The "content" of "Flashdance," now at area theaters, could be comfortably jotted down on your ticket stub.
Alex Owens, a curiously solitary and self-sufficient Pittsburgh teen-ager, played by a pretty and supple newcomer named Jennifer Beals, works days as a welder and nights as a dance soloist, impressing the regulars at Mawby's, a friendly neighborhood bar that also encourages avant-garde dance of the vaguely kinky kind, with her interpretive improvisations to suggestive disco themes. (They suggest nothing so much as the movie's dependence on composer Giorgio Moroder and other tired warhorses from the tumbledown Polygram-Casablanca stable.)
Between these colorfully preposterous gigs the beautiful sprite dreams of The Ballet but can't find the nerve to audition for the local mob of toe dancers, since she's never had any formal training and fears being sneered at.
Alex attracts a romantic patron in her boss at the factory, Nick Hurley (Michael Nouri), but resists his overtures to keep the movie in teasing neutral for at least an hour. Inevitably, she weakens but then throws a fit upon discovering that he's been gallant enough to arrange an audition for her. This is soon exposed as another tease, and she naturally aces the audition--with a Vegas-or-bust routine that leaves you wondering if Pittsburgh's ballet company performs in a combination disco bar and aerobics studio.
"Flashdance" combines director Adrian Lyne's ("Foxes") distinctively arty, superficial eye with a weirdly slummy, pandering mentality, which would appear to be a collaborative blot shared in equal measures by the director, the writers and the producers. "Foxes" betrayed identical defects; the filmmakers couldn't keep their tongues from hanging out with obvious erotic opportunism while feigning a tenderhearted solicitude for wayward, promiscuous Valley Girls.
Alex gets uglied up by this ill-concealed hypocrisy. On one hand, she's visualized as a luminous, doe-eyed angel, beautifully absorbed in her dreams of dance and a Devout Catholic Girl to boot. Then the filmmakers turn themselves on by giving her a bluntly profane identity that surfaces in such mind-boggling public places as the factory and a fancy restaurant.
Now I realize that sex has a funny way of making people act dirty, but Alex's dirty tendencies seem to originate in the filmmakers' craving for exhibitionism rather than anything remotely identifiable as irrepressible female sexuality or playfulness. This heroine remains the embarrassing fabrication of a group of filmmakers who can't really decide whether they'd prefer a dream girl or a slut, and try to brazen it out by having their fantasies both ways.
The dances, you should excuse the expression, are perhaps the gaudiest giveaway of a fundamental anxiety about the Nature of Woman. Full of strenuous, overemphatic kinkiness, they incline downright morbidly toward a singleminded vision of women as uncontrollable, solitary, orgiastic predators. In fact, a good deal of what Alex and her colleagues are doing at a supposedly proletarian saloon like Mawby's would make more show biz sense on the stage of an S&M dive.
There's one obsessive motif that does lend itself to useful critical exploitation, though--the interludes in which Jennifer Beals is flashdancing, or whatever it is, while all wet and flings her head about convulsively, filling the backlighting with picturesque spray from her profusion of dampish hair.
Consciously or unconsciously, Adrian Lyne has discovered the ideal buzz image to express an all-wet style of romantic filmmaking. FLASHDANCE, directed by Adriane Lyne; screenplay by Tom Hedley and Joe Eszterhas; story by Tom Hedley; director of photography, Don Peterman; edited by Bud Smith and Walt Mulconery; original music by Giorgio Moroder; choreographed by Jeffrey Hornaday; produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer for Polygram Pictures. THE CAST Alex. . . Jennifer Beals Nicky. . . Michael Nouri Katie Hurley. . . Belinda Bauer Hanna Long . . . Lilia Skala