Strictly Ballroom, Baz Luhrmann’s unforgettable début feature film, was an unlikely hit at the Cannes International Film Festival when it was first screened in May 1992, belongs to a handful of DVDs that my family will re-watch religiously over the winter holidays, year after year, without ever becoming bored by the experience. Why? Because the film’s fairy tale qualities, amazingly over-the-top dance numbers, nostalgia rich, MTV-era soundtrack, and memorable cast of Australian and immigrant characters never seem to get old. It’s like Sound of Music, but vastly better, especially when it comes to Generation X viewers and their progeny.
Here’s a selection from my family’s holiday viewing list: Strictly Ballroom, The Muppet Movie, Sideways, My Neighbor Totoro, Little Miss Sunshine, Downhill Racer, and Waking Ned Devine. Quite an eclectic mix, I grant you, but each of the films has such feel-good (and family friendly) cinematic energy that you can’t help but laugh, cry, and celebrate the sheer audaciousness and extreme artistry of the directors, actors, set designers, cinematographers, and producers who willed movies like these into existence. I mean, what were the odds that such ugly duckling movies would even get made, let alone streamed years later on Amazon Prime Video? It boggles the mind.
Strictly Ballroom may be particularly well suited for viewing with younger children and adolescents schooled in reality TV shows like “Dancing with the Stars” or who have never seen an Australian movie from the early 90s. The colors, the accents, the sheer fantasy of it all – simply stunning. Cyndi Lauper’s “Time after Time,” covered by Mark Williams and Tara Morice, never sounded better, nor have I ever wanted to dance to Doris Day’s “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” as much as when watching the lead actors practice their dance moves on rooftops, in studios, and while Spanish guitar players strum and strut on a forlorn backyard patio in the railroad district of town. And John Paul Young’s “Love is in the Air” makes you want to relive your young adulthood all over again, as if there were not a single cynical bone in your world-weary body.
It’s not so much that Baz alluded to fairy tales like the Ugly Duckling and Cinderella in this, his first film from the “Red Curtain Trilogy,” as that he actually created an original and timeless fairy tale of his own making. It’s the most autobiographical of his movies, and the one with the greatest staying power. It will strike you like a flash of lightning when you first watch it, so set the stage extremely well. Choose a big screen. Light a fire and collect lots of blankets and pillows. Pour a glass of sparkling wine (and chill a second bottle in the fridge). Hold hands with someone you adore – and settle in for an emotional thrill ride that will leave you breathless!