Released 40 years ago today, Flashdance is a movie that is both completely of its time and forever iconic.
Set in Pittsburgh, it’s a follow-your-dreams story and a Cinderella tale. Alex — Jennifer Beals in the role that made her a star — is a welder by day and dances in a burlesque club at night (occasioning not just the famous water-drenched number but also a freak-out in white Kabuki makeup amid strobe lights). Her dream is to be accepted into a prestigious dance conservatory. By the end, she gets in, and she gets the guy, her older boss at the steel mill.
The genesis of the film came from a concept that screenwriter Thomas Hedley sold in 1980; he based the script on the true story of Maureen Marder, who worked construction by day and was an exotic dancer in Toronto by night. The British magazine editor and writer saw four of his screenplays get produced between 1980 and 1982, but Flashdance would have to wait as it changed hands between original buyer Casablanca (who plunked down $300,000 plus 5 percent of the net for the rights) and its eventual production house, Paramount Pictures. Along the way, additional contributions were made to the script by Joe Eszterhas; Eszterhas would spend the next two decades getting increasingly bigger paychecks for screenplays like the sexually-charged thrillers Basic Instinct and Jade and legendary bad movie Showgirls.
Beyond dance, much of the movie’s staying power comes from the soundtrack, especially Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” and Giorgio Moroder’s “What a Feeling,” sung by Irene Cara. The songs support sequences that are essentially music videos, which is how those scenes (the jogging workout, the audition) became ubiquitous on MTV — and why they still circulate online. Director Adrian Lyne took the novel approach of incorporating the visual style of music videos that had been popularized in America by the 1981 advent of MTV. His heavy use of shadows, stylized lighting, and clever editing deftly concealed the fact that doubles were dancing in addition to Beals. With a contemporary look, the film had to also sound contemporary. The score came from Giorgio Moroder, the Italian “Father of Disco” who was legendary as a composer and producer of dance music; he also wrote the music for the main song of the film, “Flashdance…What a Feeling.”
If you haven’t seen (or heard) it yet, do it now!