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Dirty Dancing: Ultimate Edition

Nobody puts Baby in a corner! The stupendous success of the 1987 rom-com Dirty Dancing took pretty much everyone by surprise — including the film's writer, director, and producers, who'd labored over what they'd assumed (no matter how much they personally loved the project) was just another moderately troubled production that would vanish soon after it hit theaters. But, instead, this tale of a rich Jewish girl named Baby (Jennifer Grey) who finds love with a poor-but-hunky dance instructor (Patrick Swayze) struck a chord with audiences who bought tickets over and over again — with some fans seeing the film 20 times or more on its initial release. It's the summer of 1963 and 17-year-old Frances "Baby" Houseman is spending the summer at Kellerman's resort in the Catskills with her beloved doctor father (Jerry Orbach), elegant mother (Kelly Bishop), and bratty, princess sister (Jane Brucker). Though initially set up with the obnoxious nephew (Lonny Price) of dad's pal Mr. Kellerman (Jack Weston), Baby finds herself attracted to bad-boy dancer Johnny Castle. And when she stumbles onto the after-hours party atmosphere of the dirty-dancing camp staff, Baby's sultrier instincts awaken. Volunteering to step in as an emergency dance partner when Johnny's childhood friend and partner Penny (Cynthia Rhodes) gets pregnant, Baby grows closer to Johnny as he teaches her how to cha-cha — and finally comes of age when she stands by Johnny when he's falsely accused of stealing from customers. Treading the familiar territory of the rich girl who falls for the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Dirty Dancing spins its particular class-warfare between the wealthy Jews who patronize the resort and the working-class Gentiles who wait tables and give dance lessons — Baby's father mistrusts Johnny because of his streetwise nature and assumes that he's the father of Penny's child, and it's class that sets up Johnny for a fall when he chooses Baby over a rich (and spiteful) married Kellerman's guest. Yes, it's a phenomenally corny chick-flick, but it's also beautifully shot, ingeniously paced, and smartly written, evoking the last gasp of cultural innocence before the Vietnam years. Grey is perfect as a slightly dorky girl who's teetering on the brink of womanhood, and Swayze is bad, bold, and sexy as the heapin' hunk of testosterone who teaches her how to dance, both upright and horizontal. With a wealth of period music setting the mood and dance sequences that carry the story ever forward without seeming stagy or unnatural, Dirty Dancing is one of those transcendent guilty-pleasure movies that manages to be as timeless as it is entertaining.

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Artisan's Dirty Dancing: Ultimate Edition DVD arrives after several postponements and, while it's not as extensive as one might hope, it has enough features to please most fans. For starters, the film looks great — the newly remastered anamorphic transfer is extremely clean, with rich, saturated colors and sparkling detail. The audio — in DD 5.1, DTS 6.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround — is an excellent mix, with dialogue and music never fighting for attention. There's two commentary tracks, one by writer/co-producer Eleanor Bergstein, who based much of the script on her own memories of Catskills summers — she may not have been the director of record (that would be Emile Ardolino) but it's very much Bergstein's film, and her commentary reveals just how much attention to detail she paid to the script, the casting, the costuming, and the art direction. A second commentary with the choreographers, director of photography, and the costume and production designers goes into even more excruciating detail. Unfortunately, there's no convenient way to turn the commentaries off once you've enabled them, no matter how many times you maneuver back through the very loud, saxophone-blaring menu tree. The "Jennifer Grey DVD Introduction" is just that — Jennifer Grey, new nose and all, saying, "Hi, I'm Jennifer Grey. Welcome to the Dirty Dancing DVD." Seriously — that's it. There's also an optional "Trivia Track" that offers the very occasional tidbit in the form of pink subtitles on-screen. Disc Two offers new interviews with Grey, Bergstein, choreographer Kenny Ortega, and assistant choreographer Miranda Garrison, who also played the malicious matron Mrs. Pressman. There's also Jennifer Grey's screen test, which illuminates the awkward, humiliating nature of auditions; a tribute to director Emile Ardolino, who died in 1993; "Dirty Dancing Live in Concert" (87 min.), a video record of the touring stage-show that featured the artists whose songs were used in the film and the "Original Dirty Dancing Dancers"; the very cheesy, original music videos for "Hungry Eyes" (by Eric Carmen!),"(I've Had) The Time of My Life," and Swayze's unlikely hit, "She's Like the Wind"; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for the Dirty Dancing DVD release and Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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