Na, as if that might convince us that his picture was an honest presentation of day. Strangely, all it did for me was to shift my sympathies from the attractive youth to the rumpled elderly. Certainly Arden, Ceasar, Goodman and Blondell were far wackier, out of control, and were much more fun. Kookie, of “lend me your comb” fame, always had better-looking hair—and still does in this film.
Oh, did I forget to tell you the story? Boy meets girl and falls in love. Unfortunately, the new girl in town, an outsider from another country, discovers herself, after her splendiferously romantic summer, with the boy, attending the same Los Angeles school (much of it actually filmed in Venice High School) which he attends, and wherein he behaves completely differently, attempting to fit into the hipper hometown patterns of behavior. The poor girl feels betrayed, dismayed. But she soon discovers that there is no one way of behaving, especially in this big city of multiple realities. Even the conventionally rebellious Pink Ladies eventually accept her. By movie’s end the girl finds her own way of attracting the boy, “going bad”—as one of the potential Sandys, Marie Osmond, interpreted it—which merely consists of being sewn into a black leather body suit and shouting out “You’re the One That I Love!” Girl gets boy and everyone lives happily ever after. Rise up from the grave, Sandra Dee, all is forgiven!
Sound familiar? It should. It’s just another version of what I have been describing as the sub-genre of L.A. movies, “Rebels without a Home.”
Los Angeles, December 6, 2012