Flashdance: Adrian Lyne’s Trashy Fantasy, Starring Jennifer Beals

In 1983, most critics dismissed Adrian Lyne’s “Flashdance” as a simplistic fairy tale, a trashy, stylized fantasy with a fake realistic edge, rough language, and overt sexuality to make it seem more contemporary. On location shooting in the blue-collar sections of Pittsburgh contributed to that false aura of authenticity.

Theatrical release poster

Essentially, “Flashdance” was a “Rocky”-type picture, a formulaic text with a timeworn plot, brought to the screen with some energy and superficial visual excitement that might have accounted for the movie’s huge commercial appeal, one that became a date event and cultural phenomenon, not least due to its musical numbers and fashion.

In what could be described as a post-feminist fable, the heroine Alex (Jennifer Beals) is accepted as an equal by male workers at a Pittsburgh steel plant where she works as a welder. At night, however, Alex has a different, more exciting life moonlighting as an erotic dancer, and alluring the same guys she works with during the morning shift.

“Flashdance” was an attempt to reinvent the musical drama (or drama with music) for young MTV audiences. The club where Alex dances is meant to be a blue-collar dive, but you couldn’t tell it from the elaborate dance routines, remarkable costumes, lavish set designs, and lighting, the kind of which characterize a glamorous Las Vegas show or Paris’ famous Follies Bergere. Jeffrey Hornaday’s choreography also divided critic due to its sexy if sleazy and splashy S&M overtones.

Nothing in the film was realistic, including Alex’s immense loft, which a woman of her profession and means obviously could not afford. Yet the film offered a guilty pleasure in the shrewd calculations and quasi-charming updates, channeling young women’s collective fantasies and anxieties into pop culture, while presenting them in a seductive way.

Every fairytale must feature the character of “Prince Charming,” and in “Flashdance,” the type is embodied by Nicky (Michael Nouri), the rich, handsome, enlightened boss who falls for Alex. He combines new and old-fashioned traits as the ideal male. On the one hand, Nicky is modern and secure enough to accept Alex’s career ambitions, and on the other, he’s old-fashioned enough to marry her and live, we are led, a bourgeois lifewith some modifications.

Flashdance wanted twentysomething women to believe that anything is possible for bright, driven, and attractive women, even if they hail from poor or humble social origins.

Alex’s ultimate desire is not to dance at the cheap club but to study ballet at a prestigious school. For her audition, she combines elements of workouts devised by Jane Fonda (then at the height of their popularity) with the energy and pizzazz of a Broadway hoofer and disco club dancer. Not surprisingly, she impresses the school’s admissions board, after which she walks out onto the streets where Prince Charming Nicky is waiting for her.

There are some obstacles to their romance. At one point, Alex is upset by Nicky’s effort to intervene with the admissions board on her behalf. You see, Alex is the kind of woman who wants to do it all by herself on her own terms.

The only glimpse of plausibility is offered by some of Alex’s friends who, ambitious and hopeful as they are, may not possess what it takes to become artists and be recognized as standup comics or ice-skaters. Occasionally, even Alex has moments of self-doubt. When she enters the Carnegie building to audition, she can’t help but notice the wide gap, the contrast between her torn jeans, grease-stained work boots, and scruffy jacket and the clean, elegant leotards and toe-shoes of the other hopeful girls. Initially, she runs away in tears, but we know that she is not a quitter, and possesses the drive and pluck to return and give it all.

If in old fairy tales, a poor girl can marry a prince, then in modern fables like “Flashdance” a working-class femme can marry her boss, and at the same time, engage in a creative career.

It’s noteworthy that “Falshdance” was not the only film in the early 1980s to reflect the Raegan’s administration motto of “Can Do” and “Best of the Best.” The same combo of new and modern and traditional and old-fashioned ideology also marked “An Officer and a Gentleman,” made a year before “Flashdance” (in 1982) and “Top Gun” (1986), the movie that catapulted Tom Cruise to mega-stardom.

Do I need to say that all three pictures were commercial hits. Made on a budget of $7 million, the film earned 201.5 million at the global box-office.


Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals)
Nicky Hurley (Michael Nouri)
Katie Hurley (Belinda Bauer)
Hanna Long (Lila Skala)
Cecil (Malcolm Danare)
Secretary (Lucy Lee Flippin)
Richie (Kyle T. Heffner)
Rosemary Szabo (Micole Mercurio)
Junior Jean (Sunny Johnson)
Tina Tech (Cynthia Rhodes)


Paramount Picture release of a Polygram Pictures Production
Executive producers: Peter Guber and Jon Peters.
Produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer.
Directed by Adrian Lyne.
Screenplay: Tom Hedley and Joe Eszterhas from Hedley’s story
Camera: Don Peterman.
Editors: Bud Smith, Walt Mulconery.

Running time: 96 Minutes.
MPAA Rating: R.