It’s hard to believe that Dirty Dancing is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year. Just 14 when the film hit theaters in August if 1987, I saw the film and loved it. My friends and I quickly bought the soundtrack and if memory serves, I went to see the film four more times before it left my local movie theater. A story of love between a budding Jewish radical and a streetwise dancer/prostitute was far more politicized than the light rom/coms that usually brought teenagers to the movies during that time.
In the summer of 1963, Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey), a liberal but sheltered young doctor’s daughter, arrives with her family, at Kellerman’s, a resort in the Catskills, expecting to do little more than kill time before starting her first semester at Mt. Holyoke in the fall. Quickly bored by the Latin dance lessons and other arranged entertainment, Baby wanders the grounds. She overheard resort owner Max Kellerman giving directives to the staff. The male dance instructors are encouraged to mambo with the single ladies; hanky-panky is forbidden. Unspoken, but clear, the message that romance is to be reserved for the resort’s regular staff–nice Jewish boys with bright futures–and the nice Jewish girls visiting with their families.
The Kellerman’s needy grandson, Neil (Lonnie Price) has eyes for Baby, but she has no interest. And then one night, she decides to sneak into one of the entertainment staff’s after-hours party’s. Baby is fascinated by Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) and his partner Penny Johnson (Cynthia Rhoades) and the “dirty dancing” they engage in. After an impromptu dancing lesson from Johnny, Baby begins to fall in love. Nonetheless, it looks like the romance might be over before it starts; Johnny thinks he might not be good enough for a girl like Baby.
Things take a surprising turn when Penny finds herself in need of an abortion. One of the so called, “nice boys” on the staff got her pregnant–a med student–and refuses to take any responsibility for it, saying bluntly, “Some people count, and some people don’t.” For Penny, it’s not a question of whether she wants to become a mother. As a woman with no family or resources, if she can’t dance, she has no way of making a living. She sees it as the only option.
Baby borrows money from her father to pay for Penny abortion. Johnny teaches her to dance so she can take Penny place in a hotel show. Timid and awkward at first, Baby proves to be a quick study. Naturally, the two fall in love over the course of the lessons. Meanwhile, the ‘doctor’ who provides Penny abortion ends up batching the procedure, forcing Baby to go to her father for help. At the time, this was the first film aimed at teens I’d seen that broached the subject of a botched abortion. To this day, Dirty Dancing is one of only a handful of films to take on the subject, even letting the camera linger, just for a moment, on blood stained sheets–as if to emphasize the dangers of illegal abortions.
And so, with their romance no longer a secret Baby and Johnny must deal with a few slings and arrows. Simultaneously, Baby’s father (Jerry Orbach) must come to terms with the fact that she’s not his little girl anymore. In the end, both father and daughter have grown up and understand each other a lot better. All of this is not to make Dirty Dancing sound like more than it is–choreographed by Kenny Ortega, it’s got some excellent dance sequences and one of the best soundtracks of the 1980’s. I just don’t think it gets enough credit for attempting you address a hot button issue few films do.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Lionsgate has provided a surprisingly inconsistent 1080p transfer. While some shots exhibit a nice level of sharpness, others have a soft, blurry appearance. Delineation isn’t as clear as one might expect. Colors are also somewhat inconsistent. While outside, daytime shots look pleasing, interiors look a bit dull. On the positive side, blacks are deep and inky, shadows are well delineated and the image is clean. So while the video transfer is on the lackluster side, it’s not terrible. This is the same transfer used in the 2012 Blu-ray release.
The DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack handles the various pop songs, from both the ’60s and ’80s wonderfully, offering up a broad soundfield and a pleasing level of bass. Sound effects are mostly limited to the ambient sounds of the environment–birds, water, automobiles, etc.– they are handled appropriately and never interfere with music or dialogue. Dialogue is clean and clear, except for one or two very brief dips in volume. This is the same soundtrack used in the 2012 Blu-ray release.
English and Spanish subtitles are included.
The extras are a collection of new and old material:
- NEW! Featurette: Happy Birthday, Dirty Dancing! (HD, 29:19) In this look at the massive success of Dirty Dancing, we get recently recorded comments from screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, cast members Jennifer Grey, Jane Brucker (Lisa), and Kelly Bishop (Mrs. Houseman), several of the actors in the upcoming 2017 TV movie remake and brand new stage show. Archival clips of Grey, Swayze, and director Emile Ardolino are also included, as well as audition and rehearsal footage and behind-the-scenes footage of the new productions.
- NEW! Featurette: Patrick Swayze In His Own Words (HD, 12:52) Taken from a 2006 interview, Swayze discusses his early life, the production of Dirty Dancing, the film’s amazing success and more.
- NEW! Featurette: Eleanor Bergstein: Thoughts on a Lifetime of Dirty Dancing (HD, 6:40) The film’s screenwriter recalls how the title sequence came about. She also discusses the subsequent stage musical.
- NEW! Featurette: Patrick Swayze Uncut (HD, 13:34) In additional excerpts from that 2006 interview, Swayze discusses his love for Arabian horses, ballet training, work ethic, fame, work ethic and more.
- Audio Commentary with Writer / Co-producer Eleanor Bergstein: In this screen specific commentary, Bergstein discusses her real life influences, changes from script to screen, casting, locations, music, anecdotes from the shoot and more. This is a fun and informative track. Highly recommended for fans of the film.
- Audio Commentary with choreographer Kenny Ortega, assistant choreographer and actress Miranda Garrison, director of photography Jeff Jur, costume designer Hilary Rosenfeld, and production designer David Chapman. All sit solo except for Ortega and Garrison, who are together for their parts. Each participant’s job gives you a good idea of what is discussed here. However, despite having five people involved, this is a fairly boring discussion. Nobody really shares any on set insights!
- Featurette: Dirty Dancing: The Phenomenon (SD, 13:45) We get a look at the rise and fall of Vestron Video, which produced the film, the sexy trailer that generated interest in the film, the public response to the film, the ill-fated TV series and the “sequel” many years later.
- Featurette: Patrick Swayze: The Rhythm of the Dancing (SD, 4:08) Swayze discusses the music in the film and shares some heartfelt words about his wife Lisa.
- Music Videos (SD) Three videos for ‘She’s Like the Wind,’ ‘Hungry Eyes,’ and ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.’
- Cast and Crew interviews (SD) actor Jennifer Grey (11:14), choreographer Kenny Ortega (15:23), writer/co-producer Eleanor Bergstein (18:38), and assistant choreographer / actress Miranda Garrison (13:19).
- Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes (SD) Eleven deleted scenes, seven extended scenes (including one with another actress playing Baby’s mother), and three alternate scenes are included in this extensive
- Screen Tests & Outtakes (SD) First, have a minute-long montage of Grey and Swayze doing dance tests, followed by two dramatic tests of Grey juxtaposed against the actual filmed scenes from the movie. The outtakes are 38 seconds long.
- Digital HD