Comfortable and Furious

Starring debuts #29 : Kevin Bacon in Footloose (1984)

Thanks to the sensation of 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, sleek dance movies were hot shit during the eighties. 1980’s atypical, bloody dull yet very successful Fame kicked things off before the trend peaked in popularity with the sporadically memorable, baby I don’t really care which corner you’re in Dirty Dancing. Bacon latched onto the dancing fad in the upbeat smash Footloose after a string of bit parts that included his memorable Friday the 13th turn in which he enjoyed bunk bed sex beneath a corpse before getting an arrow through the throat.

In a role initially earmarked for Tom Cruise, Bacon plays fresh-faced teen Ren McCormack. He arrives in Shit Town USA, a religious place that has banned all kinds of fun stuff like dancing, racial diversity and bestiality. It’s easy to tell Ren personifies rebellion because his tie is loosely knotted, his collar’s turned up, his hands are in his pockets and his shoulders are always on the verge of a shrug. Worse, he loves dangerous literature like Slaughterhouse Five and finds church boring. Such an outlook can only possibly bring him into conflict with the town’s doom-laden preacher, an uptight fuckwit forever setting his stall against ‘obscene rock and roll music with its gospel of easy sexuality and easy morality’. And yes, Ren does start dating the guy’s daughter.

Like Flashdance, Footloose is a terrific little charmer. Propelled by Kenny Loggins’ titular hit and a handful of other well-known songs, it has something to say about the older generation’s mistrust of books, TV, films and music, an objection that happily rumbles on today. Religion is the method used to stifle and control these ‘dangerous’ outlets, even if it merely ends up shearing off brain cells and making everyone miserable. Christianity isn’t relevant to the young, best illustrated during Footloose’s opening sermon in which they paint their nails and fall asleep on the pews.

As expected, Ren finds life in such a conservative rural town a bit tricky. Before long he’s engaged in a game of chicken with tractors while Bonnie Tyler’s amusingly bombastic Holding Out for a Hero tries to amp up the excitement as the heavy vehicles trundle toward one another. “I don’t understand this town,” Ren later moans to his mom. “It’s like something’s choking everybody.”

No wonder the poor guy takes off in his VW Bug and drives to an abandoned factory to smoke and drink, bang and smash things, and then bust out a stint of angry dancing. This Vaseline-smeared montage (in which we’re treated to a vest-clad burst of air guitar, some kung fu kicking, plenty of twirls, a flurry of handless cartwheels, air punching and energetic gymnastics of all kinds) is a wonderful slice of 80s cheese.

Gotta say, though, Our Kev looked more dignified when he was choking on blood as an arrow bore through his throat.

Then the preacher’s daughter turns up. “Do you wanna kiss me?” she asks. Ren pauses, doubtless wondering how much of his kinetically furious antics she has just witnessed. “Someday,” comes the belated, but pretty cool reply.

However, Ren’s ability to look like a tool isn’t over yet. Next he takes up the challenge of teaching his mate (the leaden-footed, dungaree-wearing hick Chris Penn) to dance. Cue another terrific montage of the slack-jawed Penn struggling to even click his fingers in time while displaying all the rhythm of a constipated, arthritis-stricken gorilla. And let me just say, there’s nothing remotely gay going on here as they prance, grin, horse around and encircle each other’s waists.

Built on a preposterous (yet historically accurate) premise, Footloose is a well-written flick with good insight into small-town mentality as well as moments of surprising bite and depth. It also boasts excellent performances from the likes of John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest and the game Penn. Bacon is an excellent mix of exuberance, frustration and spunk. Yes, he’d go onto much more significant pictures, but I suspect he harbors a fair bit of fondness for his time as ‘Mr. Dance Fever’, especially those tender moments spent alone with Penn.



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