The Flashdance phenomenon
When 'Flashdance' premiered 17 years ago, movies and music were welded together
The Romans had their togas, the Elizabethans their corsets, but when future historians stumble upon a certain image of late-20th-century humans, they just might wonder what was up with all those ripped sweatshirts and leg warmers — thanks to the inescapable phenomenon that was Flashdance.
The April 15, 1983, premiere of the $8 million movie offered no omens of the mania to come: hordes of teenagers flocking to the film after watching its music videos, then attacking their tops with scissors, and scrawling ”When you give up your dream, you die” across yearbook pages.
”We felt anticipation,” remembers producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who, along with the late Don Simpson, shepherded the project at Paramount. ”And we felt fear.” After all, there was no star (a Yale student named Jennifer Beals), no glamorous setting (Pittsburgh natives might disagree), and, frankly, no script to speak of (apologies, Joe Eszterhas). And while Flashdance contained no actual sex scenes, it did feature plenty of risqué dance numbers set to a contagious soundtrack — a soundtrack that would change how movies are marketed.
Although the movie made only $4 million its first weekend — ”we thought it was over,” says Bruckheimer — it was the Flashdance album (which sold 700,000 copies in a mere two weeks) that made director Adrian Lyne’s movie a must-see. The triple threat of Irene Cara’s single ”Flashdance…What a Feeling,” Michael Sembello’s ”Maniac,” and MTV — which had become the medium of choice for a rabid teenage fan base — helped push this tiny film, about a nubile loner who finances her dancing dreams by welding steel during the day and stripping in clubs at night (and can remove her bra without taking off her shirt), over the top. MTV’s constant airplay of the videos — which featured lots of footage from the film—- was, as they say, the kind of advertising you can’t buy. Flashdance slowly played its way to $93 million domestically (while the soundtrack has sold over 6 million copies to date).
Flashdance launched Lyne’s career (Fatal Attraction); helped hone the Simpson/Bruckheimer macho-music producing style, which would become the hallmark of films like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop; and made MTV a no-brainer marketing tool. Alas, the women behind the success of the film did not reap the same rewards. Neither Cara nor Beals — who went on to appear in such forgettable fare as 1985’s The Bride — ever came close to rekindling their Flashdance fame.
Still, when you think of Flashdance, you can’t help but remember those sexy moves and Cara’s soaring voice. What a feeling, indeed.
Time capsule: April 15, 1983
At the movies, Eddie Murphy grabs cinema stardom by the badge with Nick Nolte in 48 HRS. In music, Michael Jackson’s ”Billie Jean” moonwalks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart for its seventh week straight. In bookstores, suspense rules as John le Carre’s The Little Drummer Girl and Joseph Wambaugh’s The Delta Star top the Publishers Weekly best-seller list. And in the news, responding to increased Soviet missile activity, West German chancellor Helmut Kohl agrees to let the U.S. deploy medium-range nuclear weapons in his country.