For the Love of Footloose, The Story of a Modern Dance Classic

1984 has always been a year synonymous with the idea of oppression and the rebellion against it. For many this is down to George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, featuring a hypothetical future Big Brother state and Winston Smith, a man who is sick of obeying every rule and wants to turn it loose. When 1984 finally came round one film embodied the spirit of Orwell’s dystopia with a dance twist. That film was Footloose, with its oppressive small town where music and dancing were banned. All it took was one man, Ren McCormack as played by Kevin Bacon, to arrive with the passion and drive to try to organise the greatest rebellion of all: a prom. The plot may sound a bit ridiculous but in true “you couldn’t make this up” fashion, it is based on a true story.

As Winston Smith battled against the Ministry of Truth, Ren McCormack came up against Reverend Shaw Moore (the eternally fantastic John Lithgow). Both Ren and Winston were fighting for their freedom, the freedom to think, the freedom to dance and, ultimately, the freedom to love. In the end only one of these rebels was successful, the other left with a broken spirit and no burning, no yearning and no urge to tear up the town.

Both set in 1984, both about oppressed individuals fighting an unfair system, but only Footloose has the uplifting ending with a bit of a scuffle followed by crazy dancing and a tender moment in a field. Worth noting that Nineteen Eighty-Four did have a tender moment in a forest but I’d happily go so far as to say that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a bit of a downer, great literature certainly, but for a great bit of cinema it has to be Footloose.*

Bizarrely for a film dealing with sexuality and violence, for its UK cinema release Footloose accepted almost three minutes of cuts so that the BBFC would grant it a PG rating. In America similar edits were made to bring the rating down from an R to a PG. Thankfully these scenes, including love interest and preacher’s daughter Ariel being beaten by her boyfriend and Ren being offered a joint, were reinstated for the VHS, DVD and now Blu-ray releases, along with some male nudity for the ladies.

Sadly Footloose was not a huge hit with the critics and still only has a 57%** fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. If only we were eligible we could bring that up to 58%; trust me, I’ve done the maths. America’s most respected film critic Roger Ebert gave the film just one and a half stars out of four (not five, he’s wacky that way) and his review can be summed up in its opening sentence, “Footloose is a seriously confused movie that tries to do three things, and does all of them badly.” For context, he did give The Phantom Menace three and a half stars, so I suppose no critic is right all of the time. Sadly the UK’s greatest film critic, Mark Kermode, doesn’t have a review I can find but did recently call it a “guilty pleasure and a half”.

Regardless of the critics reaction, Footloose was a success. Made for just over $8 million Footloose recouped its budget in its opening weekend where it took the top spot at the box office, a position it held for a total of three weeks. Over its eighteen weeks in cinemas Footloose was in the top ten for all but two weeks. Compare that with a more modern dance film and they simply do not measure up; I blame a lack of plot and a major hole where Kevin Bacon doing an angry dance should be.

Not just a commercial success, Footloose also picked up two Oscar nominations for best song, for “Footloose” and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”. Both songs, along with many others on the soundtrack, were written especially for the film by Dean Pitchford the Footloose screenwriter. No wonder the background music always sounded so perfect for the scene.

Since its original release Footloose has been made into a stage musical in 1999, a show that can still be found in the village halls of Cornwall if nowhere else. The impact of the film can be felt further afield than this theatrical adaptation as popular culture is littered with references to the 1984 classic. We recently made a video (found on YouTube) collecting 41 references and homages to Footloose, a true testament to the longevity of this film. My personal favourite being an episode of Flight of the Conchords where one character dances in a barn in true Kevin Bacon style (embedded below). Worth noting too is that in the month since compiling these clips, at least two more references have been made in US TV shows making my video instantly redundant.

Not content with a classic 80’s film and a West End and Broadway musical, in 2007/2008 Paramount announced that they would make a musical remake of Footloose. This film was originally to come from High School Musical‘s director Kenny Ortega and star Zac Efron, but both eventually left the project. In 2010 these were then replaced by Craig Brewer and Kenny Wormald respectively and at this point the film moved from being a musical to a more straightforward remake as Brewer details in a recent interview. After much trepidation on this fan’s part the film is finally out tomorrow and it still remains to be seen whether it matches the original or not. Either way it is important to remember that no remake can tarnish an original work. We will always have the 1984 version of Footloose, and it will never stop being a joy to watch.

Footloose may have a corny plot but I can unequivocally say that it is my favourite film. Hopefully with the attention drawn to it by the remake we can get a few more people to enjoy this cheesy piece of 80’s dance cinema and then can shut up about it once and for all.

*Not everyone at Mild Concern agrees with this for some reason.
**Down from the 59% it was at a few days ago when I started this post, thanks to this guy.