About the Book
Renowned film critic Roger Ebert said Dirty Dancing “might have been a decent movie if it had allowed itself to be about anything.” In this broadly researched and accessible text, Stephen Lee Naish sets out to deconstruct and unlock a film that has haunted him for decades, and argues that Dirty Dancing, the 1987 sleeper hit about a young middle-class girl who falls for a handsome working-class dance instructor, is actually about everything. The film is a union of history, politics, sixties and eighties culture, era-defining music, class, gender, and race, and of course features one of the best love stories set to film. Using scene-by-scene analyses, personal interpretation, and comparative study, it’s time to take Dirty Dancing out of the corner and place it under the microscope.
I accidentally ended up with this book from NetGalley and I was in two minds about whether to read it or to just contact the publisher and explain my error. In the end I decided to read it. I think everyone my age will have watched and loved Dirty Dancing when they were around their early teens. I know so many people who still consider this one of their favourite films. It was my favourite feel-good film for many years.
This is a wonderful book for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the film as it really does look at all the key moments, and allows you to re-live them. I liked the descriptions of some of the deleted scenes from the film and the discussion on how they may or may not have added to the storyline had they have been left in – it’s made me want to buy the special edition DVD so I can see those deleted scenes now! Occasionally there are really interesting references to other studies that have discussed Dirty Dancing and I would have loved more of that, but it has led me to look at the bibliography at the back of this book so that I can maybe read more on the subject another time.
I’ve always seen the depth in Dirty Dancing, and assume that most people have – the way the main plot line hinges on Penny’s botched abortion, and the way the politics (and class and race issues) of the time the film was set really did have a huge impact on the story being told. This book considers the themes of the film and how out there it was for the time it was set, and the time it was made. I only wish that there had been more of a discussion about about why no one makes films like Dirty Dancing anymore, and that’s not me being nostalgic, it’s a genuine thing that interests me as to why we don’t have romantic films that look at serious issues in the way that Dirty Dancing did anymore. Now romantic films always seem to be very light and fluffy and while I enjoy them from time to time none of them are all that memorable, whereas Dirty Dancing always feels forward-thinking in the way it tackled big issues.
There is an interesting chapter earlier in the book that compares the themes of Dirty Dancing to those in Blue Velvet and I found that quite fascinating as on the surface I don’t automatically think of these films being in any way similar. I now see the common themes that Naish discussed in the book and it has made me ponder them, and to want to re-watch both films to see what else I may have missed in my previous viewings of them.
Naish also discusses how certain quotes from Dirty Dancing have become part of popular culture now. The way we all quote ‘I carried a watermelon’, for example, as shorthand for the most mortifying things we’ve ever said or done.
I found the author’s analysis of the end of Dirty Dancing utterly fascinating. I’ve watched the film numerous times and I’ve always thought that the ending was just super romantic and a perfect end to the film. Naish considers the idea that the whole ending was just a fantasy that Baby was having, it was what she imagined happened and that really the love story between her and Johnny was over when he left Kellermans earlier in the the film. I actually see that this is entirely plausible and it has made me really think about whether this is more likely than how I’ve always viewed it.
All in all this is an interesting, nostalgic look back on a great film and if you’re a Dirty Dancing fan I think you’ll very much enjoy this book – I definitely recommend it.
Deconstructing Dirty Dancing is due to be published on 28 April.
I received a copy of this book from Zer0Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.