After a brief summer romance, Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) believe they will never see each other again. But, this all changes as Sandy moves across the world to attend school at Rydell High – home of the Pink Ladies and T-Birds. A timeless story of teen love, this is the musical that has danced its way into generation after generation. Why this movie is automatic. Its systematic. Why It’s Grease (Lightning).
The Top 100 blockbusters of all time appear to be lacking one genre: the musical. However, in 1978 Grease, a musical based off the notorious “greasers” from two decades’ past opened in 862 theatres and reached $9 million in sales just in its opening weekend. The film was the highest-grossing movie of 1978, beating other movies that year including Superman, Animal Hour and Halloween.
I was around 9 years old when I first saw Grease, naive and oblivious to its blatant innuendos yet mesmerised by its catchy musical numbers and energetic dance routines. Yet the story of Danny and Sandy, two star-crossed lovers trying to change for each other, captures the attention of all ages as it deals with issues still relevant today nearly four decades later. The story follows the pairs on again off again relationship during their senior year of high school as they struggle through the pressures of the roles that society have given them.
This blockbuster is, as Thomas Schatz (2003) describes, a multipurpose entertainment machine that has bred soundtrack albums, video games and novelisations. The iconic T-Bird and Pink Ladies jackets have been turned into iconic Halloween costumes and in 1999, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the film, the female cast of Sandy, Rizzo and Frency were turned into iconic Barbie Dolls. The “supersystem” of multimedia adds something special to the hit film that proves its blockbuster success.
One great importance of a summer blockbuster is that it has substantial cultural value (Stringer,2003). Grease covers many subjects that are just as relevant in this generation as they were back in the 50’s including: peer pressure, sexual politics, feminism and identity. The iconic song “Look At Me I’m Sandra Dee” showcases the pressure that young teens often endure to become more promiscuous to gain boys attention. During the time setting of the film Sandra Dee was the poster girl for everything adults wanted their young teens to be sweet, innocent and virtuous (Jusino, 2016). As good Sandy becomes bad Sandy, telling Danny he’s the one that she wants, she changes not for Danny but for herself, shedding the pressures put on her by her parents. The image of Sandra Dee was what Hollywood was trying to sell during this time and teenagers could see right through it, even though it was the 50’s teens then were rebellious too.
Grease covers many subjects that are just as relevant in this generation as they were back in the 50’s including: peer pressure, sexual politics, feminism and identity.
But Grease covers this theme from both sides recognising the pressure on the male characters and the roles that they play. In the following scene before the T-Bird and Scorpion showdown Kenickie asks Danny to be his “second”, telling Danny that he couldn’t count on anyone else in this situation. As quickly as the two embrace they pull apart and pretend it never happened in front of their friends. This scene, among many others, shows them breaking their usual cool-guy characters before toughening up their persona around their friends to ensure their reputation stays intact.
Grease was the directorial debut in cinema by Randal Kleiser, who previously had worked only on TV shows and short films. Through his direction, Grease used clever film techniques like the intercuts of Sandy and Danny as they sing Summer Nights together but to different audiences showcases how close they are yet still so far away. The film has a visual rhythm that keeps getting bigger and better as the film goes on.
The acting in this film is slightly mediocre, Caroline Westbrook (2015) describes it as hardly Oscar quality, but the chemistry between Travolta and Newton-John is undeniably sweet. Watching people long out of school play characters that are 17 years old is slightly amusing yet done so well. Travolta who had come straight off filming Saturday Night Fever continues his cool guy persona from disco to rock n roll through his greasy hair and wild dance moves. Newton-John however was lacking in confidence after coming from a failed series in the UK, requested multiple screen-tests between the pair before accepting her role as Sandy. At 29 years old she was unsure she would be able to play such a youthful character, however the chemistry was there and she took on the role of Sandy Olsson. The film went on to win every People’s Choice Award it was nominated for including Favourite Motion Picture Actress, Supporting Actress, Favourite Musical Motion Picture and Overall Motion Picture.
Grease didn’t have a high production budget, there’s not a lot of action, it’s definitely not based off a comic book series and its severely lacking in explosions or combat. Nevertheless, Grease’s blockbuster status lies in its music. The underlying themes of teenage coolness, mixed with amazing performances and costumes is something that sets it aside from everything else in the Top 100 blockbusters.
I don’t think there will ever come a time that I don’t love Grease. Though now I am a little older, and have a deeper understanding of all the controversial themes, I believe that its context will always remain relevant in the lives of teens, no one will ever forget those Summer Nights.
Box Office Mojo. Grease http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=grease.htm
Champion, L. 2015. Happy Birthday, Grease! http://www.broadway.com/buzz/181221/happy-birthday-grease-37-fun-facts-about-the-highest-grossing-movie-musical-of-all-time/
Filmsite. Grease http://www.filmsite.org/boxoffice3.html
Hickey, W. 2014. The 11 Defining Features of the Summer Blockbuster https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-11-defining-features-of-the-summer-blockbuster/
Jusino, T. 2016. Four Reasons Why Grease Is a Feminist Musical. https://www.themarysue.com/grease-feminism-is-the-word/
Robin, M. 2015. 10 Facts You’ve Probably Never Heard https://www.biography.com/news/grease-movie-facts-trivia
Rotten Tomatoes. Grease. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/grease
Seltzer, S. 2016. Sure, Let’s Talk About the Sexual Politics Grease. http://flavorwire.com/558873/sure-lets-talk-about-the-sexual-politics-of-grease
Stringer, J. 2003. Movie Blockbusters https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/lib/uow/reader.action?docID=1487013&ppg=14
Westbrook, C. 2015. Grease Review https://www.empireonline.com/movies/grease/review/