The original 'Footloose' was the first movie I had to see purely out of peer pressure. It was also the first "dirty" movie I ever convinced my parents to take me to see. Yes, I realize that most sane human beings would not consider 'Footloose' a dirty movie, but I was nine years old at the time, and the word "shit" was used profusely. At nine years old, while watching 'Footloose,' it was the first time I ever felt like an adult. To the average person living today, 'Footloose' might seem like a trivial piece of fluff. To a group of us within (I would estimate) a three-year age range, at the time, 'Footloose' meant everything.
"What did you think of 'Footloose'?" asked a third grader named Josh. "It was cool," I lied. Not lying because I did not believe 'Footloose' was a cool movie. I was lying because I had no basis to make a critical judgment of 'Footloose' because I had not seen 'Footloose.' "What was your favorite part?" asked Josh. Panicked because here I was, a fourth grader, being challenged by a third grader because he knew my parents were not the type of parents to take me to see 'Footloose.' (My parents were the type to leave me at home while they went to see 'Blame it on Rio.') Josh was trying to show me up.
"I liked the part where he dances back and forth in the shed," I replied, only because I had seen the Kenny Loggins video for 'Footloose' on WTBS' 'Night Tracks' at least 20 times (there was no MTV in the small Missouri town that I lived in at the time, so I was regulated to 'Night Tracks' and 'Friday Night Videos') and I could have sworn that was a shed. It was a warehouse. I was asked to name one scene that wasn't in the video. I couldn't. I was humiliated. (Later, I would learn there really aren't that many scenes that weren't in Loggins' video.)
My parents did not seem at all sympathetic to my plight. If my parents won't take me, maybe my grandmother would. I mean, the year before I had convinced her to take me to a movie called 'Octopussy' (which I wouldn't realize was a bit odd until many years later). I explained to her just how incredible 'Footloose' just had to be. I explained to her the plot. I explained to her that an incredible man named Kenny Loggins sang the theme song and starred in the movie. (When I was nine, I had the tendency to confuse easily. To be fair, Loggins doesn't appear in the video for 'Footloose,' so I thought Kevin Bacon was Kenny Loggins. The fact that a man named Kenny Wormald stars in the new 'Footloose' confuses my nine-year-old self even more.)
The bad news: My parents discovered my plan and I was grounded. The good news: My parents felt bad about overreacting (which they did!) and purchased me the soundtrack -- which really made things worse. There's only so many times a human being can listen to 'Never' by Moving Pictures without knowing why exactly it is that he'll never, never, never, ever, never, never, never, ever fly. After our neighbors -- parents I would consider more strict than mine -- took their kids to see 'Footloose' and gave it a half-hearted recommendation (i.e. there's no nudity), I was finally able to see 'Footloose.'
'Footloose' isn't a very good movie. Re-watching as an adult, it's almost laughable: The wide shots once Kevin Bacon has to do any sort of real dancing; an impromptu gymnastics workout in the aforementioned warehouse; that -- in a town with no dancing -- only Chris Penn's character can't dance at a professional level; a game of chicken versus an oncoming train; a game of chicken involving two tractors traveling at glacier speed (perhaps this town should have banned "chicken" as apposed to dancing); Ren's attempt to bail on his tractor, only to be thwarted by a shoelace. A shoelace! But, for my nine-year-old self, it was magic. These kids were fighting for their right to dance; I was fighting for my right to see 'Footloose.' To this day, once Reverend Shaw gives his blessing for the school dance and Kenny Loggins' 'I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man)' kicks in, I still get goose bumps. You see, mom and dad, even though these kids say the word "shit" a lot, they're good kids! Also, I'm a good kid! Sure, it's fiction, but it was nice to feel good about something.
I saw a screening of the new 'Footloose' on Sunday night, a movie I didn't think I would like, yet liked immensely. I can't tell if I actually think the movie is good or if I was just overcome by nostalgia -- because the original 'Footloose' isn't about nostalgia, 'Footloose' is the definition of nostalgia. The new version isn't a new, hip version of 'Footloose'; instead it's a love letter to the original. I wanted to hate it, but the second that the film starts, with close-ups of the dancing shoes, as the original Kenny Loggins' version of the theme song blares over the speakers, I was sold. Ren still drives an old VW Bug, still likes Quiet Riot and still wears a burgundy tuxedo to his prom. This movie wasn't made for teenagers, this movie was meant for people who loved the original 'Footloose.' At least for me, it worked: I felt nine years old again. Here, once again, are these kids (I use the word "kids" lightly, Kenny Wormald is 27-years-old), working together for a common cause. Using a constructive method to achieve what they want. I was completely in that world again.
After the screening, I was waiting for an uptown bus on the corner on 45th and Madison. A group of about 20 teenagers approached, about the same age as the characters in 'Footloose,' walking from south to north. As they passed, one of their members approached me, looked me in the face, and asked, "Hey, where's the party, asshole?" looked back at his friends, then laughed. Right. Reality. Indeed, 'Footloose' is fiction, but it was nice to feel good about something, even for a little while.
[Photo: Everett Collection]
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