FOOTAGE FETISHES: ROBERT STIGWOOD’S TRILOGY OF TERROR

It could be greased lightning…
If “Saturday Night Fever” is still considered popular thanks to occasional airings on American Movie Classics, then “Grease” – with its special theatrical screenings, TV retrospectives, and plans for yet another sequel – must be one of the all-time greats. Comparing “Grease” to “Fever” is like comparing apples to oranges (whereas comparing “Grease” to “Sgt. Pepper’s” is like comparing apples to orange colored shit) or, more accurately, sunny Southern California to 1970s Brooklyn. There are no sinister underpinnings to “Grease:” the days are always bright and happy, repressive parents are nowhere to be found, and anyone worrying about the future is soon struck dumb by the awesome screen presence of Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
“Grease” could be viewed as a changing of the guard in Hollywood. Ushering in new stars like Travolta and Newton-John are such classic entertainment figures as Eve Arden, Sid Caesar, and Frankie Avalon. Little did anyone know that Travolta would go on to make the classic “Look Who’s Talking” trilogy while Olivia Newton-John would plummet into obscurity in the early 1980s. Newton-John’s decline came, not coincidentally, right after she re-teamed with Travolta to make “Two of a Kind, a movie Janet Maslin called “more excruciating than a molten lead and Tabasco enema.”
Actually, that was me. But that’s what she wanted to say about it.
Adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name, “Grease” perfectly captures the desperation most Americans felt in the late 1970s, an emotion personified by a surge in nostalgia for the 1950s. “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley” were two of the most popular shows on TV (Henry Winkler was offered the role of Danny but turned it down for fear of being typecast…smooth move there, Fonz), the Yankees were winning championships again, and Sha Na Na’s ‘50s-era vocal stylings had inexplicably netted them a prime time TV slot. More importantly, the rise in crime, racial unrest, and women’s rights probably caused many to long for the salad days when juvenile deliquency meant punks in pegged jeans “boosting” cars; when women knew better than to leave the kitchen; and when those scary minorities damn well stayed out of our neighborhoods.
I realize “Grease” isn’t meant to take place in reality (the flying car at the end kind of tipped me off, along with the 30-year old high school students), I just find the nostalgia factor at work amusing. Even better, the re-release the picture got a few years ago, highlighted the recent fad for 1970s nostalgia by focusing on a ‘70s movie reminiscing about the ‘50s. You could get caught in a weird continuity loop if you weren’t careful.
Get the rest of the story in part five of FOOTAGE FETISHES: ROBERT STIGWOOD’S TRILOGY OF TERROR>>>




Posted on October 23, 2003 in Features by
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