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Steelworker girl dancing in a bar dreams of ballet school.

I’m not joking, you know. That’s the plot. Really.

Well. There is a lot to talk about with this one, so why don’t you pop a brew, pull a cat over onto your lap and let’s get comfy, hm?

Firstly, I have to say, this is a movie that has HUGE emotional repercussions for me. I don’t say this much on my web site, for obvious reasons, but yes, Otter is a girl-type person. D’un certain age, as they say, if they speak French. And when this movie came out, I was in my early twenties.

Now, I did have Mr. Otter in my life, and God knows, he never hesitates (even now) to tell me how gorgeous I am, and I just eat it up like my cat Jack going after elkburger…or anything else of the meat persuasion, actually…but I digress.

So there I am in my early twenties. Not huge, not nearly obese, but what we chez Otter call voluptuous. Zaftig. Well built. And like every other woman of every generation since those sensible Victorians thought that a few extra pounds were sexy, I have been on a diet pretty much since puberty, with some time off for bad behavior…which of course I have to pay for later. I’m healthy, young, and dating a wonderful guy who thinks I’m beautiful…you’d think I couldn’t be thrown into a tailspin by a stupid movie (and truly, this is an incredibly stupid movie, we’ll get to that later)…but yes.

This movie made me feel SO FAT. So awfully, hideously, never get over it fat…oh my god. I don’t think I went home in tears, but it was probably pretty close.

Why? Why this idiotic movie? I love musicals and dance movies, I’d seen a lot of them on tv and in the theatre, most of them with beautiful talented thin women…but this one just ripped me apart. I loved the songs, liked the dancing, didn’t realize how hysterically AWFUL a movie it is (I was young, remember), but from that day to last weekend, I wouldn’t even consider seeing it again…the emotional repercussions were still there.

And then…I went to Austin, Texas.

What? you’re probably thinking. What in the HECK has Austin got to do with really bad movies from the 1980s?

Simple. There is an institution in Austin called Master Pancake Theater**. For those of you who know about Mystery Science Theatre 3000, it’s like that but live. For those of you who don’t know about MST3K…well, there’s a description below* but you really have to see it to get it…and copious amounts of alcohol don’t hurt the experience at all.

We (the Barracuda and I flew in for the weekend to visit Mr. Hair and Craiggers) had been to Austin many times before, and were always looking for interesting, fun, and just plain wierd things to do (city motto: Keep Austin Wierd. Like the rest of Texas ISN’T?)

So Mr. Hair in Austin said, we should do this Sinus Theater thing. And I checked it out online…and they were indeed doing a show the weekend we planned to grace Texas’ most amusing city with our presence. I got tickets online…and lo and behold, what movie are they going to eviscerate…but FLASHDANCE?

I was thrilled. I thought, if anything can remove the bad juju from this movie for me, this is it.

And I was right.

So we got there for the late show, joined the hordes of twentysomethings lined up the stairway like lemmings in reverse, looked at our watches a lot because it was 9:20, the show started at 9:45, we hadn’t had dinner (too many cookies and chocolates while playing board games) and we were worried that there wouldn’t be time to grab a hot dog or a bag of popcorn at the concession stand with all these people pouring in.

And then they let us in…and we were so happy. The theatre is big, and the seats are in rows. And in front of each row of seats, set forward to give people room to get in and out, is a long plank shelf. And on the shelf are paper, pencils, menus, and a metal flange at the far side.

And in this most civilized of theatres, one reads the menu full of YUMMY YUMMY FOOD, writes ones order on the paper, sticks it in the flange…and a waiter picks up said order and brings the food (and it’s a brewpub, this otter was so happy) to your seat! oh man, it was truly heaven.

And meanwhile, three pretty darn funny guys rip the movie to shreds while you listen.

And you know, I was amazed, finally, to see it again and see what an incredibly stupid movie it really was. Wow.

I mean, yes, Jennifer Beals is cute as a box full of kittens. And the music is really good…but the dance numbers are pretty darn lame, to tell you the truth. And from the perspective of being seriously forty-something? all those women who danced in the bar just looked anorexic to me (and Mr. Otter is sending me an email at this moment to inform me that the word is anorectic. Well, Mr. Otter, allow me to quote the Columbia Guide to Standard American English, 1993, in their article on the words anorexia, anorexia nervosa (nn.), anorexic, anorectic (adjs., nn.): All are Standard. So there.)

But these women, their RIBS were sticking out, they were so far beyond healthily thin. That made me feel better, you betcha. MY ribs are never gonna stick out like that, ew! (says Otter, like this is a conscious decision on my part or something…)

So yes, this is a truly awful movie. The setup, that she’s a welder in a steel mill, is so unbelieveable…especially the part where the guys aren’t making her life hell, and her being so tiny and beautiful and stuff. And she rides her bike everywhere including in the rain, alone, through some pretty bad parts of Pittsburgh. Which they used amazing camerawork to make look not awful…

And she and her friends dance in this strip club…except they never strip past bikini coverage. I don’t think so. Oh, and they have special effects out the wazoo: stages, costumes, light effects, water being dumped on various girls (I guess this is supposed to be sexy). Totally unbelieveable. Reality police time.

And lame dialogue, bad enough on its own to put us into hysterics. And there’s this one character, he’s the cook but wants to be a stand-up comic…and of course every time he opens his mouth he says something offensive and NOT funny. And then laughs this incredibly annoying laugh. The ‘bar game’ for this night was that every time the character laughed, everyone in the place was to shout, SHUT THE FUCK UP and take a drink of their beverage. It was pretty funny, actually, especially after a couple of beverages-of-choice.

Having these three guy making funny comments during the movie and drowning out most of the dialogue was definitely a plus, the venue and food and beer were excellent, we had a wonderful time.

And I no longer twitch when I think of that movie. So the evening was a real winner, all around.

*Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was started in Minneapolis in the early 1990s. The basic premise of the show (a two hour show every week, on Comedy Central when we used to watch it) was that Joel (now Mike) had been shot into space by two evil scientists who wanted to experiment on him by showing him really bad movies and seeing his reactions. He got lonely and used a lot of the machinery in his space station to make some robots to keep him company, and the parts he used means he has no control over the movies at all.

So when you watch this show, you’re seeing a really really bad putrid sucky old movie (or not so old) with a row of movie seats blacked in in the foreground, and the heads of Joel and two of the robots (Crow and Tom Servo) sticking up at the bottom of the screen, and they make jokes and comments all during the movie. Yes, even over the dialogue, and some of these movies, it’s a blessing. And sometimes they show a really hokey short film (A Date with Your Family or Hired! or some such tripe, the kinds of films they showed in schools in the fifties and sixties) and rip that up too. Way way way funny.

Good ones include Viking Women vs. the Sea Serpent, The Lost Continent, and The Day the Earth Froze. But they’re always funny.

**So when these guys in Austin started doing this live, they called it Mr. Sinus Theatre 3000, as a riff on the show. And the guys in Minneapolis SUED them and WON. Why? Because the MST3K people are making what they consider a ‘family’ show (even though they use the word ‘dickweed’ liberally, not a word we ever used in my family…of course, I come from a pretty dysfunctional family, so what do I know?) and the Austin show…well, it’s certainly not family oriented, believe me. At the one we saw, the intermission (where the guys come up on stage and riff on the movie) had a buildup that ended with Jesus and Stephen Hawking having sex onstage. It was screamingly funny, but you really had to be there. And drinking a lot.

Anyway. As a result of this lawsuit, the Austin event is now known as Master Pancake Theater…but it’s still incredibly funny, even after the name change.

And we will be forever grateful to Mr. Hair for calling this excellent event to our attention.

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