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Wednesday, October 12,2011

Screening room

Craig Brewer gives ‘Footloose’ a foot massage

by James Sanford

Dancing wasn’t exactly outlawed in “Footloose” director Craig Brewer’s home when he was a teenager. But it did lead to some uncomfortable situations.

“There was a really embarrassing moment in my life when my dad came from work to find me in my underwear, dancing to that Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney song — what was it
called? — ‘Say Say Say,’” Brewer recalled during a stopover at Detroit’s MGM Grand last month. “I haven’t thought about that for a long time.”

But the 1980s have definitely been on Brewer’s mind since he took the reins on “Footloose,” which stars Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough and Dennis Quaid.  (It opens nationwide on Friday.)

Brewer was a huge fan of the 1984 original, with Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer and John Lithgow, and he has a real fondness for the 1980s in general. On the “Footloose” set, he says, there was a kind of early-MTV shorthand at work.

“We had a shot during the dance at the end, involving some kids on a balcony. I said, ‘Can we have it backlit, like they did in ‘Purple Rain?’ The choreographer came up and gave me a big hug — he knew right away what I was talking about.”

One of the things the 39-year-old Brewer likes about that era was the diversity in the Top 40 at the time: In the space of one hour on the radio, you might hear Prince, Barbra Streisand, Men at Work, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Olivia Newton-John.

“Everything wasn’t necessarily geared toward youth,” Brewer said. “Youth could love Billy Joel, the Eurythmics and Tina Turner, even though (those singers) might be their parents’ age. You didn’t have to go straight to Justin Bieber.”

Music played a crucial role in Brewer’s previous films, “Hustle and Flow” (which featured the Oscar-winning anthem “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp”) and “Black Snake Moan,” in which Samuel L. Jackson plays a former blues musician. The soundtrack of Brewer’s “Footloose” is a clever, catchy mix of remakes of the well-known tunes from the original, music taken directly from the first movie (the use of Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” prompted a big laugh from the crowd at a preview screening) and new songs that pay tribute to the earlier numbers, such as David Banner’s “Dance the Night Away,” which lifts lyrics from Shalimar’s hit “Dancing in the Sheets,” but surrounds them with contemporary hip-hop trimmings.

“The question on our minds was, how do we make our ‘Footloose’ for the people who love the ideals of ‘Footloose?’” Brewer said.

Although the plot remains the same — a teen from the big city takes on the ultra-conservative leaders of a small town that has passed laws forbidding dancing — Brewer decided to honor the spirit of the 1984 film while still having some fun with it.

A case in point is the “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” sequence, in which country bumpkin Willard (Miles Teller in the role made famous by Christopher Penn) learns to dance. Brewer uses the original smash hit by Deniece Williams — twinkling synthesizers and all — but stages the scene with a few tongue-in-cheek twists. For starters, the song is initially played on a Barbie Karaoke machine; later, Willard’s football buddies boogie to it. 

 “That was the best,” Brewer said, chuckling. “Seeing those guys bounce around, acting all gangsta to Deniece Williams. Hey, Spielberg: Top that!”

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