Strictly Ballroom (1992)

“By putting your trust in the Federation, you’re doing the right thing.” 

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I am amazed by Baz Luhrmann’s ability to stamp his personality on everything* he touches. You would think a man so in love with romantic intensity, rich colour and pure glamour would find slim cinematographic (a word?) pickings in early 1990s Australia – yet he seems to relish electric-blue eyeshadow, men in heels and scary big hair and make them his own.

Hereafter, I will abandon style and call him Baz, firstly because I feel like he is my friend (who I met when I was 11 and in love with Leonardo DiCaprio) and also because he has an awkward surname.

There is such a sense of menace in Baz’s films. He is a master of the wheeling shot that looks as though the camera is peering from the eyes of a character reeling on the spot and about to topple, whether they have been overwhelmed by drugs, sickness or as in the case of Strictly Ballroom, just by other people.

Sometimes other people make me feel like that too, Baz.

The blackness of his humour translates perfectly to this premise, in which dark, mysterious forces within the national dancing authority try to stamp out a young couple’s creativity on the dance floor. Though it is a hilarious look at nutty stage parenting and small-town insularity, it draws downright chilling parallels between the Federation and a totalitarian regime with a charismatic, yet slightly insane and very power-hungry ruler.

The colours are vivid and the shots frequently grotesque, with many a looming moon-face, bright red with self-importance or anger, looking as though someone has laid an orange-pink filter over it.

But equally, like all of Baz’s works, it is a film of great beauty and sensuality. His use of the soundtrack is as effective as ever,* and there is such intensity to the dancing and such chemistry between his two main characters that the story’s climax will make you hold your breath.

Many elements could seem hackneyed, more than 20 years after this movie was made: an ugly, clumsy duckling is revealed to be beautiful and graceful; a closed community cuts itself off from the world, only to implode; there is even a slow clap.

But it doesn’t feel hackneyed, it feels original and heartfelt and leaves you feeling utterly bouyant… not to mention a little defiant.

*Disclaimer: I have not seen Australia, so assume all my comments about Baz Luhrmann are in reference to his “red curtain” movies.  

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