Sing a Song of Seeing

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The plotting in Flashdance was as loose as the dancing, but, says Dawn Steel, the Paramount executive in charge of shepherding the film, "it was not designed to be a video movie. It happened to have a modular structure. The modules were interchangeable—they were even moved around in the editing—and that's what made the movie adaptable to MTV." Indeed, the theme from Flashdance, fitted out with appropriate clips from the movie, was an MTV smash. The Flashdance phenomenon was a confluence of good commercial instincts and some savvy guesswork, and now that Hollywood has found a new formula, indeed helped create one, it will not let go.

Virtually every major director of videos (Mulcahy, Steve Barren, Bob Giraldi, Brian Grant, Paul Justman) is in the throes of making a major studio feature. Warner Bros. Vice President Mark Canton describes the studio's upcoming Vision Quest as Rocky and Flashdance meet The Graduate, and says, "A movie has to feel like sound." Miles Copeland, head of I.R.S. Records and Video, has put together a women's rock group made up half of actresses, half of musicians. The actresses are learning music, the musicians are learning to act, all for a Columbia project called Exceptions to the Rule, "a cross," according to Copeland, "between Fame and Caged. The women play music as therapy in a prison."

Movie screens will be as full of rock as the home tube. One of Hollywood's hottest movies for summer '84 is Walter Hill's Streets of Fire, with a title rerouted from Bruce Springsteen, a score featuring songs by the Blasters and Tom Petty, and some costumes designed by Giorgio Armani, all helping to spin out a hellish story set in the future imperfect. Even sooner, viewers can sample a fine, tough, sexy new movie called Reckless, with tunes by Romeo Void and Bob Seeger; a fake documentary called This Is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner, which chronicles with legitimate hilarity the American tour of the world's loudest and stupidest heavy-metal band; and Footloose, a kind of contemporary rock fable about a young man who comes to a benighted town in the Midwest where rock-'n'-roll music and dancing are forbidden. The director of Footloose, Herbert Ross, has considerable familiarity with the musical genre (he directed Funny Lady, The Turning Point, Pennies from Heaven), but felt that he needed a little updating. Ross's homework was watching rock videos.

For the future: sharper sound, better production, more finesse with image and story, more time as performers move away from the clip to the album-length format. All these are easy enough to predict, with certainty. But it is not easy to see where this will end. Indeed, there is the strong sense it may not end at all, that the forms will keep mutating, that the big screen and the small will shape, share and shift sizes, and that music will be the common ground.

"At the moment," says Brian Grant, "video is the new kid in town, and the big boys are playing with all the little boys' toys. I think that the future lies with the third-and fourth-generation directors, the children who will grow up with videos." It is worth noting that those people will be perhaps just a little impatient with merely seeing songs. They may very well want something different. Something more.

Stay tuned.

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