Wednesday, August 22, 2007

the contrarian: Randall Kleiser's "Grease" (1978)

"Grease" is back on Broadway. For better or worse. Which makes me wonder...

Why did I ever like this movie? I should be embarrassed.

When it opened during the summer of 1978, it received reviews that were either unfavorable or grudgingly favorable. Me? I raved.

But multiple viewings later, I can barely get through it. It's either a case of familiarlity breeding contempt or an indication that I wised up. Whatever it is, "Grease" has joined the ranks of film musicals that I wish would just go away -"West Side Story" (truly unwatchable these days), "The Sound of Music" (sickening) and "Cabaret" (always a fluke in my opinion).

True, "Grease" has a couple of transporting musical numbers ("Summer Dreams" and "You're the One That I Want!"), one genuine showstopper (Stockard Channing's "There Are Worse Things I Can Do") and one knock-out bravura moment (the big dance in the gym), thanks to ace choreographer Patricia Birch. But the catch is, you have to sit through 110 minutes of the truly painful mugging of the overaged performers playing the 'T Birds and the Pink Ladies.

You also have to deal with the ugly plot about messed-up peer pressure in which the leading lady (sweet Olive Newton-John) has to slut herself up in order to win acceptance from its smarmy hero (John Travolta, not as irresistlble here as legend would imply) and Rydell High's lowlifes. Why would some parents encourage their kids to watch such soul-killing stuff? But, indeed, during "Grease's" near-30-year reign of terror, that's just what they did.

Check out two reviews of the new "Grease" revival:
Howard Shapiro in The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Ben Brantley in The New York Times.


(Artwork: Signed shooting script for "Grease," and critics Howard Shapiro, left, and Ben Brantley, right)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

7 comments:

jbryant said...

The funny thing about Grease, the movie, is that while I've never thought it was great, I enjoyed it immensely both times I saw it (and both times were in the theatre, upon original release in '78, then at a screening at Mann's Chinese in the late '90s).

Got to disagree big-time about West Side Story though. Finally got to see it on the big screen just a couple of years ago (though I had seen the "America" number that way at a Robert Wise tribute in the early 90s, with Wise interviewed by Leonard Maltin). It's not perfect, but it's hard to miss with that music, those lyrics, that dancing. Eh, diffrent strokes, of course.

jbryant said...

The funny thing about Grease, the movie, is that while I've never thought it was great, I enjoyed it immensely both times I saw it (and both times were in the theatre, upon original release in '78, then at a screening at Mann's Chinese in the late '90s).

Got to disagree big-time about West Side Story though. Finally got to see it on the big screen just a couple of years ago (though I had seen the "America" number that way at a Robert Wise tribute in the early 90s, with Wise interviewed by Leonard Maltin). It's not perfect, but it's hard to miss with that music, those lyrics, that dancing. Eh, diffrent strokes, of course.

joe baltake said...

Love the score and, of course, the dancing in WSS, and the artiness of it still holds up. But everything in-between? Eww! The acting (aside from the performances of Russ Tamblyn and Natalie Wood) is embarrassing. I still can't believe Oscars went to Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, both of whom look as if they're pushing 30 in the film. Oh, don't get me started. And forgive me, I'm not trying to convert you. It's just that the film really gets on my nerves, a problem that's exacerbated by the fact that Turner seems to show it every week!

jbryant said...

Sorry for the double post. No idea why that happened.

I can't argue too much about Chakiris and Moreno, though I'd be tempted to award them, too, if only for the "America" number. Nah, scratch that. Best Supporting Performances of 1961: George C. Scott (The Hustler) and Ruby Dee (A Raisin in the Sun).

And you should be glad that Turner keeps showing West Side Story -- that's 3 hours you don't have to watch or TiVo. Gives you a chance to enjoy something besides movies, like... um... give me a minute... :)

Carrie said...

Travolta, Stockard Channing, Eve Arden and Edd Byrnes make "Grease" the word. Interestingly, I hated it in 1978 and find that over time what I had written off as Robert Stigwood rotgut has aged very nicely.

As for "West Side Story," it has such a great score and choreography that I forgive everything else. And does Rita Moreno really sing the lyric in "America" :

"Put in your pipe and smoke that in" ????

jbryant said...

Close, carrie. It's "Smoke on your pipe and put that in!"

Mizoguchi said...

Don't feel too badly, Joe. I liked "Grease 2."

Dave Kehr