By Steven Suskin
21 Apr 2013
Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom [Lionsgate]—the Australian film that opened in 1992 and immediately established the director as a presence in the world cinema—has just been released on Blu-ray. Never having heretofore gotten around to seeing it, I discover that it is pure delight: a heartwarmingly uplifting terpsichorean Cinderella combining exhilarating dance and witty humor that alternates from the sly to the brash. This was the first in Luhrmann's so-called Red Curtain Trilogy of highly theatrical films with a theatrical motif, the others being "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge."
The story is simple enough, telling of a talented twentyish ballroom dancer (Paul Mercurio) in small-town Australia who has grown up in the shadow of an overbearing dance-teaching mother. A likely-to-be champion in the Pan Pacific Grand Prix championships, he loses his partner due to his predilection to improvise his own, exciting-but-unauthorized steps. Searching for self-expression, he begins working with the sad sack of the troupe (Tara Morice), with thick glasses and a perennial smudge on her face. We all know what happens, yes; but it happens with grace, charm, humor and even slippers (of the dance variety).
The project underwent a long and difficult journey, which included the death of Albert prior to filming. The oddball movie, once finished, found it difficult to attract suitors (or distributors). In a ridiculously Cinderella-like parallel, "Strictly Ballroom" was given a slot at the 1992 Cannes Festival. But a back-door slot: one midnight showing, which was sparsely attended but received a vociferous 15-minute ovation. This resulted in additional screenings and furious bidding for the rights. Miramax won, and you can figure out the rest.
There has been talk of a new stage version, which would fit right in on Broadway and which under the circumstances certainly makes sense. But "Strictly Ballroom" is instantly available, now, and the new Blu-ray shows off the stunning production design by Catherine Martin and costumes by Angus Strathie. I waited almost 20 years to see the film, which I realized—15 minutes in—was an ill-advised delay.Continued...