Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
The plot of "Strictly Ballroom" is as old as the hills, but the characters in the movie seem to come from another planet. Surely nobody in Australia dresses like this, talks like this, takes ballroom dancing as seriously as this? They do? The true weirdness of the movie comes when we begin to realize the director didn't make everything up; only real life could possibly have inspired a world this bizarre.
The movie, which crosses Astaire and Rodgers with Mickey and Judy and adds a dash of Spinal Tap, is a comedy posing as a docudrama about competitive ballroom dancing in Australia. Everyone in the movie takes the sport, or art, with deadly seriousness, and their world revolves around the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Amateur Championships (which, despite its grand name, seems to be a local event). Like synchronized swimming (the most hilarious event in Olympics history), competitive ballroom dancing is essentially lighthearted fun spoiled by lead-footed rules.
The film's hero is Scott (Paul Mercurio), a pleasant young man with a mad light in his eyes, who, according to the pseudodocumentary that opens the film, was born to win the Pan-Pacific. But then he jeopardizes his chances by recklessly ignoring the rules, and forcing his partner to join him in a dance routine that was (gasp!) spontaneous and improvised.
His partner is enraged, and leaves him. His mother, a former championship dancer, is beside herself. The estimable Barry Fife (Bill Hunter), the autocratic czar of ballroom contests, is deeply offended. Only the good-hearted Fran (Tara Morice) believes in him, and offers to become his partner. This is despite her lack of experience, her general ungainliness, and her homely appearance.