Save the Last Dirty Dance for the Revival
‘Dirty Dancing,” the sleeper hit of 1987, spawned not one but two Top 10 soundtracks, picked up an Academy Award for best original song (the song also won a Grammy), grossed $170 million worldwide (it was made for $7 million), launched the careers of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze and still sells an astounding number of home videos. As they say in Hollywood, this movie’s got legs.
And it’s set for a 10th anniversary re-release Friday in L.A. and 24 other cities.
“People [still] go nuts over this film. The response has been ecstatic,” says David Bowers, executive vice president of publicity and marketing at Live Entertainment, the film’s distributor. “We found out people really identify with these characters.”
The movie does seem to have touched people in a way that even those involved with the film have a hard time explaining.
“I don’t know why so many people have responded to it. But it’s a movie that people have taken to their hearts,” muses Eleanor Bergstein, 59, the writer and co-producer of the film. “So whether you say it’s a fairy tale, a love story, a class story, the fact is that it’s been of continuing importance to people.”
Swayze, now 45, who played wrong-side-of-the-tracks Johnny, says, “ ‘Dirty Dancing’ made people go back to those wonderfully painful moments in their lives when just the need to love somebody with all your heart, and to be loved back the same way, is the most [important thing]. Plus, it was a pretty sexy movie.”
Grey, now 37, who played Baby, says: “I think because it was set in 1963, we got away with a lot more innocence. And I think people long for a time when people were kind of innocent.”
Bergstein also believes that the film’s time capsule quality is part of its continuing appeal. “It’s what I call the last summer of liberalism. It was a few months before the assassination of John Kennedy, it was the summer of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech of Martin Luther King [Jr.]. I very much wanted [the film] to honor a world that wasn’t anymore.”
But Bergstein also wanted to have some fun--some dirty fun.
“My first movie was ‘It’s My Turn’ with Jill Clayburgh and Michael Douglas, and I had written in a dirty dancing sequence, and on the set I taught Michael and Jill and the whole crew to dirty dance.” But that scene was ultimately cut from the film.
“I was just devastated and I thought, well, I’m gonna write a movie and call it ‘Dirty Dancing.’ ”
Bergstein looked at her own teenage years and found a well of inspiration. “My father was a doctor in Brooklyn, and we used to go to Grossinger’s up in the Catskills. My parents would hit the golf course, and I would hit the dance studio. The dirty dancing steps were steps from my junior high years. I also worked my way through college as an Arthur Murray dance teacher, so there’s a great deal of Johnny in me, as well as Baby.”
Bergstein then found the perfect director for her film in Emile Ardolino.
“I saw his Oscar-winning [documentary] ‘He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing’ and I thought, ‘Well this is the person,’ because he knew how to shoot dancing so that you didn’t see how beautiful it was to watch dancing, but you understood how wonderful it was to be dancing.”
Bergstein pauses. “I feel immensely sad that Emile isn’t here because he would have loved [the idea of the re-release].”
Ardolino died in 1993 at 50 from complications of AIDS.
Grey, who is in Vancouver filming “Outrage,” a television movie for ABC with Rob Lowe, shares Bergstein’s warm feelings about Ardolino. “He was such an understanding, gentle person. And he took such a risk with me. They cast a girl who wasn’t getting cast as a leading lady. And they cast it true to the story. The business is so skewed to not support ethnicity. And it’s so crazy, you think, ‘What’s so bad about looking Jewish?’ ” She pauses, and then adds, “And then here I am with my nose job.”
In fact, Grey has seemingly spent more time in the last five years answering questions about the plastic surgery she had in 1992 than about any film she’s worked on in those years.
“I just wanted [my nose] to photograph better. [But] a little piece of the cartilage was not quite right. . . . Everyone went from recognizing me everywhere I went to no one recognizing me--even people I know.”
According to Bernstein, there was never any question about the casting of Grey or Swayze. “Emile and I were just flipping through photos and I said, ‘Those eyes! That’s exactly what I want,’ and he said, ‘Oh, well, as a matter of fact, he’s a dancer.’ And it was Patrick.
“For Baby, I had in mind a little dark-haired girl, and Jennifer came into the audition, and I remember that she called back, ‘OK Daddy, I’ll talk to you later'--it just happened that her father, Joel Grey, was in the hallway outside doing something else--and she just instantly closed the Baby space in our minds.”
Besides the chemistry between Grey and Swayze, the film’s popularity was given a hefty boost by its soundtrack. “I started with the music, and then I wrote the story,” Bergstein says. “Each scene [except for the few new songs] was written against the original song that I had picked from my old 45s [including the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and the Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night”]. The music was not a soundtrack that was put on later.”
Over the last 10 years, “Dirty Dancing” has quietly become the best-selling title in the Live Entertainment video library (Live picked up the library of the now-defunct Vestron, which produced the film), selling a steady 40,000 units per month, almost double the rate of its second-highest-selling video, “Terminator 2.”
Bergstein says she has talked to people all over the world who can’t get enough of the movie. “The letters I get, even though they are, of course, addressed to me, are really letters to the movie,” Bergstein says. “Those are the letters that are golden.”
For the re-release, there had been some discussion about whether to restore love scenes, which had been cut to get a PG-13 rating. “We finally chose not to,” Bowers says, “because we just felt that this is the image that people loved and saw and that we shouldn’t mess with that.”
And although there have been ruminations about a “Dirty Dancing” sequel over the years, Bergstein puts the rumor to rest.
“There was a moment when we all got together and thought we might make it, but I think its time has passed. But I’m so happy with the resonance of this film.”
Swayze agrees. “Sometimes you get on a movie that creates magic and goes to the core in such an intense way, you almost can’t claim credit for it,” he says. “Something else takes over and something special happens, and I really think that’s what happened on this film. I think some magic happened.”