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Close Analysis of Strictly Ballroom

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NUR AISYAH BINTI SALLEHUDDIN

2012137127

FF224 4A

CTS 463/ FILM THEORY AND APPRECIATION

DR NORMAN YUSOFF

CLOSE ANALYSIS OF A SCENE IN ‘STRICTLY BALLROOM’

        This essay will focus on the rooftop scene of the film ‘Strictly Ballroom’ by Baz Luhrmann from Australia. This film is released in the year 1992 and runs for 94 minutes. It was based on a play of the same name in 1984 by the same director.

        Before discussing on a specific scene in the film, the plot is to be introduced first. The film ‘Strictly Ballroom’ is about Scott Hastings, a young ballroom dancer who struggles to establish his own style of dancing and at the same time, trying to win at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championships. As a result of him dancing in his own style, he loses to a rival pair in the Southern Districts Waratah Championship and was left behind by his partner Liz Holt for the winning male, Ken Railings – that is due to the fact that Ken’s partner Pam Short got involved in an accident and broke both of her legs.

        Scott was born in a family with a record of ballroom dancing and has been trained since the age of six. His strict mother Shirley teaches ballroom dancing with his teacher, who is also his parents’ old friend; Les Kendall whereas his meek father Doug does the chores at the studio. As he is left without a partner, the teacher and his mother does try-outs to search for him a new one. Unknown to the others, Scott is approached by the beginner dancer Fran and she manages to persuade him to realise her potential. They begin to train together.

        Unfortunately, the federation, his mother and Les had other ideas for him. A famous dancer is retiring, leaving his partner alone – thus they decided that she, Tina Sparkle should be with Scott. Fran is ushered away but is sought by Scott. He finds her at her home, they dance and is laughed at by Fran’s family. A frustrated Scott soon learns to dance authentic paso doble style with passion, trained by Fran’s father and grandmother. As the rehearsals go, ugly duckling Fran blossoms into a confident swan and their relationship gets closer.

        Back home, the president of the federation, Barry Fife and the others are plotting a way to make Scott dances the ‘right’ way. He tells him the ‘truth’ that his parents used to be champions in ballroom dancing until his father begins to incorporate new steps into their routine. He continues by saying that Doug turns self obsessive and unorthodox until they lost the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix and he became a broken man, only to be sustained by the hope that his son will not repeat his mistakes. With this, Scott is convinced to dance and win with the now without partner Liz as Ken leaves her for Tina.

        At the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix, the whole facade is revealed as Scott’s friend Wayne and partner Vanessa overheard Barry fixing the competition to make Ken and partner win. As they went to tell this to Les, Doug pulls Scott aside and tells him that he had never danced in the Grand Prix and that Barry had convinced Shirley to dance the conventional steps in the competition with Les, which leads to their downfall. After hearing the real truth, he seeks out Fran and dances with her on the competition floor. Barry and his accomplice try to stop their dancing and manage to, despite the interference offered by Scott’s family and friends. Barry proceeds to disqualify them but Doug, along with Fran’s father and grandmother clapped out a beat to encourage them to dance from their hearts, drawing cheers and claps from the crowd. Liz turns the music back on and the whole audience joins them on the floor as the movie closes with the sight of people dancing in each other’s arms and Scott and Fran kissing.

        An important scene in this film is the rooftop scene, where Scott and Fran escape to as Scott’s father Doug turns on the music. He dances alone in the studio and them, on the rooftop. The music becomes prevalent as the audience is shown Scott and Fran dancing after she takes off her glasses. The music piece is entitled ‘Time After Time’ by Mark Williams and Tara Morice. This piece lends a romantic air in the scene and gives the audience hindsight of what the future holds for the two characters. It is clear from the beginning of the film that Fran adores Scott, as she is the only one giving a positive comment – “...I thought that what they danced was wonderful. I thought they should have won.” But in this scene, as she looks at Scott with her smiling face, sometimes laughing, fits the lyrics of the music piece, “Lying on my bed, I hear the clock and think of you...”, it tells the audience that Fran is in love with Scott. This is later reconfirmed in a few other scenes – the one where he walks her home, where he first kisses her, when he chooses her instead of  Tina Sparkle and of course, the final scene at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix dancing Championships.

        Fran and Scott’s faces turn serious as the lyrics go “Caught up in circles, confusion is nothing new,” one factor may be due to them being serious on practicing the dance, although in a subtle way one could say this shows what is in Scott’s mind and heart. This is reinforced as the camera focuses more on Scott’s face as it pans and tracks the couple’s movements before giving the same focus on Fran. In this scene, they are seen as one, in harmony but as the story progresses; Scott leaves and takes Fran again and again before affirming and doing what he really wants. Unlike Fran who knows exactly what she wants and bravely acts as such, Scott is caught in a circle, as he is fed lies by Barry Fife, where he lingers in confusion before he escapes from it – thanks to his father and to the other’s support and assistance.

        The camera then zooms out as the couple continue dancing, moving from a medium close up shot to a wide shot, revealing the setting – the whole airy rooftop with a glitzy Coca-Cola advertisement before zooming in to a medium close up shot as Scott gives instructions to Fran and the camera pans down to reveal his father dancing alone in the confined studio. The lyrics goes “...The second hand unwinds” as it fades away to give way to Doug’s upbeat rhythm, showing a second happening in the same building, a different side of dancing. The stark difference in these two settings shows the situation of life the characters are in. Scott and Fran are indulging in the freedom they have at the moment, celebrating a budding love – which is enforced by the background music while the father, dancing alone with an upbeat music is confined within himself. He, as Scott says in the beginning of the scene, “...is always hiding away doing something.” In the dark studio, only lighted up by a single light, it can be seen that it is as if he is hiding something. Even as he dances, he moves back and forth from the ‘limelight’ and into the shadows. Mumbling to himself as he vigorously does his steps, he shows passion and determination – a side of him that is never shown during the day at the studio where he meekly and obediently listens to his wife’s every instruction. This scene of him dancing alone is actually a foretelling of his past, where it is later revealed that he was a championship dancer and like Scott, wanted to create and dance his own way.

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