Comfortable and Furious

Footloose (1984)

80’s Dance Action

Upon hearing that this new wave classic is being remade in 2010 with the Fresh Prince or I, Carly or whoever, I was reminded of the era when it was originally released, and how my brothers and I had an 8 hour VHS with Footloose taped in between 80’s action juggernauts Cobra and Bloodsport. Surely there must have been common elements that drew young men such as ourselves ‘en masse to such seemingly disparate movies.


One Kid.  One Town. One Chance.

Summarize This Movie in the Style of Run-D.M.C.:

Kev-in Bacon plays this boy named Ren who moves to this town where dancin’ be a sin
Lori Singer stars as a skeezy psycho her daddy is the preacher played by John Lithgow

Homoerotic content:

Let’s cut to the chase. At Ruthless, we look for gay subtext in 80’s action films. As well as in basically any life situation. And we shouldn’t have to look far here because Footloose is a musical. And Sarah Jessica Parker is in it. But wait. First, SJP is actually kind of attractive in this movie, which will shake up everyone’s sexual identity and second, the males in the cast are mostly svelte and nimble. Except Chris Penn. But we’ll get to him in a minute.

An 80’s movie, starring a mostly young male cast and no brawny beef-pecs slathered with oil? It like, confuses the viewer’s confusion. Well, this is a different kind of gay altogether, folks. Packed with twinks and choreographed dance numbers, this flick went for the softer side of men who usually sought out hot bear action. Sure, they may have thrown a couple funny-looking bitches in the mix, and chicks in the 80’s possibly thought Kevin Bacon was cute, but don’t be fooled. No movie that goes from a shower scene in the boy’s bathroom replete with a fuzzy bushel of pubes closing in rapidly on the camera right into a montage of one guy teaching another one how to dance isn’t trying to send a brash message.

Also, early on, when Ren first registers at Beaumont High School and all the boys discuss,  “making the team,” conventional teen movie wisdom tells you they’re surely referring to football. Huh uh. They are talking about getting on the school’s men’s gymnastics team. And there is pretty heavy competition amongst the young men of the town to make the cut. In Beaumont, Bumfuck, Utah. Ruthless will send you an old T-shirt if you can find a single member of the male gymnastics squad in any town in Utah with a population of less than 10,000 people.

Is There a Dance Fight?

No. But there is a real fight. Ren and Willard (Chris Penn) beat up Chuck and his dirtbag buddies right before the big dance. I would argue though that there’s a couple times where Ren is sort of dancing during the squabble.

Also, there is a tractor fight. Which apparently is how they settle things in Beaumont, Utah.

Why Did This Movie Make a Shitload of Money?

Because it’s a classic popcorn rabble-rouser and only a select few picked up on its Trojan Horse message of gay love. Plus, there are some genuinely great scenes and pretty infectious tunes. Admittedly, it’s a hoot watching Kevin Bacon driving through town in his VW Beetle blasting “Metal Health”.

Essentially, you have Ren McCormack reluctantly moving with his mom into a town run by preacher Shaw Moore, played by the always great John Lithgow, with a daughter named Ariel who is both a filthy whore and completely insane. Because she is the preacher’s daughter. And also, because apparently her brother, Pastor Moore’s son, was killed a few years ago in a car accident, presumably after snorting a couple lines of dancing. And so, the activity is outlawed in Beaumont. Which means twinkle-toed Ren has a very difficult time adjusting.

Ariel is fucking nuts. I understand having some issues after the loss of a close loved one but she tries to commit suicide no fewer than two times in the first half of the movie. And in decidedly gruesome ways. Yet our most pressing concern is supposed to be dancing. I’m certain Ariel cuts her arms and before she gets on Ren she’s dating this 25-year-old scum-neck named Chuck who abuses her. Like she likes it.

The bloodthirsty Ariel feverishly endorses violence throughout the entire film, including rooting for Ren to die in a game of tractor chicken with Chuck. But when Ren ends up winning, of course she’s all up on his shit. Somewhere in between all that, she shows Ren a crappy poem she scribbled in a cave, yells in church, pawns her Purity Ring, destroys a truck, and skanks out to Shalamar in a fast-food parking lot. Forewarning that if they ever actually do hook up and move to the big city like Ariel so desires, she’d dump Ren for a couple train pulling bruthas within weeks, after lustily watching them beat him to a pulp.

Also, Chris Penn is in it. Has there ever been a more miscast fat guy in film history? I guarantee it took six weeks of one-on-one boot camp just to teach Penn those few moves he busts during the final sequence. None of that makes him any less fun to watch though. Shit, it’s Chris fucking Penn.

One important scene has Ren bringing most of the student body to a town hall meeting where they all loudly disrupt the affair with handmade signs implying our President is a Nazi and a socialist and proving that a small but fervently petulant minority can spike a rational, compassionate health care proposal that..oh wait. Actually, Ren talks about how they used to dance in the Old Testament and who can argue with that? Cause Bible beaters always listen intently when confronted with all the ridiculous contradictions in their paper-thin ideology.

Footloose carries a good amount of momentum up to the raucous and crowd-pleasing senior prom in a barn. Which happens to be right across the Beaumont County line. Because though Ren finally chips away at Pastor Shaw’s hypocritical fundamentalism, Beaumont doesn’t lift the dancing ban.

Which makes no fucking sense, really.

Novelty Dances:

The beginning title sequence is pretty cool. All these different pairs of feet and shoes are dancing while the cast names are put up. One guy has those white Nikes with the red swoosh that were the best shoes to have until Air Jordans came out.

When Ariel uses Chuck’s radio to play some black music, a fry cook jams out while grilling some burgers and this guy starts dancing while playing Space Invaders. It might have been Galaga though.

Surely, when Ren dances by himself.

And then at the end, there is some pretty dope-ass breaking. God knows where these kids learned how to do Body Rocks and Coffee Grinders in a small town with no dancing, or in a small-town period, but they do put on a fun show.

Corpse Count:

That’s not what 80’s Dance Action was all about! Douchebag.

Political content:

I maintain that following in footsteps of The Village People, Footloose was one of the first salvos openly fired from the gay rights cannon. A young, fashionable sharpie swishes into small town Bible Belt America straight from Illinois and immediately tries to makeover years of repressed sexual tension and all-out lust. One might theorize that Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, in a more tolerant post-Reagan climate, picked up where Footloose left off. Especially considering the flannel shirt male bonding going on between Ren and Willard and how their old ladies kept yanking them by the hands in different directions.

This movie was an early statement of gay rights, by way of dancing in the face of stuffy conservatism. After his uncle berates him for trying to change the town’s status quo, Ren runs off and dances alone in a warehouse. Complete with the move where he puts his back up against the wall, spreads his arms out and passionately jerks his chin to the sky. It’s telling.

Where most of Hollywood in the 80’s sent their message undercover to angry, burly white men by releasing flicks showing sweaty steroid freaks substituting fighting for fucking, movies like Footloose shouted out to that lonely, dejected gay teen, agonizing away in small town America. Letting him know there was hope and maybe, just maybe, if he started dancing to the rhythm and took to organizing a flamboyant ball he’d be lifted on shoulders high instead of being dragged behind a pickup truck while guys in the bed threw spent beer cans at his lifeless body.

Special Ruthless Data:

  • Number of times during Footloose you thought Lori Singer was a hottie: 4
  • Number of times you thought she was a nottie: 3
  • Number of black guys in the movie: 0
  • Number of black artists’ songs on the soundtrack: 4
  • Number of times you did the robot while watching this movie:  1
  • Number of times you thought Kenny Loggins was a pretty good pop songwriter during Footloose: 4
  • Number of times you fantasized beating Don Henley to death during the course of the film: 3
  • Number of times you fantasize about beating Don Henley to death during the course of a normal day: 4






2 responses to “Footloose (1984)”

  1. John Welsh Avatar
    John Welsh

    First things first: The opening sequence under the title song is the best thing in the movie. Things go down hill from there.

    I have spent considerable time in Utah, and a couple of things were conspicuous by their absence. Black people: never saw one in Utah (even though southern Utah is known as Dixie). To be expected.

    Mormons: They are all over Utah, but none in this fictional version. LDSs are all over Deseret like fleas on a mangey dog. Now, I might believe the story set in a Mormon Utah, and the god-shouter had been a priest of the LDS Church; but then the Sons of Dan would have settled Ren’s hash with some of the good old “blood atonement.”
    What kind of sissy name is Ren, anyway?

    They should have set the movie is a rightwing christian hellhole like Texarkana. That I would believe.

    (I share your disdain for Don Henley and his Eagles. He and his band of cutthroats should be chained in the basement of the hotel California and rendered ineffectual like Fortunato in Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.
    In pace requiescat!)

    Along with Dave’s take, you proved the value of reading critics other than myself. You yegs pointed out stuff I failed to note. Ariel (“An airy spirit”) really is batshit crazy, sorta like Sister Ruth in Black Narcissus ,a product of some sexual repression. Candyass Ren liberates her sexuality before she snuffs it. I could not get past the fact Lori Singer was hot. Smokin’.

    “Ruthless is Your Source for all Things HomoErotic”, should go right under the banner. I’ll go you one better.

    The stupid tractor chicken contest is right out of Rebel Without a Cause, with Lori standing in for Natalie Wood. Here is the homo connection: Rebel Without a Cause stars James Dean, Sal Mineo and director Nicholas Ray, all bisexuals (they were not just running lines in the dressing room after wrap). There, I prove your homoerotic connection contention! It is what my grandfather, the original John Welsh, refered to as “a well known fact”. A declaration that settled any and all arguments at the Thanksgiving dinner table (if you knew what was good for you). ” Pass the spuds….Please pass the spuds.”

  2. John Welsh Avatar
    John Welsh

    Now, to business: There are times when I think I am like Dick Whittington’s cat, dropped in the lower decks of the decaying hulk of American civilization (sic), tasked with eliminating the myopic vermin of popular criticism.

    Chester wrote of Footloose:
    ” Chris Penn is in it. Has there ever been a more miscast fat guy in film history?”

    I watched Footloose just a couple of days ago and can attest to the fact the youthful Chris Penn appears in the movie slim and trim, like a cowboy. I may be old; however, I am not blind.

    Later in life, Penn did pack on the pounds. Orson Welles ended his days a as morbidly obese joke, but in Citizen Kane, Lady from Shanghai, The Stranger, Prince of Foxes and The Black Rose, he was thin and trim. After all, Cesare Borgia was not obese.

    Which begs the question: did you actually watch the movie?

    “Fat guy” is an unnecessary, and in the case incorrect, pejorative. In my younger days I seldom (read never) heard it used in my presence.

    In future, should you find yourself at a loss for an adjective to describe an actor, buy a thesaurus . Try and make your new word relevant to the plot, not just a cheap shot.

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