Sometimes the title track from a movie is better remembered than the film from which it came.
Whitney Houston’s acting performance in The Bodyguard is best forgotten but her cover of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You is considered a classic. Hardly anyone remembers St Elmo’s Fire the film – but John Parr’s eponymous song is instantly memorable. Ghostbusters. Footloose. Purple Rain. Fame. And Flashdance ... What A Feeling.
The last two of these were both performed by Irene Cara, who starred in the original 1980 movie Fame. (The 2009 remake is best ignored.) Notably, both Fame and Out Here On My Own were nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars – the first time in Academy history two songs from the same film sung by the same artist had been nominated in the same category. Fame won.
Fame topped the UK chart and reached number four in the US, spawning a successful TV spin-off that furthered the early 80s craze for garishly coloured leg warmers.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, Flashdance … What A Feeling matched Fame‘s achievement of winning both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and added the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. It topped the US singles chart and reached number two in the UK.
Co-written by Cara with producer Giorgio Moroder, Flashdance is a near-perfect slice of synth dance-pop which instantly evokes indelible images of the film’s opening sequence depicting lead character Alex Owns (Jennifer Beals) cycling to work early on a cold morning against the silhouetted backdrop of industrial Pittsburgh and its steel mills.
The film itself is a typical American working-class-hero-made-good story with a suitably preposterous plot as Alex, a welder by day and strip club dancer by night, fulfils her dream of being accepted into a prestigious ballet school. Although, funnily enough, the plot is based on the real-life story of Maureen Marder, a welder by day and Toronto strip class dancer by night, who also aspired to enrol in a prestigious dance school.
At the film’s climax, Alex auditions successfully at the school in what is arguably Hollywood’s most famous dance segment – and one often imitated by, among others, the videos for Jennifer Lopez’s I’m Glad and Geri Haliwell’s cover of It’s Raining Men. However, Alex is played by four different people during the sequence. In addition to Beals, Marine Jahan served as her dancing double. (The difference in the two women’s build and Jahan’s wig are obvious to all but the most casual observer.) Gymnast Sharon Shapiro performed Alex’s flying leap, while her break-dancing spin was done by a male dancer, Crazy Legs. See for yourself.
It may have taken four people and some Hollywood magic to create the dance sequence but Irene Cara’s solo vocal performance required no smoke and mirrors. In an era which produced one great movie song after another – to the ones listed above add The Breakfast Club‘s Don’t You (Forget About Me), Top Gun‘s Take My Breath Away and many more – Flashdance … What A Feeling stands right up there with the best of them. 80s Americana at its finest.