When Adrian Lyne directed his second feature, “Flashdance,” he could scarcely have dreamed that decades later, the film, starring Jennifer Beals in the iconic role of Alex Owens (a young welder who dreams of being a professional dancer), would have, well, such legs.
In celebration of its 40th anniversary (technically on April 15), Paramount Home Entertainment has released a lovingly crafted 4K Ultra HD edition, in addition to launching a pair of special theatrical engagements later in the month. For any and all maniacs on the floor, it’s the kind of treatment the plucky feature has long deserved. For Lyne, it’s a bit odd but quite nice.
“Well, it’s strange,” Lyne said with a laugh during a recent interview with IndieWire. “I guess it’s flattering. I mean, it is flattering because the expectations for the film were zero. I couldn’t get anybody [from the studio] on the phone for two weeks before the movie came out. I was an orphan. It was fascinating, really. The studio, I heard, thought that we had fiddled the results because the preview results were good, the figures were good. They thought that we had put our friends in the previews [to inflate the response].”
Lyne isn’t exaggerating about Paramount’s stance on the film: Before it was released, the studio sold off 25 percent of its financial interest (Lyne remembered it as closer to 30 percent). “They probably regretted that,” he noted.
They probably did! The film went on to make over $200 million at the worldwide box office (on a $7 million budget), in addition to becoming the third highest-grossing U.S. release of 1983 (bested by “Return of the Jedi” and “Tootsie”). It was nominated for four Oscars (including cinematography and editing) and won Best Song for “Flashdance…What a Feeling” (“Maniac” also competed in the category).
And while critics didn’t love it, audiences did: People were literally dancing in the aisles during screenings. “People would ring me up and say, ‘They’re dancing. They’re dancing in the theater!’ That was in Times Square. They were dancing in the aisles apparently. I’d like to have seen that,” Lyne said.
Part of the magic of “Flashdance”: Jennifer Beals, in her first leading role. People often forget how young the character of Alex is (she’s just 18), and Beals was even younger: 17.
“I remember that she was devastating-looking, just marvelous-looking, and I remember rushing through to Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson in another room and saying, ‘You’ve got to see this girl. She’s marvelous,'” Lyne said. “I got her to cry and she found that easy because she had lost all of her luggage [on the way to the audition], and I think she’d slept out in a park or something. It was terrible. She’d never done any acting before that I was aware of, so it was risky in a way. But she had a childlike, vulnerable quality, which forgave a lot. It made you like her.”
Lyne liked her so much, in fact, that he was willing to overlook the fact that Beals, for all her talent and appeal, was not “the world’s best dancer.” Ultimately, Beals’ sequences in the film were cobbled together from scenes with the actress, French actress Marine Jahan, gymnast Sharon Shapiro, and b-boy Richard Colón (aka Crazy Legs).
Lyne was particularly fond of Colón, who did the breakdancing moves that Alex unveils during her final dance, as she auditions for the tony Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory.
“He was actually a dancer, and that’s what worked really well for me,” Lyne said. “He wasn’t set in his ways. In the final dance, for example, there were bits where suddenly it slowed down, and I said, ‘No, no, no, we can’t let it slow down there,’ and he was so sweet, he said, ‘Oh, OK,’ and he would get going on something else that kept the move going so that it didn’t lose any energy.”
And yes, Lyne knows that in certain sequences, especially that key final dance scene, it’s fairly obvious that it’s not Beals doing the full routine. Audiences didn’t care. “What I was surprised about was how the audience accepted the fact that they must have known quite easily that it was a different girl doing the dancing, but you buy into it for some reason,” he said. “There’s a scene at the end when the judges are looking at her and there’s a tracking shot from left to right, and you are full-on looking at her.”
The film clocks in at a slim 97 minutes, a zippy running time with zero fat on it. Was there anything Lyne wishes they’d kept in? “No, not really. No. Because I remember at 20 minutes longer, it was a disaster,” he said. “We came out of [an early] showing, all of the editors and me and my assistant and we were just so depressed. We all went to a place called Nickodell, which was next to Paramount, and we all got drunk in the afternoon and we were all paralyzed.”
At another preview, Lyne said, he even tried to sneak out without getting caught by the Paramount brass. “I said to [my assistant, Casey Silver, who eventually became the chairman of Universal Pictures], ‘Is this as bad as I think it is?’ and there was a long pause and he then said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘How can we get out of here without the executives seeing? Is there any way we can get out?’ And almost at that exact moment, the audience started laughing at something. And it was a good laugh, not a bad one. I gradually became aware that they liked the movie, that they were enjoying it.”
Hence the dancing in the aisles when the film was later released in theaters. And 40 years on, the film — and other Lyne joints — have endured. Both “Flashdance” and “Fatal Attraction” are getting the updated television series treatment (Justin Simien will direct and adapt the dance film for a Paramount+ series, while Alexandra Cunningham’s own Paramount+ series take on “Fatal Attraction” is out on April 30).
“It’s flattering. It’s great, I mean, as long as I don’t have to make it,” Lyne said of the new adaptations. “I think TV series, apart from ‘Succession,’ so rarely work. You see two or three that are good and then it falls apart.”
Asked his thoughts on the “Fatal Attraction” series, which will follow the storyline of the original film and what happens 15 years later and aims to tell more of the story of the boiling bunnies baddie Alex Forrest (played by Glenn Close in the film, with Lizzy Caplan taking over for the show), Lyne reiterated his support for the character.
“I sympathize with her forever,” Lyne said. “The idea that he can just screw her, have sex and then pretend he didn’t and then do it again, it’s outrageous. For the longest time — until she became genuinely psychotic towards the end when she stole the child and that sort of stuff — my sympathies were with her, really.”
Still, he cautioned against anyone taking the material too much to heart. “I don’t think you should take this stuff too seriously, I really don’t,” he said. “When it becomes those long faces, ‘Oh, well, we’ve got to go into a psychological background,’ I mean, it’s a movie, for God’s sake. You don’t have to take it so deathly seriously!”
So, should we be taking the sex seriously? When asked about a recent uptick in anti-sex scene sentiment (both by performers and potential viewers), Lyne was surprised. “No, I didn’t know about that, funny enough,” Lyne said. “I think anything can be in a movie. I mean, the moment there’s a self-censorship, that’s awful, awful. Should be able do what the hell you want.”
While he’s on the subject, what about the tendency to label the sort of films he makes, from “Fatal Attraction” to “Unfaithful” as “erotic thrillers.” That one, it seems, he’s been just waiting to talk about.
“I hate it, the way they label ‘erotic thriller.’ I mean, what the hell does that mean?” he said. “We all have sex, for Christ’s sake, or do our best to. It’s crazy, really. I’ve liked doing relationship pieces, pieces about you and me and our friends or whatever, and obviously, part of any relationship is sex. To pretend it’s not there is just daft. Equally, to overemphasize it is silly as well. What I’ve always found very important is that within a ‘sex scene’ — and which again, I hate saying that — but it should be fun. It should be funny. There should be something for the audience to laugh at. Because if you don’t give them something, they’ll laugh at you. They’ll laugh and you’ll get a bad laugh.”
A prime example of a “good laugh”: The first time Alex and Dan (Michael Douglas) have sex in “Fatal Attraction.” “When they have sex over the sink!” Lyne said. “And then Michael is carrying her to the bed and he can’t get his feet out of his pants, it’s funny and it gets a laugh. And so you get through the scene without the bad laugh.”
After his run of those (whispers) erotic thrillers in the ’80s and ’90s, Lyne took a break from directing, though he hastens to note it wasn’t intentional. Still, he didn’t direct anything for 20 years, returning last year with the Ben Affleck- and Ana deArmas-starring Hulu feature “Deep Water.”
“Well, I was trying to do things,” Lyne said of his supposed hiatus. “There were two movies I really wanted to do: a movie called ‘Back Roads’ that actually did get made for very little money. I didn’t think I could do it for $2 million, I wanted to do it for 10 and I never got the money. I worked really hard on it and the script was terrific.” (Alex Pettyfer eventually directed the film, which premiered in 2018 to little fanfare.)
The other one? “The Town.” “This is my fault, because Ben Affleck ended up doing it,” Lyne said. “I thought it was this mammoth movie. I thought of it as operatic almost, that it had a huge scale. It could have been two-and-a-half hours or something. At that time, you were getting good budgets for films, people were doing that, and I thought that it needed $70 million to do it. They offered me 50 and I should have done it for 50. Just stupid. It’s my fault. And Ben Affleck did it for 50 and he did a good movie. I loved the script. It broke my heart, really. But it’s my fault.”
Lyne just turned 82, but that doesn’t mean he’s going on hiatus again. He’s got one idea in the can, the kind of thing that, movie gods willing, gets made — and then gets a warm revisitation decades later.
“Well, there’s a movie I do like, I’m trying to get off now called ‘One Neck,’ it’s about a serial killer who comes to a party in the Hamptons, and so, if I do it right, the audience should be watching it in a state of hysteria, part laughing, part horrifying. Exactly down the middle,” he said. “Let’s hope I get to do it!”
Paramount Home Entertainment releases “Flashdance” on 4K Ultra HD this week. The film will return to theaters on Wednesday, April 26, and Sunday, April 30, as part of a special engagement presented by Fathom Events and Paramount Pictures.