I don't know the exact number of times I've seen Dirty Dancing.
It was released in 1987 and so based on a scientific calculation of (DVD watched at random times) + (obligatory Christmas viewing) x (searching YouTube clips for the best scenes) = a lot.
Yet, when the opportunity came to watch it for the 108th time but this time al fresco, lying re supine on a blanket with 'outdoor' facilities and to pay for the honour - care of The Luna Cinema, the UK's Number 1 Open Air Cinema, I didn't give it a moment's deliberation. I was there.
The classic story of Frances 'Baby' Houseman and Johnny Castle dirty dancing their way to heart-aching love has not been tarnished by time or trend. It is perfectly acceptable to appreciate a noir Lynch classic, reel off an art house film as the finest ever made and cite an Almodóvar as your favourite AND love DD. It remains as beautiful as it was on its initial release and renders me an emotional wreck even to this day.
The Luna Cinema travelled to Crystal Palace, SE19 on 21 June and oh, what a night. A section of the park had been cordoned off to create a nifty outdoor theatre complete with gargantuan projector screen and surround sound, fancy Benefit makeup bar, posh burgers and the obligatory bar. Premium seats were available in the form of a Directors Chair but my friends were and I were happy to rough it on blankets which provided a perfectly good view of the huge screen. A quick nose around at fellow DD film buffs showed that gourmet picnics were packed impressively, watermelons featured heavily in fruit and frozen daiquiri form and the excited chattering was penetrated with the regular pop of prosecco corks. One of my favourite sounds. Ever.
Summer had finally arrived as we chatted excitedly, took groupies and made hilarious DD quips based on how many times we'd seen it and our precise knowledge of every single scene, song and sentence delivery. 'Better go to the loo now, don't want to miss a bit, ho ho', etc. We waited patiently for the sun to go down and finally it was time, the familiar drum beats of The Ronettes' Be My Baby and the black and white images of those dirty dancers in slow motion adorned the screen.
Watching a film en masse is strangely comforting and terrific fun. There was a whiff of hen party in the air, the odd scattering of bloke in the crowd for good measure and not a gobby back row kid chucking popcorn in sight. Just like-minded adults who sometimes want to forget the real world and be a teenager again (who holidays at Kellerman's and gets to snog Patrick Swayze).
Throughout the entire performance - from start to finish - we cheered heartily in unison at the best bits, whooped appreciatively whenever Johnny adorned the screen, whistled at the saucy bits and sang along to the incredible 1960s soundtrack in a quasi-outdoor karaoke completion.
My outdoor DD experience made me realise many profound things, including:
- All the best scenes are 100 times better than you remember when magnified on a big screen, when you are grown up enough to understand the issues at hand and when your lovely mates are your film buddies.
- When we first burst through the doors of the staff quarters care of Baby, Billy Kostecki and oversized watermelons it is the bestest, sweatiest, dirty party we've never been to and Otis Redding's Love Man is the perfect track.
- Still on a Billy note, he's overrated. We definitely would have tried to get off with him if his cousin Johnny had rebuked our advances.
- The lake / log / practice-lift scene is a beautiful, funny and charming piece of cinematography and the subtle piano teaser of (I've Had) The Time of my Life makes us go a bit gooey as we consider THAT scene is ahead. It also begs the question, why wasn't there a lake with a log and boys to dance on said log with at Sandhills Holiday Park, Dorset? Well Mum and Dad?
- Baby and Johnny's 'fill in' dance at The Sheldrake to the sounds of De Todo Un Poco (anyone else sing their own version of that song even though they don't speak Spanish? De der der der der, DE TODONPOCO etc) is hilarious and Jennifer Grey's facial expressions and the way she disguises her mistakes with hand gesticulations is pure comedic genius.
- It is impossible not to show off and recite familiar phrases after a few glasses of fizz and when in a group-based situation. Fair weather DD fans comfortably know Nobody puts baby in a corner and spaghetti arms. Die hard DD fans, however, yell out the obscure stuff at the screen with inhibition. Baby? Is that your name? Well you know what Baby? You don’t know shit about my problems and Take that stuff off your face before your mother sees you. Or Baby, I’ll do your hair. It could look pretty if…No. Prettier your way. Or shouting out Bill Medley's Oh yeah, yeah, yeah as Johnny leaps off the stage in the final dance scene, like me. Pure showing off.
- Patrick Swayze was a perfect, beautiful actor who played Johnny was sensitivity, grace and fierceness and looked ridiculously fit. When he punched Robbie Gould and said 'You're not worth it' with such dazzling menace, deep down we all wanted him to put his face in our stomach while we hung out in the staff lodgings. We would have told our Dad he was our guy, no hesitation. (On a serious note, his death was premature and he'll never, ever be forgotten).
- Marjorie Houseman may live in the shadow of Dr Houseman and be excluded from the Baby-Daddy relationship for most of the film, but when she delivers those killer words ' Sit down, Jake', it is exquisitely powerful. A feminists rally cry. She's the boss, Doc, and don't you forget it.
- The outfits are insane. Reference: Baby in denim shorts, peach body top and pristine white pumps or pink chiffon skirt and white vest top knotted at the waist. Penny in any dress. Any dress at all.
Our al fresco viewing pleasure flew by in a flash and there was a noticeable crescendo of excitement as the final dirty dance of the season approached. For the 100+ pickled, nostalgic and over-emotional crowd it was almost too much to bear. It was near on hysteria when Johnny returned with leather jacket.
Deep down, we all felt like we were leaving Kellerman's after the best summer of our lives; after all, for our generation this was our coming-of-age film and we experienced that gut wrenching end-of-holiday feeling. Our emotions over spilled, we joined hands and hearts and voices, voices, hearts and hands. We shouted, we whooped, if the truth be told we got a bit breathless to that iconic final scene as if it we were seeing it for the very first time. The end of the film left, as always, lots of unanswered questions about the famous Baby and Johnny and the feeling was jubilant but wistful as we made our back to reality. Just when did we grow up so much?
Luna Cinema, great job. I've read other reviews of similar outdoor showings of Dirty Dancing where it got a bit silly, the people got lairy and the atmosphere was not good, but not here. In Crystal Palace Park that night we were all friends together, bonded by our love of this amazing film. We laughing at each other's jokes, shouted out clever quips and celebrated by dancing in the park at the end. The staff were helpful and amiable and I could have sworn I saw a steward dancing through a prosecco haze - but on reflection he may have been stopping an overzealous dancer getting too close to the projector and got unwittingly pulled into a dirty dance.
Thank you. We had a blast, and we owe it all to you. (Sorry).