Dirty Dancing

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

14 September

Patrick Swayze dies, 2009

On this day in 2009, Patrick Swayze shimmied off to the great dance studio in the sky. 1991’s “sexiest man alive” (according to People magazine) had been propelled to that position by 1987’s Dirty Dancing, a position he reinforced with the ridiculous 1989 bouncer movie Road House – in which he plays the sensitive PhD slumming it as the hired muscle in a one-horse town. Not forgetting 1990’s Ghost, in which his spirit threw beautiful clay pots with Demi Moore. Or Point Break, playing the Buddhist surfing bank robber. A dancer by training, with the physique to match, Swayze seemed to do best in films that defy logic at least slightly. Perhaps it was his sincere focus, which for the viewer allows either immersive or ironic enjoyment of what was on offer. Or in the case of Dirty Dancing, a bit of both.

Dirty Dancing (1987, dir: Emile Ardolino)

Designed to make the briefest of theatrical runs before heading off to life in the video shops, Dirty Dancing picked up interest as soon as it debuted, becoming a word of mouth hit. It is the story of a girl called Baby (Jennifer Gray) and her transition to womanhood thanks to the tutelage of a dance instructor (Patrick Swayze) at a Catskills holiday camp. Old fashioned, it features a nice girl and a bad boy, no sex but lots of longing, songs from the jukebox era plus one old-sounding new song, The Time of My Life, sung by Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley (who had been a jukebox era star, with his fellow Righteous Brother). The critics on the whole didn’t like it. But that’s possibly because they didn’t endorse what its audience were telling them – they were ready, happy, for their culture to start looking backwards. Dirty Dancing announced the arrival of the retro-directed Dancing with the Stars/Strictly Come Dancing era five years even before Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom did that in a more official, headline-grabbing fashion. Or maybe that’s all hooey and audiences went to see it because Swayze could really dance. And in an era when almost no star could any more, he found himself the sole provider in a hungry market.

Why Watch?

  • Swayze hoists Gray aloft while both are wringing wet – a classic dance moment
  • “No one puts baby in the corner” – a classic line of dialogue
  • Swayze’s hair – a classic mullet

Dirty Dancing – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2013

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