Jun 25, 2016

Grease Live: Still No Gay People at Rydell High

Grease (1978) was my coming-out movie, mostly because of the theme song, with lines I misheard::

The adults are lying, only real is real.
We stop the fight right now, we got to be what we feel. 

The movie itself was unremittingly hetero-horny heterosexist: boys and girls circle each other, preen, posture, try to hook up, and finally succeed, with some uncomfortable gender politics.

No gay content except for a couple of homophobic jokes.

I just saw Grease Live (2016), a live version that aired on Fox.  Nostalgia about nostalgia, a 2016 broadcast adapting a 1978 movie which was itself an adaption of a 1971 musical set in the year 1959.

Got all that?

The plot stays the same: at Rydell High in 1959, Danny, leader of the T-Birds, and Sandy, member of the Pink Ladies, play a game of desire and rejection, "cool" greaser vs. "good girl" amid such nostalgic settings as a malt shop,a sleepover, and a drag race.  In the end, Sandy abandons the good girl act and pretends to be sexually voracious, thus driving Danny wild and winning his heart.

Meanwhile, each of the other T-Birds hooks up with one of the Pink Ladies.

The T-Birds are:

Danny: Aaron Tveit (top photo)
Kenicke: Carlos Pena Vega (left)















Doody: Jordan Fisher (left)
Putzie: David Del Rio (below)
Sonny: Andrew Call

How did they update the 1970's classic?

1. The cast is multi-ethnic, with plenty of interracial couples.
2. Sandy is from Salt Lake City, Utah, not Australia.
3. Danny defends Eugene the Nerd, and eventually invites him to join the gang.  Eugene also gets a girlfriend, a female nerd, and shows killer moves at the dance contest.
4. Pink Lady Jan, previously ridiculed for being fat, is now ridiculed for being weird.
5. There are male and female cheerleaders, but the dialogue, oddly, assumes that they're all female.
6. They changed some of the dirty lyrics, but they kept the rape-promoting "Did she put up a fight?" from "Summer Nights"


Gay Changes
1. During the dance contest, the coach reads the rules: in 1978, "male-female couples only," followed by a homophobic joke against Eugene.  In 2016, the line was changed to "couples only, no singles, no triples."  Which would have been great if there were same-sex couples, but there were none.  As the scene stands, it completely erases even the awareness that gay people exist.

2.  In 1978, Kenicke asks Danny to be his "second" in the drag race at Thunder Road; they hug, then jump apart in homophobic panic.  In 2016, they see the other guys staring before jumping apart. Kenicke asks "What are you looking at?"  Seems more homophobic.

3. In "We Belong Together" in 1978, each T-Bird is paired with his respective Pink Lady, except for Sonny, who looks shocked when he is paired with a dog instead of Marty.  This shot was cut in 2016.

I looked carefully, and couldn't see anyone who looked like a same-sex couple in any of the crowd scenes, at all.  In "We Belong Together," everyone pairs off into male-female couples.  Even the curtain calls are male -female couples.

If director Thomas Kail could introduce interracial pairings as unremarkable and commonplace in the 1950s, when they were anything but, then surely he could have introduced a gay couple or two into the dance contest or the final carnival scene.

But he didn't.  38 years later, gay people are still not welcome in the world of Rydell High.

See also: Grease 2: The Gay Connection; I Lost It at the Movies.