4/25/11

The Graydon Clark Bar: The Forbidden Dance (Is Lambada) (1990)

I attended several dances in high school, but I can’t think of one of my alma mater’s functions that I attended stag. However once, I went to the rival school’s Homecoming Dance in the early spring of 1990. I was a freshman, and there is no telling who talked me into going, that detail is lost to the ages, but the fact remains that I did. I wasn’t attending the enemy’s dance with a master plan to shame their school in some sort of Breakin’ style dance off or to steal all their women. Then I met this girl, an “alternative” type (back when there was such a thing to be) in a Jessica Rabbit style velvet dress. Yeah, I don’t know why she was wearing such a thing, but she was and had the assets to match. (As I recall, I was wearing an unstructured jacket from Chess King, a printed shirt buttoned all the way up “Parker Lewis” style, and pleated slacks, quite overdressed for the after the football game in the cafeteria affair, but who am I to judge.) Somehow, we started dancing if that’s what you want to call it. Later, when it was the stuff of teenage legend, people went on to describe it in many ways, dirty dancing, shocking, an atrocity, crimes against nature, scandalous, and etc. and so forth. At the time though, there was one word on the lips of the zeitgeist that I remember hearing repeatedly that night, and that word was Lambada.

While the Lambada had built a dance craze throughout Central and South America though the late ‘80’s, it didn’t reach American shores until the very end of the decade. The song “Lambada” by Kaoma began to work its way up the charts (peaking at #46), Somehow the idea that the craze was going to take root all across America where people (who may or may not have been at Homecoming dances) sparked not one, but two, films on the subject released the same day in March 1990. The first film, Lambada, directed by Breakin’ and Rappin’ auteur Joel Silberg, stars J. Eddie Peck as a high school teacher who moonlights as a Lambada dancer (opposite The Office’s Melora Hardin) and gets in trouble for it. I know. That sounds awful silly. This is of course nothing at all like tonight’s feature, the competing Lambada flick from the mind of Greydon Clark, The Forbidden Dance (Is Lambada). I put the “Is Lambada” in parentheses because while it may have been in the original title, the producers of the Silberg Lambada film sued to have it taken off. However, only one movie was clever enough to get the Kaoma song for that film, and in that regard, Clark's film comes out on top.

Now, for that far more plausible plot. Lara Harring (Mullholland Drive, Silent Night Deadly Night III) stars as Nisa, a princess from the Amazon jungle. When her tribe is threatened by Benjamin Maxwell (Richard Lynch), she and medicine man Joa (Sid Haig) travel to the city with a plan to confront the head of the evil corporation. This naturally ends up with Joa landing himself in jail and Nisa ending up working as a maid. After going out to dance with her employer’s son Jason (Jeff James), Nisa soon finds herself without a job. Jason, on the other hand, finds himself intoxicated by Nisa’s exotic Lambada dance. Dancing leads Nisa to her next gig, working in a go-go bar as a private dancer (a la Ms. Turner), and when Jason finds her there, he thinks she’s started hooking. Convinced that the princess’ honor is still intact, Jason and the ecological warrior begin to practice to win a dance contest that will allow her to save the jungle or something.

I have to admit by that point it gets a little convoluted, but it also doesn’t matter. Here’s a film that has it all; montages, magical explosions, fighting scenes, cheesy love scenes, dancing, more montages, and even more dancing. You even get a rival for the star-crossed Lambada dancing pair that features a female dancer who would be the perfect match for William Zabka. Once again, Graydon Clark manages to pull all these elements and tenuous trend together into a movie that is a silly good time. Working from a script by Monster High scripters John Platt and Roy Langston based upon a story by uber-schlock producer Manheim Golan, I can’t imagine on paper the Forbidden Dance looked like a good idea. For some when they see the picture, it will still look like a bad idea, but genre fans who love the offbeat and strange will find tons to love here.

I have to start with what I consider the biggest hook for anyone I would want to tempt with this film, Sid Haig as the mute medicine man Joa. Haig, best known now for his Captain Spaulding role, is an actor who has been in everything from Coffy and Spider Baby to Jackie Brown and Boris and Natasha, but I’ve never seen him so tragically miscast. Towering over the other “tribesmen”, Haig looks about as much like an Amazonian as I look like Bradley Cooper (bad example, I know, but you get the point), and his mute performance leads to plenty of laughs both intentional and unintentional. Likewise, Lara Harring doesn’t look so much like she’s come out of the jungle as off the runway. Harring’s performance, like most, is pretty off, but as the film is constantly a little off, it seems to fit and her beauty overcomes plenty of her shortcomings. The film is littered with great supporting performances as well, I especially would like to mention Miranda Garrison (who was also the choreographer) for her role as the predatory club owner Mickey, Richard Lynch for showing up and actually giving the film a heavy, and Barbra Brighton for being the perfect blonde, bitchy, poofy haired rival for innocent Nisa.

If I wanted to (and believe me I want to), I could go on about The Forbidden Dance for much longer. I haven’t even gotten around to little moments like when Nisa tears her skirt off to dance, the final dance showdown, or gotten to talk about the clothes (so many men in giant vests featuring giant blocks of color!) However, these are the kind of things best shared with a few friend and a few drinks. I highly recommend this as a compliment to any dance themed double feature. So pair it with Showgirls, Burlesque, Dirty Dancing, or any of the Step Up films for a night of dancing and strangeness. That about summed up that Homecoming as well, dancing and strangeness. I recall hordes of teens staring as the girl I had just met and I grinded against each other, and little did I know the calf high slit in the back oh her dress has continued to split until it was just shy of showing off her goods. I’ve never danced like that again, and I can’t imagine what possessed me to do so. Years later, when I ended up in a writing class with her, it was a story I was asked to repeat many times, my experience with the Lambada. Now I have finally found a story of The Forbidden Dance that I will speak of in my own hushed tones, and while that Homecoming memory is a faded moment of “glory” from 21 years ago, Greydon Clark’s The Forbidden Dance is the kind of film I can cherish forever.

Remember folks, you can pick up almost any of Greydon's films over at his HOMEPAGE

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