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Strictly Ballroom

Simply Ballroom (1992) began for director Baz Luhrmann as a project when he was a drama student, then re-worked to become an award-winning production at a Czech theater festival, and then re-tooled yet again as a successful stage show. In bringing it to the screen, Luhrmann created the first of what he now refers to as his "red-curtain cinematic form," using a highly stylized, theatrical presentation to tell a simple, classic story. The movie opens smack in the middle of the gaudy, insane world of Aussie ballroom dance, at the district championships. Two top couples soon stand out from the pack on the floor: Ken Railings (John Hannan) and his partner Pam Short (Kerry Shrimpton), and Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) dancing with the high-strung Liz Holt (Gia Carides). However, in the middle of competition Scott dances his own steps, in direct violation of the highly restrictive rules. Liz flees the dance floor in tears. The only people on Scott's side are his hen-pecked father (Barry Otto) and the dance academy's resident wallflower, Fran (Tara Morice), who convinces Scott to use her as a partner and to dance his own steps in the Pan-Pacifics. But just when it looks like love will win the day, Scott is offered the chance to join Australia's top girl dancer, Tina Sparkle. Stylistically, Strictly Ballroom is a much, much more accessible film than either Moulin Rouge or Romeo + Juliet. But the oddball Luhrmann style is readily apparent in the garish lighting, the gaudy costuming and the extravagantly theatrical presentation. He never lets you forget that you're watching a movie, a conceit that works brilliantly because Strictly Ballroom is such an old-fashioned story, recalling boy-meets-girl films of the past where we know a happy ending is assured once the boy and girl overcome the inevitable obstacles. Buena Vista's Strictly Ballroom offers a gorgeous anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. On board is a delightful commentary with director Luhrmann, production designer Catherine Martin and choreographer John "Cha Cha" O'Connell; "Behind the Red Curtain," a five-minute behind-the-scenes featurette; "That's Looking Good," showcasing some of the costumes; "Dance to Win," a still gallery of promotional designs with commentary (the film was titled Dancing Hero in Japan!); "Yesterday's Hero," offering background information and old photos of Luhrmann, who grew up in a ballroom-dancing family; and "Love is in the Air," on the casting of Mercurio and Morice. The best extra by far is the 30-minute 1986 documentary "Samba to Slow Fox," which proves that no matter how over-the-top Luhrmann's view of the ballroom dancing world may seem, it's tame in comparison to the real thing.
—Dawn Taylor

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