Friday, February 7, 2014

Of Kingdoms and Carillons: The Poetry of Footloose (1984)

A little over a half hour into the 1984 teen classic Footloose, dance-lovin’, spiky-haired, pug-nosed, Chicago high school student Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) has to get away from it all: he has just moved with his mother to the no-dance, no-music, no-fun world of small-town Bomont (set in Oklahoma but filmed in Utah), where he stands out not only as the new kid in town but also by refusing the big belt buckles and cowboy hats of most everyone in school in favor of New Wave-inspired skinny ties and sport coats. He’s got a thing for the rebellious Ariel Moore (Lori Singer) and she’s got a thing for him, but there are problems with that too, as she’s dating local boy Chuck Cranston, and her dad (Ariel’s Prospero-equivalent, played by John Lithgow) is the local minister who instituted all of the no-dance, no-music, no-fun rules that now govern Bomont.

As we all remember, the movie follows how Ren leads a charge against the town’s puritanical mores (there’s even a book burning at one point) and, in the process, gets the girl, gets the minister to reassess his beliefs, and gets the town to permit a senior prom where kids can dance. But thirty minutes into this journey, Ren doesn’t know that will all happen, so he takes off in his yellow VW bug, finds a warehouse, and, in an extended show of gyrations and gymnastics, attempts to dance off his frustrations until he is interrupted by Ariel. Here’s that scene in which Ariel confronts Ren and tries unsuccessfully to seduce him in a number of ways until she reveals that she is—what else?—a poet.

Ariel: Whoo! Good times!

Ren: What are you doing here?

Ariel: Watching.

Ren: I thought I was alone.

Ariel: Hmm! Not in this town. There’s eyes everywhere!

[Ren tries to escape her by getting into his car, but she shuts the door.]

Ariel: How come you don’t like me?

Ren: What makes you think I don’t like you?

Ariel: You never talk to me at school. You never look at me.

Ren: Yeah, well, maybe that’s because if I did your boyfriend would remove my lungs with a spoon.

[Ren gets into his car.]

Ariel: Chuck Cranston doesn’t own me. Sure, he likes to act like he does. But he doesn’t.

[Ariel comes over to the open passenger-side window and leans in.]

Ariel: Do you wanna kiss me?

Ren: Someday.

[She opens the door and gets in.]

Ariel: Hey what is this "some day" shit?

Ren: Well I get the feeling you’ve been kissed a lot, you know. I’m afraid that I’d suffer by comparison.

Ariel: You don’t think much of me, do you? You think I’m small town?

Ren: I think Bomont’s a small town.

Ariel: I’m goin’ away. I’ve already applied to colleges. You know, I applied to colleges my father doesn’t even know I applied to. He’s gonna come after me, but I’m gonna be gone.

[Long pause with audible breathing. Cue the music.]

Ariel: Wanna see somethin’?

Ren: Sure.

[They drive to a trainyard and run through a bunch of industrial equipment until they come to an abandoned train car.]

Ariel: Well, we call it The Yearbook. It started four or five years ago, I guess. Stuff we’re not supposed to read.

[They enter the train car, the inside of which is covered in graffiti quotations and pages from books that have been plastered on the walls.]

Ren: Whoa. This is all out of books?

Ariel: Most of it. Some’s songs. Magazines. Some’s poems that get made up.

Ren [reading]: “I’ll sing to you of silver swans / of kingdoms and carillons…”

Ariel [reciting]: “I’ll sing of bodies intertwined / underneath an innocent sky.”

Ren: You wrote that?

Ariel: It’s not even one of my best.

Ren: It’s all right.

Ariel: Wait? You hear that?

Ren: What?

There’s a train coming. Ariel stands on the tracks and plays chicken with it until Ren knocks her out of the way, but that's not really what cements their relationship. We know it's the poetry—even just four lines of it. For who in their right mind could refuse a girl who not only uses the word "carillons" in a poem, but then is audacious enough to rhyme it with "swans"? To quote Walt Whitman, we here at the P&PC office know very well that we could not.