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Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday Matinee: Grease Is The Word

This blog post is one that initially I wasn't planning on doing.  I actually had another movie that I was going to talk about in place of this one.  At the last minute, I decided to hold off on the planned one until next Monday, and am going ahead with an idea that I thought would work better.

Why?  Two reasons.

First, I wanted to see if I could challenge myself and my writing abilities.  My hope is that by coming up with topics spur of the moment and pushing myself to write a blog entry on it without any sort of plan made, I can improve my writing skills.  In addition, I wanted to have some sort of fantasy that I really was writing this story for an entertainment magazine or a newspaper, and that I had a limited time to jot something down when given a last minute assignment.  So, that's exactly what I'm trying to that if lady luck smiles on me one day and hands me an opportunity to have a career in something that I love, I'll be well prepared to handle any stress that might happen along the way.

The second reason being that one of the stars of the movie I've decided to feature recently passed away, and at the end of this blog entry will be a little bit of a note explaining it in detail.

Before we do that though, I will kick off the first installment of Monday Matinee with one of the first movies I can remember seeing.

The movie "Grease" was released in 1978.  Three years before I was born.  Yet, one of my earliest memories from my early childhood surrounds this movie.

I think it must have been back around 1986 or 1987 when I was first introduced to Grease, and in an unlikely manner too.  See, if you do the math, you'll notice that I was roughly five years old at the time.  And at the time, my bedtime was something like eight o'clock. 

One Saturday night, my mother was looking at the television guide that back in those days used to be inserted into the Friday night newspaper.  She happened to notice that Grease was showing on WWNY-TV (that's channel 7 on our cable dial) that very night.  Grease was one of her favourite movies, and certainly, this was one of the first times that the movie had screened on network television.  She really wanted me to see it too, as my older sisters had both seen it previously.  There was just one problem.  Grease wasn't slated to start until 11:35pm...which was after the eleven o'clock news.  This was three hours after my supposed bedtime.

My mom however was insistent that I watch the movie because she thought that I would like it...even though I was only five, and my television viewing was largely limited to Polka Dot Door, Mr. Dressup, and Sesame Street.  So, after napping for most of that Saturday, I was allowed to stay up late to watch Grease.  I think I went to bed at like two in the morning, but I still remember that day as if it happened yesterday, and not a quarter of a century ago.

It was a great movie though.  Of course, when I was five years old, and trying to stay awake to watch a late night movie, you don't really remember a lot the first viewing.  I have seen the movie many, many times since that day though, and like my mother, it happens to be one of my favourite movies too.

The movie itself was based on the successful musical of the same name, and it takes place in the 1950s.  The stars of the movie were Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson, played by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, and basically the plot revolves around their summer romance, and the hilarity that ensues when they discover that they're both attending the same high school.  It's this plot that this blog entry is going to focus on.

You all have heard the saying that opposites attract, right?  In this case, that's exactly what happened.  On one side, you had the demure, soft-spoken Sandy who always dressed appropriately and hardly ever got in trouble.  On the other side, you had Danny Zuko, who loved to work on cars, and get into trouble with the T-Birds.  Of course, neither one had actually seen those sides of each other when they first met and fell in love the previous summer.  She was just an exchange student from Australia, and he was just a boy on the beach.  That was all they really knew of each other.  Of course, they had to be separated because Sandy had to go back home to Australia, and she was worried that she'd never see Danny again.

Fate had a funny way of working out though, and Sandy ended up staying in America to attend Rydell High.  She instantly befriended the Pink Ladies, and told them all about her romance with Danny.  Danny, meanwhile was telling the T-Birds all about his romance with Sandy, not realizing that Sandy was nearby.

Well, okay, they actually SANG about it.

Now, as a five year old boy watching this, I just saw it as people singing for no apparent reason.  Through thirty year old ears, I listen more carefully.  If you listen to the lyrics real close, you'll notice something.  Sandy's account of the summer love is filled with innocence and purity and lots of references to splashing around, and drinking lemonade.  Danny's is a little less innocent in nature, and he pretty much brags to his friends about saving her from drowning and making out.

This is important in many ways, but I think the main reason behind this shows that both of them seem to have different views of the situation.  I get the feeling that Sandy talks about Danny lovingly because she's genuinely in love with him, and I guess in some way, she was taught that love is special and pure, and filled with innocence.  Deep down though, you know that she's more than just smitten.  Danny on the other hand, is filled with bravado and confidence, and has no problems telling the guys what they want to hear...but you know that inside he really cares for Sandy, but for some reason doesn't want to admit it for fear that he will be seen as less of a man.

Remember this for later's imperative in the lessons that I took from this film.

Some time later, Sandy discovers that Danny happens to be at Rydell High, and the Pink Ladies decide to stage a little reunion for the two lovebirds.  At first, Danny seemed genuinely excited when he saw Sandy...but then he decided to act cool and tough since the T-Birds happened to be around at the time.  Unfortunately for Danny, that act really turned Sandy off, and after a disasterous slumber party at Frenchy's house with the Pink Ladies, Sandy reveals that she is still carrying feelings for Danny despite his attitude.

Sandy tries to move on, even accepting a milkshake date with Tom Chisholm.  Because apparently milkshakes bring all the boys to the yard...or, so someone said some time ago, that's what I heard...ahem.

Anyway, Danny happens to notice Sandy and Tom together, and he decides that maybe he did a bad thing by acting macho in front of Sandy, so he decides to try out for some sports teams in hopes Sandy will take notice and forgive him.  Danny tries out for several sports, and almost makes the track team, but ends up getting hurt right in front of Sandy.  Sandy does help him out, he apologizes, and they try to go on another date, which happens to be interrupted by the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds.

Don't you just HATE it when that happens?

The climax of the movie takes place at the Rydell High school dance, which happens to be televised.  Danny and Sandy end up entering the contest, and they happen to be one of the last couples standing.  But then Danny and Sandy are separated by Sonny and Cha-Cha, and Cha-Cha and Danny end up winning the contest.  Sandy ended up being hurt by this, and Danny tries to make it up to her by taking her to a drive-in movie and offering her his ring.

Now, I've been told that back in the 1950s, when my mom attended grade school, when a boy gave a girl his class ring, it meant that they were going steady.  So you could only imagine Sandy's excitement when Danny offered it to her.  Then Danny got a little carried away and made one too many passes at her, and she ended up running away, prompting Danny to sing this song.

How nice that both of these characters conveniently had a song to sing about how much they loved the other one, yet neither one could really find a way to express it to the other one without getting in a fight or hurting each other's feelings by doing something the other one wouldn't like.

If they could only find a way to show that the love and affection was still there, they would be okay.

After a few scenes involving a drag race and some scenes involving Rizzo and Kenickie, we end the movie off at the carnival.  Danny happens to be wearing a school letter sweater, which he earned by competing on the track team.  The T-Birds are annoyed at Danny's new image, but Danny didn't care, because he did it to try and be more like Sandy in hopes that she'll take him back.

Well, imagine Danny's surprise when Sandy comes strolling along in a leather outfit that would make Lady Gaga jealous, in hopes that her new bad-girl image would attract Danny's attention and she hoped that she had changed enough that Danny would want to stay with her.

Then they both laughed at how silly they had been, and sang one last song, finally admitting their true feelings.

(Or, maybe they secretly liked the way the other one looked...who knows?)

To go with the whole lesson that I learned about myself while watching this movie, let's go with the first idea.

The fact of the matter is that Danny and Sandy didn't need to go through all this frustration (seriously, I never realized how frustrating a movie Grease was until I wrote this blog entry down).  They really fell in love with each other on the beach that summer night by BEING THEMSELVES.  They didn't have anyone else to tell them how they should act, or how they should dress, or what music they should listen to.  Sandy liked Danny because he was Danny.  And Danny liked Sandy because she was Sandy,

When they were reunited at Rydell High, both of them had their own crowds, and honestly, I think both of them were afraid of losing their status in the crowds because of their "opposites attract" type of relationship, so they tried to act the way that their friends wanted them to act instead of being themselves.  That caused more trouble than anything.

I think the end scene was the most telling of all.  Both Danny and Sandy thought that in order for them to have a shot, one had to change their whole outlook on life and adapt to the other person's way of thinking.  What they didn't count on was that both of them would try it at the same time.  In the end, it did show that both of them were interested in making their relationship work.  It also showed in the end, that it didn't really matter to either one of them that they were who they were.  They still loved each other.

And, I think that's what Danny and Sandy taught me about myself.  I don't need to change myself to get people to like me.  I don't have to act a certain way because people tell me I have to.  Sure, Danny's T-Bird gang were razzing him for wearing a school letter, but it's not like they abandoned him.  I know that my true friends won't abandon me for doing something that they may find dorky or strange. 

Danny and Sandy had the chance to fall in love and see each other for who they were without influence from friends or other sources.  If only they hadn't let peer pressure influence their actions, their road to romance may not have been so rocky. 

I can only hope that if I'm lucky enough to fall in love, I can have the same luck Danny and Sandy had right from the get-go.

In closing, a sad footnote to this.  Actor Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie in Grease passed away on Friday at age 60.  He had been having problems with drugs and alcohol for years, and sadly it all caught up to him.  Grease was one of his best roles that I can remember him from, and he will be sadly missed. 

Jeff Conaway
1950 - 2011

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