Just Films & That - Josh
Self Film-Solation | Film 3 | Grease
“You’ve not seen Grease?” Is probably the first thing you’d think.
Yes! Alright I’ve not seen bloody Grease.
And whilst we’re at it I’ve not seen E.T. either so that’s coming up as well!
Both aforementioned films fall into the bracket of:
“I definitely watched these as a kid but have forgotten watching them so have no conscious memory of watching them therefore its kind of like I’ve not watched them, however they have influenced the cultural zeitgeist in such a way that I feel I’ve watched them because I’m so familiar with them.”
You know that category? Its popular on Netflix.
Anyway, what did I know going in?
Well it’s the fifties, it’s a school and it presumably finishes with a drunken megamix. That’s what weddings would have me believe anyway.
In a way, I wasn’t actually wrong.
I suppose before I go any further, I need to be clear and say that I’m going to do my best with this to approach it bearing in mind two things. The first is the rules of a musical and the second that this was made in 1978 whilst being set in the fifties. I should also make it clear that I am not a big musicals guy. Basically, I’m not going to rake it over the coals unnecessarily despite the film already fighting a losing battle for my attention and affection.
Bearing in mind all the above pre-amble I quite enjoyed the film. It was more or less exactly what I was expecting.
First and foremost, it’s a got everything you want from a musical.
We all know the songs are brilliant. They’re up there with the best. In fact to the film’s credit, the music isn’t even to my own taste but I still enjoyed a lot of the songs when viewing them in the film itself and not just drunkenly singing along after the YMCA but before Oops Upside Your Head.
But for me its adherence to its period setting and attention to detail is something that really helps it stand out. I think this is another one of the reasons it has stood the test of time so much. The costumes, the sets and the quippy back and forth dialogue between the characters magnetically suck you into the world of the film and help you enjoy the ride.
Its clear to see why this film has such a legacy when it comes to the representation of an American high school in film and it’s because of this attention to detail as well as the excellent dialogue writing.
Means Girls, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That and Easy A are just some of the films that come to mind when we think about the clichés and quirks of American high schools in movies. For me they all owe a lot to Grease. Its funny because this and Animal House came out the same year. There must have been something in the water in 1978.
One of the criticisms of the film when it came out was the age of the cast. Apparently, the fact that the cast were in their twenties and thirties was a real issue for some of the critics. But then where they’d find a group of 17-year-olds with 20 years performing experience, I do not know.
For me if a film presents with these people as teenagers but they’re all roughly the same age, I don’t mind. I’ll buy into that. It would be a problem if they were all 17 with one 35-year-old. That I would find distracting.
My main issue with the film was actually that I found some of the behaviour of the characters rendered them a little unlikeable. Now, before I continue, I’ll draw your attention back to what I first said about coal raking and judging the film in the best way I can contextually, whilst also bearing in mind these characters are young and naïve.
Having said that, I cannot get my head around 2 things. One, the T Birds are bullies. They’re horrible to Eugene and treat a lot of the other school kids pretty atrociously. And two, Danny Zuko is a total bell end. He treats Sandy poorly to maintain his pompous masculine reputation, he dances with another girl to try and win a competition and to top it off he literally almost sexually assaults Sandy. But it’s OK because he tries a bit at sports for her and puts a cardigan on at the end. No lad, get out your flying car and into prison.
I did also find some of the choreography was a little overly stagey and perhaps some of this was lost in the translation from stage to screen. I am no choreographer (no really, I’m not) but I think some of it could have been dialled down a bit to allow us to focus on our main characters. In both the Greased Lightning number and a lot of the scene in the school hall, I found it a little hard to follow due to the amount of sheer bodies on screen. Perhaps quality over quantity would have been better here.
That being said, it was a fun ride and its clear why both the musical and the film have stood the test of time whilst also influencing so many other great pieces.
If anything, it should be watched just for some of the weird guttural sounds John Travolta makes as he slowly morphs into Christopher Walken.
Originally published on Tumblr on 23rd March 2020