Grease is still the word, says Lorraine Smith
The introduction of DVD into our lives brought with it some tricky decisions. Which of my videos do I replace first? Which new films do I splash out on? How many classics should I purchase when they become dirt cheap? Well, it's been a few years since we bought our DVD player and I'm beginning to yearn for what's missing in my collection of beautifully sharp audio-visual movie bliss... the classics my sister and I used to watch as kids.
Now, some of the movies we adored were actually complete rubbish and I now look back and wonder why I ever watched, let alone enjoyed, them. I know your tastes change as you grow older, but I didn't realise quite how much. The latest addition to my film library, however, is now even better than it was when I was 10-years old and I'm not ashamed to say it. Grease is still the word.
Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy meets girl again; boy behaves like an arse
Just in case there are any of you out there who have yet to experience this cinematic masterpiece, let me summarise for you. Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy meets girl again; boy behaves like an arse; girl throws a strop and runs off; boy can't forget girl and does anything he can to get her. Pretty generic stuff, eh? Well, that's films derived from Broadway musicals for you. The fun part comes when the characters win your heart and you find yourself singing along to the ridiculously catchy songs.
The most wonderful thing about re-discovering this movie is the fact that it works on a couple of levels. I loved it as a child because the teenage content washed over me and left me to enjoy the singing, dancing, and fabulous fifties costumes. Now that I am older and wiser, I can't believe I missed the ludicrously blatant references to unprotected sex, underage drinking, and theft of car parts to create a "real pussy wagon" but, if you've ever seen Grease 2, you'll realise just how subtle the first film is. I genuinely never even thought to ask what Kenickie's 25 cent insurance policy actually was.
One thing that struck me when watching Grease again the other day, and my inspiration for this review, was that the female characters are so much stronger than the men. You wouldn't reckon that a PG rated musical story about an American high school in 1959 would feature any women worth discussing on a site like this, but I think not. The male characters are all bound by their image, whereas the women say what they think and do what they feel. The T-Birds are caricatures while the Pink Ladies are real people making their own way, and there's bound to be one we can all relate to:
The poor dear's lead a sheltered life compared to the rest of the group but they embrace her all the same, eventually. She doesn't drink, smoke, or do anything 'naughty' with boys yet she never looks down on her friends who choose to do all of the above. Sandy shows support for Rizzo when everyone else, including one of her best friends, seems determined to ruin her reputation with malicious gossip and, at the end of the film, she has a change of image to cheer herself up rather than specifically to get her man.
The unofficial leader of the Pink Ladies, Riz is determined to "get her kicks while she's still young enough to get them". She satisfies her own desires, takes opportunities and isn't afraid to play the bad girl. Sometimes her tough exterior cracks and some emotion shines through but Rizzo never leans on anyone else for support unless they offer. She's very independent and loves to be the centre of attention.
She had the guts to drop out of high school and enrol on a beauty course to follow her dream but, when it didn't go to plan, she wasn't afraid to swallow her pride and return to get her high school diploma (with a little advice, though). She's a wonderful friend to Sandy when she needs it most and is willing to experiment, even if it is only with her hair most of the time.
This is a girl who appears to be 100% gossip queen at first glance, but look a little harder and you'll see a loyal friend who just speaks before she thinks a lot of the time. She's considerate to both Sandy and Kenickie, whilst also remaining a devoted pen pal to the many men she's met. Marty knows that men will pretend to love her to get what they want, so she turns the tables on them.
The final Pink Lady is supposed to be fat, although putting baggy shapeless clothes on a 'normal' actress isn't going to fool anyone these days! She takes insults on the chin and always seems to lift the tone just when things may start to get a little too serious.
OK, so not the most amazing group of female role models ever immortalised on celluloid, but they are quite realistic. Each has bad qualities but these are outweighed by the good and this makes them seem more genuine, to me at least. I also get the feeling that they are not about to be walked over by anyone... especially not by men. They may only be 18 years old and unsure of their path in life, but you can't help thinking that they are going to be a lot more successful in whatever they do than the T-Birds.
This male 'gang' consists of the looker, his best mate, and the three stooges. All are desperate to appear cool in front of the lads and no characters really go much deeper. Danny is left pining for Sandy like a puppy left alone for the day and, although he realises he has to change as a person, he seems to do it solely to impress her and thinks it's worth losing his friends over. I think most people would agree that, at eighteen, Sandy's 'let him see what he's missing' approach is far better than Danny's 'if I change she'll love me forever'. What a wimp!
Still, I have to admit to watching the film partly to ogle a young and sexy John Travolta, but you wouldn't want to spend much time with his character off of the dance-floor, would you? Invite me to a Pink Ladies' sleep-over party, however, and I'd be there like a shot. Just leave out the Twinkies.