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Film

Listen Up...'Strictly Ballroom' is the most fabulous rom-com of all time

@Russellisation

Restricted to strict regimentation of cliché where girl meets guy and love is carefully stacked upon a series of queasy romantic moments, Hollywood has long ‘perfected’ the stereotypical rom-com, with audiences surprisingly still willing to lap up the same recycled story. The finest films of this beloved genre defy their limits and break free of their mould by questioning the sheer folly of love, toying with the structure of gender roles, or indeed, for the likes of Strictly Ballroom, by embroiling love with the intricate politics of ballroom dancing. 

Flashy and flamboyant, Strictly Ballroom was the first in Baz Luhrmann’s ‘red curtain trilogy’ that explored the freneticism of the theatre, with his debut film providing the springboard for him to make Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet to finish off his trio. A lavish spectacle of style, Luhrmann’s grand film became an international sensation upon its release in 1992, becoming a cult hit in America after achieving box-office acclaim in its home country of Australia. 

Built on the very foundations of camp Australian cinema, Baz Luhrmann’s debut feature film is a surreal spectacular satire so sharp that it feels as though it was ripped from the world of South Park. With a similar wit and striking approach to satire, Luhrmann created a rom-com that was undeniably contemporary whilst inextricably linked to the classic structured ‘follow your dreams’ formula. 

The story sees a gutsy creative ballroom dancer Scott (Paul Mercurio) defy the rules of conventional dancing and seek a higher level of the craft by embracing such a free-spirited ethos. Dumping his greedy, egotistical dance partner before teaming up with a classic cinematic fading violet in Fran (Tara Morice), the new pair set out to win the ‘Pan Pacific Grand Prix’ whilst trying to ignore the melodramatic outrage from the surrounding townsfolk and the jeers of their rivals. 

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Initially filmed in a mockumentary style, Luhrmann develops a sense of time and place that seems to exist both within and outside of the realms of reality, giving Strictly Ballroom a glittering air of fantasy, depicting a world where dancing is the be-all and end-all of life itself. Such results in a perfectly composed musical-inspired rom-com extravaganza with all the verve, bravado and chutzpah of its two lead dancers, experimenting with the genre with unprecedented cinematic freedom. 

As Baz Luhrmann later revealed in an interview following the film’s release: “The point of Strictly Ballroom is: If someone is telling you that there is only way to cha-cha-cha, or that there is only one way to make a movie…I just have never been able to buy into that belief”. Instead, the key to understanding the director’s debut film and indeed his filmmaking style, in general, is in the defiant subversion of such cinematic constructs, contorting the rom-com whilst creating an entirely new kind of film that toyed with mockumentary, satire and romance. 

“With respect to old Hollywood, the outsider is a champion, and he starts a revolution,” the filmmaker adds, baring comparisons to the heroes of his own debut film who danced their way to eventual glory. Indeed, just as Luhrmann crafted his own mini artistic revolution, Strictly Ballroom and the remainder of his ‘red curtain trilogy’ would go on to sculpt the very makeup of the modern contemporary musical, with the ‘outsider’ championing the grand theatricality of the later likes of The Greatest Showman and La La Land.

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