film: Ardolino: Dirty Dancing (1987)

Somebody questioned my gender today, shouting “are you a boy or a girl?” as I left the library. When I asked Caleb about the noise my shoes make he said, “it’s a mark of high quality soles, it shoes that they’re leather and not rubber, and yeah, they’re going to sound like high-heels, and everyone’s going to think you’re gay, but you’ll know that they’re just idiots.” And then I’m wearing women’s pants, a Euro-cut shirt tucked in…but my hair is short and I do have a cute little mustache. And Celine kept whispering for Solene to check if I had fallen asleep yet during Dirty Dancing. I was enthralled, which is why it’s so exhilarating that they were teaching me to dance tonight.

I often wonder why we aren’t capable of handling musicals anymore, and if we’ll ever be able to again, given that contemporary pop doesn’t lend itself easily to the medium of the jazz ages. There’s this aspect of Dirty Dancing that everyone chooses to avoid discussing—being the musical genre qualities. The whole film is not a musical, and even begins by setting itself only a few decades ago, capturing that world I’ve been told about by my grandparents, all the Jews heading up to the mountains in New York and listening to Latin jazz, parties I recognize as so characteristic of those that I’ve attended in Florida during winter months, Vermont during summer months, those at which I’m the youngest by fifty years, unless someone’s granddaughter needs to be yentaed about. This is a film that exists in a firm reality, a place and a time and characters we can believe in, and then…without any warning somebody slips on a 45 of music produced a quarter-century later. We can deal with this, that’s fine, because we can just assume that we as the audience are hearing a contemporary soundtrack that the characters do not hear, that they are dancing to old-fashioned race music or something—except that Patrick Swayze begins mouthing the song’s words…I begin to grow uncomfortable. And to make matters worse, the entire resort staff starts into a West Side Story-style choreography…somehow they were all prepared. And we never ask any questions about why or how these things happen. And then the film concludes without an ending.

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