WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
When a talented renegade defies the authority of the Australian Dance Federation by dancing to his own steps, there’s only one thing it can do—stop him! [Dir: Baz Luhrmann/ Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter/ 94 min/ Musical-Dance, Comedy, Romance/ Australia/ Individualism & Independence]
Ballroom dance might seem an unlikely subject for a film of interest to libertarians, but it’s just the backdrop here. Underneath is the story of an innovator’s rebellion, the innovator in this case being a talented young dancer who wants to “dance to his own steps.”
In an early scene at a dance contest he introduces some of his innovative new steps into a familiar routine. However, despite overwhelming audience approval, he doesn’t win. No one can explain exactly what’s wrong with his steps, just that he has to dance the approved routines entirely unaltered if he wants to win. That’s the rule. Undaunted, he goes on perfecting his new moves anyway, with the help of an inexperienced but eager new partner.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the dance establishment is going through Machiavellian machinations to stop him. As it turns out, the entrenched head of the dance establishment is determined to stop new steps from being introduced because his power derives from teaching and judging established dance patterns. If the hero innovates, others may follow. He must be stopped! Such is the premise.
The rest of the film does this premise wonderful justice, and even better, plays it out in the context of an absolutely first-rate romantic comedy. Part of the strength here is that this film is based on a long-running theatrical production. Practice does indeed make perfect, and that shows in the script, music, and in other respects.
Also, Baz Luhrmann’s direction weaves the whole story together so well and moves it at such a fast pace that the film seems like half of its ninety-four minutes. Luhrmann’s adept execution probably reflects in part that it’s his vision; he cowrote the screenplay. Add to these assets lead actor Paul Mercurio, an ideal choice for the hero with nearly twenty years of dance experience, and you’ve got the makings of a great film. No wonder it’s one of the most popular Australian films since Crocodile Dundee.
Of course, dance pervades everything that’s going on here, but that’s not all this film is about. It’s animated by a genuinely interesting story and has an inspiring underlying theme, as expressed in the key words of the film, “a life lived in fear is a life half lived.” These words are important because it’s through fear of losing Australian Dance Federation credentials that the entrenched dance federation president holds everyone in place and has stunted the expression of dance innovations over the years. The struggle against him by the young dancers is a metaphor for the struggle for freedom.
This metaphor went over the heads of all but a few critics, but at least one audience had no problem seeing it. As director Baz Luhrmann revealed in an interview: “We toured the play version in Czechoslovakia at the time communism was still very much around, and the Czechs would climb on stage going ‘Bravo!’ For them, the all-powerful Federation had nothing to do with ballroom dancing. To me, the film is not about ballroom dancing. It’s about overcoming oppression, whatever nature that oppression takes.”
Note: This is one of the few selections in this guide to receive the perfect “double-five” score—that is, dead-on libertarian content and first-rate production quality/entertainment value.