Chang chang changitty-chang shu-bop, that’s the way it should be! (Thoughts on GREASE at 45)

Yesterday we saw Grease at a Fathom Events screening, for its 45th anniversary. Wow.

I saw Grease in its original theatrical run, back when I was six or seven (depending on when it was out). I went with my sister, and I remember digging the movie quite a bit. After all, I was a kid and Happy Days was regular viewing so this 1950s-nostalgia flick was something I could understand, for the most part. There were cool songs and whatnot, funny stuff along the way, and toward the end two guys even get pies in the face! What wasn’t to like?

When The Wife and I were first dating, at some point Grease came up, and it’s been one of her favorite movies all the time I’ve known her, even though–get this–her parents wouldn’t let her see it when she was a kid, because of its sexual content. Now, Grease was rated PG, but might well have been a PG-13 if that had been an option at the time. Nobody in it comes anywhere near uttering a profane word, but…yeah, sexual jokes abound. They’re there.

But hey, I got through it OK! I don’t know if my parents were unaware of how much sexual content is in Grease, or if they simply thought, “Meh, he’s a 2nd grader, he’s not gonna understand any of it.” Because that’s what happened: every bit of it went over my head. All I saw was leather-rocking boys and sweater-rocking girls and a teen romance and some really good songs and there’s a big dance scene at the end of the second act and there are cool cars and a big car race where the guy who drives the black car that shoots fire out its back end loses and so on. A scene where Jeff Conaway has to stop fooling around in the back seat of his car with Stockard Channing? I figured they were just kissing a lot. There’s a bit where Conaway pulls something out of his wallet but it’s broken and they go right on kissing; I didn’t know what that was. Later on Stockard Channing says to one of her friends, “I feel like a defective typewriter. I skipped a period.” Did 2nd grade me know what that meant? Not a chance!

Honestly, my Grease experience leads me to believe that a whole damn lot of American parents are simply too uptight about what their kids are watching.

But anyway, some random thoughts on the movie:

::  My favorite of the supporting cast is Marty Maraschino (played by Dinah Manoff). She’s cute as shit, but she has this constant air of not quite knowing what she’s doing. I love when Sandy asks her for some paper from her correspondence box, and Marty hands her some but then says, “Wait!” while she spritzes the paper with perfume for Sandy.

::  We all make fun of movies and teevee shows where they have adults well into their 20s playing teens, but this one goes especially far, what with all the 5-o’clock shadow.

::  The sequence where Danny (John Travolta) is trying to figure out what sport he can do, under the coach’s guidance, is one of the underrated comedic sequences of all time. That whole sequence always cracks me up.

::  At the end, is Kenickie standing on the ground watching Danny and Sandy fly away in Greased Lightning and thinking, “Hey! That’s my car!”

::  At the risk of stating the obvious, Grease‘s songs are all great. Every one of them. I couldn’t name a favorite if I tried…well, that’s not quite true, since my favorite is very clearly “You’re the One That I Want”, but naming a second favorite? Can’t do it.

::  Speaking of the Danny-trying-sports sequence as an underrated comedy gem, why isn’t “Beauty School Dropout” remembered as a classic comedic song? Because it is.

::  The “Thunder Road” sequence isn’t the best, is it? The circumstance that leads to Danny driving instead of Kenickie is as goofy a contrivance as I’ve ever seen, and to this day I’m never sure exactly why the other guy loses. Is it that he drives through the water while Danny jumps over it, gumming up his engine? Is that it? No idea.

::  You want an example of a story that works perfectly despite giving us almost zero backstory? Grease is it. What history does Danny have with Rizzo? or with Cha Cha? We’re never told much of anything about these characters or their lives. And we don’t need to be! Does any of it matter? Nope!

::  Grease is shot very well, and it has some cool choreography. It’s a beautiful film to look at, especially during the musical numbers.

::  There’s a certain wistful quality to seeing the movies of your youth gradually become “the classic old movies”, isn’t there? I overheard one kid, who had been seeing the movie with his parents, asking them afterwards, “Why is it called Grease?” So they had to explain that to him. But more than that, it’s realizing how much of the cast is already gone. Olivia Newton-John’s death last year was deeply sad, but looking through the cast, it’s shocking to me how many have passed. Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), Dennis Stewart (Leo, the guy driving the black car with the fire jets), Annette Charles (Cha Cha)…all gone.

Ultimately Grease is not about any great insights into youth; it has nothing especially deep to say. It doesn’t need to. All it wants to be is fun and to leave you exiting the theater a bit more bouncy than you were when you went in, and if you’re humming a good tune or two as you go, so much the better. And that’s not so bad a thing for a film to be.

See you in five years for your fiftieth, Grease!

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One Response to Chang chang changitty-chang shu-bop, that’s the way it should be! (Thoughts on GREASE at 45)

  1. Roger says:

    I never saw Grease when it came out. Maybe it was because I’d ODed on ’50s nostalgia (American Graffiti, Happy Days, Sha Na Na), In fact, the first time I ever saw it mostly intact was when I was visiting my daughter who was watching it at her friend’s house when they were about 9. It was good and had some of my favorite performers, Dinah Manoff included.

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