This weekend the remake of the 1984 drama/dance-movie hybrid that propelled Kevin Bacon into super-stardom, Footloose, two-steps its way into theaters. Director Craig Brewer (Black Snake Moan, Hustle and Flow) helmed the 2011 version — which strikes an unusual balance between updating the film and maintaining major elements of the original (including both the music and much of the dialogue).
For those who are unfamiliar with the town of Beaumont: Footloose tells the tale of city-kid Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) who is forced by circumstances to move to a tiny (in this version Southern) town that has responded to a shared tragedy by outlawing any activities they deem to be dangerous to their children, including (oh, yes) — dancing. Ren is compelled to challenge the status quo and face-off against the town’s unofficial leader, Rev. Shaw Moore, all the while vying for the attentions of the town’s hell-on-wheels, bell of the (illegal) ball, Ariel Moore (Julianne Hough).
We had the opportunity to sit down with Brewer at the Los Angeles press day for the film to talk about why he decided to take the job (after turning it down several times), what the original film meant to him, and the fresh take that his actors brought to these indelible roles.
(Rumor has it that Kevin Bacon made his portrayal of Ren so memorable in fact that the actor is forced to regularly bribe DJ’s not to play Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” when he is out on the town.)
Now on to our chat with Brewer.
SR: This is a bit of a departure for you.
SR: It feels like somewhat of a stylistic departure at any rate. What was your initial response when you were approached with the project? You’ve said that you love the original.
“I did. I turned it down a few times because I love the original, and I think that I was in the same camp as a lot of people out there who are saying you can’t touch the original. I think it’s just that the margin of error is so great, you can really mess it up. And I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be the guy that would mess up a classic – and the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was probably the guy to protect it, to make sure that if they were going to redo it, that they kept the right things. It’s not just as easy as making a dance sequence or throwing a very basic plot on it. There are certain things in “Footloose” that I loved that had nothing to do with dance. And I know people think that the movie is a departure for me, but you know, not by much. There’s a certain tone to an ’80s movie that has almost like a little bit of a goosed reality – and “Hustle” and “Black Snake Moan” both have that. They both use music in a way that it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re watching the standard musical. But you kind of get that musical fix. And also the idea of an unconventional family, or an unconventional friendship, which I track back to “Footloose.” That movie really changed me when I was thirteen. I was really into just sci-fi boy stuff, you know. Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, and who isn’t, right? But “Footloose” was a different experience for me. It really rocked me.”
SR: The relationship between Ariel and Ren has changed some in this film.
(As mentioned, Kevin Bacon played Ren in the original film, while his lady love, the wild-child daughter of John Lithgow’s Revered Moore, was brought to life by Lori Singer.)
“Have you seen the original ‘Footloose?’”
SR: Yes. A lot.
“Yeah, me too.”
SR: I’ve seen it a lot, I’ve seen it a lot, and I found the dynamic between Ariel and Ren to be slightly different in this version.
SR: Well, Ren and Ariel have a somewhat more combative relationship in the original. Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer had combustible, almost aggressive chemistry. He doesn’t let her get away with the shenanigans she’s used to pulling. He’s committed to changing the town as something he needs to do for himself, he wants her to fight her own battles with her dad (Reverend Moore). They check each other, put each other in their respective places. This Ren is more committed to being a knight in shining armor for this Ariel.
“Sure. I think where Kevin may have played it cocky in places, which worked, Kenny didn’t want to necessarily play it that way, nor did I think he should. I’ll give you a prime example: You know, there’s this one moment where, in the original, where Ariel says ‘you want to kiss me?’ and he goes ‘someday.’ She goes, ‘what’s this someday shit?’ So, I have that same exchange in my movie, but it’s followed up with Kenny, or Ren, saying ‘what, you want to drop down right here and tumble? Yeah, we can do that, but the sweat is gonna dry and you’re still gonna feel like shit. Well, that’s for Chuck, not me.’ That is a little bit more knight in shining armor. Meaning, it’s saying to her, I think you’re not being yourself. I think there’s—if you want me to disrespect you and just have sex with you right now, then yeah, that’s probably what you’re used to, but that’s for somebody else, that’s not for me. So, I think that people, or at least I’ve found, in the audiences I’ve found, it’s that…You know, I remember, there is this one moment, I’ll never forget it, there were like these thirteen-year-old girls, and they were all behind me, and they were kind of talking throughout the whole movie about it. ‘Oh man, why is she being that way? da-da-da-da.’ And then there was this moment where Ren comes to see Reverend Moore and he basically asks if it’s okay to take Ariel to the prom, and he says ‘look, I would never hurt her, be disrespectful to her, and I sure as hell won’t let anybody else.’ And I heard this girl behind me go, ‘oh god, he’s cute.’ And I know that, I know Kenny’s cute, but I think what it was, it was just this unfiltered response to a boy being respectful to a girl.”
SR: Was that conscious on your part? Did you want to reshape their interactions to take on a more chivalrous tone?
“No, I just believe that was what was happening in the original film. It was just the ’80s, a different time. You didn’t have the same issues that I think are hot buttons right now, you know. But I think that also worked in our favor. You know, I don’t think I would have been able to explore an abusive boyfriend and a girlfriend like what happens between Chuck and Ariel, where he beats her up, had there not been a movie called “Footloose” that already did it. Because, can you think of a teenage movie these days that really would allow that to happen? That would allow that kind of brutality where he literally beats her to the ground? Now, that’s not saying that teenagers don’t deal with abusive boyfriends. They may know girls that are dealing with that in their life, but in cinema, we can’t really do that because we’re wanting to entertain. Well, because it’s “Footloose,” we get to do it. You know, it’s like telling me that I can’t do “Romeo and Juliet” and have the kids commit suicide at the end of it. Well, I’m allowed to, it’s “Romeo and Juliet,” people already know that. So to some extent, because there is already a storyline that deals with that, we’re allowed to explore it in a modern context, whereas if that wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be allowed to.”
SR: The original dialogue was weaved in and out of the film.
SR: So how did you decide, ‘okay, these are the moments from the original film I have to have in, and this is where I sort of want to shift it a little bit?’ One of the biggest differences, in tone at any rate, was right there in the opening sequence which was frankly, a bit shocking.
Warning: Spoiler For The Opening Sequence of Footloose
“What I was hoping with that opening sequence was to misdirect the audience a little bit. I’d heard, like everybody else, that “Footloose” was kind of going to be like “High School Musical.” You know, that they were going to basically do kind of like a dance celebration of the original. Well, that was Kenny Ortega’s version when he was trying to do it, and I came in to do mine. But I still knew that no one knew about that Hollywood stuff, they didn’t know the director shifted, so they probably, when they started to see my movie with dancing feet and everybody singing Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” they said, ‘hey, okay, we’re on for the ride, it’s going to be fun and rosy.’ But when that accident happens and those five kids get killed in that car accident, I really wanted fans of the original to immediately inhale with absolute disgust that I would do something so shocking, but then suddenly realize what it is and exhale and say,’that’s right, that’s what started this whole thing in the original, we just never saw it.’
“To some extent, I kind of give a lot to J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek.” I was a big Trekkie, and I knew, when I heard that J.J. was going to just reboot the whole thing, there were a lot of people that were resistant to it. But there were also people that couldn’t care less, like my wife, who doesn’t know anything about “Star Trek.” Well, we went to go see that and I knew the mythology, I knew which movies had been made before, so when I saw those little tells, those little nods, I felt special. My wife didn’t know about any of them but she still got into the movie. So as much as that beginning is shocking, it’s also very much in the mythology of “Footloose.” And I think that just showing it, perhaps humanized the parents a little bit more, and that’s a big difference between me now and then. You know, when I saw it the first time I was thirteen. I’ll be 40 this year, I’ve got two kids, I think about their safety constantly. It’s changed me in ways I didn’t think I could be changed. It’s changed my opinions, you know, and I think people, both fans of the original and people who are new to it, needed to see that moment. Needed to see the context of the town, to see why they made those decisions.”
Footloose opens in theaters this Friday, October 14th.
Craig Brewer directs a cast that includes Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell.
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