Meet Jenny From the Steel Mill
Sometimes a booty is just a booty. And sometimes in the right hands, it’s an homage. Jennifer Lopez’s most recent video, for the single “I’m Glad,” is a shorter but otherwise virtually shot-for-shot mimicry of Adrian Lyne’s 1983 film “Flashdance,” the fable about an aspiring young dancer who welds by day and gyrates by night in a friendly neighborhood girlie bar. “Flashdance” was a massive hit in its day, partly because Mr. Lynn, in an act of almost admirable shamelessness, took a handful of ludicrous, artful soft-core dance routines and molded them into your stock woman’s empowerment tract. Even if audiences understood exactly what he was up to, they walked away not caring, and legions of young women took scissors to the neckbands of their sweatshirts, imitating the style that the star of “Flashdance, “ Jennifer Beals, had made iconic.
Audiences today would probably laugh at Mr. Lyne’s close-up shots of jiggling gluteal muscles, coated with that sheen of cosmetically perfect sweat. If Mr. Lyne had had the courage of his trashier convictions, “Flashdance” could have been a great exploitation picture (like the shapely pair that one of its writers, Joe Eszterhas, went on to make with Paul Verhoeven, “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls.”) As it is, the movie is an exploitation of style more than anything else. In “Flashdance” it’s not women’s bodies that are used cheaply, it’s camera angles: Mr. Lyne’s visual technique is the throwaway kind, courting energy and movement at the expense of any coherent meaning.
“Flashdance” seems worthless today as anything other than a cultural artifact. And yet Ms. Lopez and her director, David LaChapelle, have lifted it out of its tired context. Mr. LaChapelle shows Ms. Lopez in a series of vignettes lifted from the movie, even borrowing its characteristically 80’s mote-softened lighting. The video opens with Ms. Lopez striding, albeit somewhat nervously, into a dance audition, instantly making the row of stony-faced judges her prisoners. That scene occurs late in “Flashdance,” but Mr. LaChapelle’s subconscious structural logic makes more sense – he’s off and running in the video’s first 10 seconds, and in a four-minute video, every second counts. We see Ms. Lopez pedaling down a city alley, dressed in the schlumpy welding clothes of Ms. Beal’s character, Alex Owens, and accompanied by a chocolatey mutt who looks just like the one Alex had in the movie. Ms. Lopez, in all her curvy glory, saunters through a corridor of snotty, skinny ballerinas – just as in the movie, they look askance at her. And perhaps most notably, Ms. Lopez re-creates the girlie-bar routine in which Ms. Beal’s character struts out in a wedge-shaped jacket that eventually gives way to a lacy teddy; Ms. Lopez (unlike Ms. Beals) actually does her own dancing in the video. And she’s resolutely unapologetic, as anyone with her attributes should be, about showing off what she’s got.
“I’m Glad” takes everything that’s cheesily exuberant about “Flashdance” and condenses (and intensifies) it into a sly and primally satisfying four minutes. As a music video should, it exists to serve the song (which, in this case, is built on an inoffensively soothing Latin beat that seems faceless on first listen but tightens its grasp on you pulse by pulse.)
Most significantly, though, the “I’m Glad” video creates its own world separate from that of “Flashdance.” Ms. Lopez has taken what’s thrilling about the movie- the idea of a working-class girl who makes her mark on the world – and presented it as a buffed-up fairy-tale version of her own career. And yet she’s wise enough to know that, in a music video, style can be used as a kind of substance. “I’m Glad” reduces “Flashdance” to its core element: it’s the story of a woman with a beautiful body who, in her spare time, just happens to be chasing a dream. That’s a flimsy concept to hang a movie on, but an exceptionally sly and witty one for a music video, considering that women with beautiful bodies are the video worlds stock in trade to begin with – and considering that Ms. Lopez, not just a beautiful body but a marvelous dancer, is such a pleasure to watch.
Is the “I’m Glad” video an homage or a rip-off? If you’re talking about intellectual property issues, the line is admittedly hazy. It might be better to call it an act of inventive recycling – a way of taking something old and, after cutting it down and tweaking it, coming up with a new entity that’s both smaller and yet more exhilarating that the original. The video for “I’m Glad” is a sweatshirt with the neckband cut off. Customization may be the sincerest form of flattery.