What Footloose and its remake can teach us about their times



Films are more than just entertainment; they serve as historical artifacts that provide us with insight into the society and culture of the time they were created. Footloose, a popular musical drama, offers us a window into two distinct eras, shedding light on the societal values, fashion trends, and prevailing attitudes of their respective times - the 1980s and the early Twenty-tens. 


Based on a true story that occurred in 1979, Footloose delves into a small town's struggle with an antiquated ordinance that bans dancing. This tale of rebellion and teenage self-expression still resonates today, as it explores themes of individuality and challenging social norms. Both the 1984 original and its 2011 remake serve as captivating study material, offering a valuable glimpse into the backgrounds of their respective eras.


Both films are contemporary, meaning that they are set in the period of their production so that they reflect the respective backgrounds of their times. For this purpose, it is irrelevant whether they are good or bad, which version is better (viewers are of two minds about this), and how realistic the story is.


The films provide us with evidence of the fashion and lifestyle of each decade. The original version dazzles us with its big, curly hairstyles, oversized clothing, and Walkmans, which have now become relics of the past. In contrast, the 2011 remake reflects contemporary fashion sensibilities with its more natural hairstyles, form-fitting attire, and the prevalence of mobile phones and iPods.


Image: Walkman


Additionally, the soundtracks of both films paint a vivid picture of the musical landscape of their time, with the original evoking the vibrant energy of the 1980s and the remake offering a modern, diverse blend of country, hip-hop, and rock.


Films also serve as mirrors to the prevailing ideas, attitudes, and values of their time. Beyond mere aesthetics, both versions of Footloose embody the changing dynamics of society. The original film, set in the 1980s Midwest, primarily features a white cast, illustrating the prevailing homogeneity of the era. However, the 2011 remake takes a step towards inclusivity, showcasing actors from diverse ethnic backgrounds. This deliberate portrayal of a multi-ethnic rural America also reflects the reality of contemporary society.


In addition, the remake of Footloose has taken up community activism as one of its themes, according to a review in The Guardian:


What's most intriguing about Footloose is its message of community activism rather than youth rebellion. Instead of dropping out and forming a biker gang, our clean-living hero petitions the town council with a well-constructed argument. He's a rebel with a cause, and he's prepared to go through the correct channels to justify it.


While the original depicted smoking actors, which was socially acceptable in the 1980s, the 2011 remake consciously avoids showcasing such behaviour, highlighting the increased awareness of the dangers of smoking (see also Smokefree Media). Furthermore, the decision to remove a dangerous driving scene in the remake demonstrates a greater concern for the influence such scenes may have on impressionable young minds.


Visually, the cinematography of the 2011 remake represents a departure from its predecessor. The film embraces a more vibrant, colourful aesthetic, incorporating fast-paced, music video-inspired scenes commonly found in contemporary feature films. It is worth noting that the remake was produced by MTV Films, a US film production company that has been part of the Paramount Motion Pictures Group since 2006. This stylistic evolution reflects the influence of newer media forms on visual storytelling.


Footloose at a glance


Year of release:            1984

Country of production:  USA

Original language:        English

Age rating:                  PG

Length:                       107 minutes

Director:                      Herbert Ross



Year of release:           2011

Country of production: USA

Original language:       English

Length:                      113 minutes

Age rating:                 FSK 6

Director:                    Craig Brewer



Interestingly, Footloose has even made its mark in popular culture beyond the cinema screen. A scene inspired by the film's final dance scene was incorporated into the Netflix series, The Umbrella Academy, offering a modern-day reinterpretation of the iconic dance. This fusion of past and present illustrates the enduring impact of Footloose and how it continues to inspire and resonate with audiences.


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