Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Question: If "Grease is the word", then how come it's full of numbers?

(flee now, this article doesn't improve any)

When this movie version of the popular 1971 play was released in 1978, my experiences of it, as a seven year old, were quite different to today.

For a start, as it was an AA certificate, the only scenes that I could watch were the ones accompanying the songs that had been released on 7" singles. The clips of Summer Nights and You're The One That I Want seemed to get played endlessly on TV shows, and Greased Lightning seemed to be knocking around a bit too.

At the time, these sequences were something of a curiosity, because the movie-clips contained sound effects that were not included when the songs were played on the radio. For example, the crash of the dustbin that Sandy knocks over. Yes, even at age seven I was already a nerd.

Sandy and Danny's accounts of their summer romance both appeared to be quite consistent with each other then too. Well, at least until Bob Geldoff started his long-awaited number one by ripping up that photo of them on Top Of The Pops.

Still, once the era of the perpetually rotating pig had passed, (those of you who recall the double-LP will know what I mean) it wasn't until my own spell at college in the late 1980s that I actually got to watch the first half of the film.

My tutorial class was running a soup kitchen for charity one lunchtime before Christmas, and while serving toasted sandwiches thought that it would be a good idea to show the movie on one of the college's hi-tech "video recorder"s.

This was great fun, even if I didn't quite get how Sandy could not know what school her summer love was at. Still, the fact that I never got to see the film's conclusion was no big loss, because everyone knows how all romantic comedies have to end.

Fast forward to my early thirties (the early 2000s), and my theatrical buddy Alistair said that he was going to see the stage production in London that evening, and might I be interested in coming along? Cool!

It was only when we actually arrived there that the penny dropped that we were in fact going to see a school's Christmas production.

Sheesh - when did nativity plays get replaced by Grease?

However those kids knew what they were doing. Despite the enormous handicap of the copyright holders having disallowed them permission to use any song that was in the film, they still made the whole evening a big success.

Well, for most people. I have to say, that ending knocked me sideways. Sorry, how do they get together? The only likable character abandons her principles and suddenly becomes a bad girl? What??? Oh, that's gonna last.

This morning, as I finally watched the whole movie from start to finish, a large part of me wondered whether the film version really would end the same way. It did. What a shame.

For all that, the journey through the preceding hundred-odd minutes overcomes its assortment of grotesques with exceptional choreography and literally unforgettable songs.

Stage musicals that get adapted for films can be either disastrous, like the Marx Brothers' early efforts, or spectacular, like Frank Oz's Little Shop Of Horrors. (which I also still need to watch the rest of) However one thing that all the above have in common is a really bizarre style.

I mean we're all used to seeing a character in a movie suddenly break into song, but these guys'n'gals suddenly break into Broadway. When the 1950s garage containing Greased Lightning transforms into a futuristic big white room, this group don't look at the camera, they literally point out across the stalls.

The whole production is charged with an energy that the cast channel brilliantly, and John Travolta turns in a particularly strong performance as a guy tearing under the surface.

Grease may have its inherent faults, but its timeless message of making a relationship work by denying your true self in order to satisfy your peers' expectations of you is surely one that we can all identify with.

Available here.

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