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Footloose (1984)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

Those who believe individualism is consistently embraced by the “religious right” or that “cultural conservatism” is always on the side of freedom might benefit from a viewing of this movie which was based on actual events.

The sort of town depicted in this movie has probably mostly disappeared or at least changed in many respects. No longer is the battleground in small towns to keep Slaughterhouse Five out of the school library. However, today it may very well be to keep Harry Potter or Huckleberry Finn, depending on whether the group interested in censoring is from the “right” or the “left”, from those same shelves. There are few towns today that outlaw dancing, but “raves” are subject to even more severe prohibition than that depicted in Footloose.

Although I’m no longer young, I can still remember being young. Movies like Grease and Footloose with their great music and dancing help. Even though I’ve “matured” I still have tremendous empathy for those who haven’t. It seems that a very large percentage of the time when I observe someone being given attention by police on the highway, or at public events, the person attracting the attention is young and usually male. Although some details have changed, Footloose remains relevant and the music is very good.

When Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon in perhaps his best role) arrives in Bomont from Chicago he discovers that dancing is outlawed in the smallish town. The community is led by a very influential minister, Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow, also one of his best performances) whose son was killed in a car accident under circumstances that have led Rev. Moore to be very suspicious of rock and roll, as well as dancing. Young people in Bomont are monitored very closely by the town’s authorities: police, teachers and almost all adults. There are the usual teenage “thug” types, who don’t welcome Ren. However, he also meets Willard (Christopher Penn) who can’t dance but is friendly. The minister’s daughter Ariel (Lori Singer), who is dating the chief teenage “thug,” is also interested in Ren.

Eventually Ren figures that the only way to open up the town is to have a dance. Ren takes Ariel, Willard and Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker) to a place outside the jurisdiction of Bomont and they see what a fine time can be had dancing. They are enlisted in the cause of promoting a senior dance in Bomont. When people hear of the proposed dance resistance mounts.

Besides the fine portrayals by the young actors already mentioned and John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest gives an excellent performance in the role of Vi Moore, the minister’s wife. Although many would contend circumstances today are different, to them I respond with this question: Isn’t that always true? Although the specifics of censorship and prohibition are different today than they were in 1984 or 1924, the essence of the issue has not changed at all and probably never will. Footloose is still relevant, very enjoyable and as stated previously, the music is excellent.

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