Dirty Dancing and Giant Revisited: Story Lines about Change

Dirty Dancing: A frame for story context, 1987

Saturday night I watched Dirty Dancing. Again.

ZAP! Hooked. In a time machine, I sat transported and transfixed.

From the vantage point of 30 years after Dirty Dancing opened in theaters, I see a lot to admire about this film.

In 1987, when Dirty Dancing made cultural shock waves, I did not watch. Or let my children see it either. Years later, I learned that my teenage daughter saw the video at a friend’s house.

Whatever.

While the movie does portray some dirty dancing, as well as admit some explicit consequences of sexual activity, dancing provides a frame for story context.

The story unfolding exposes prejudice, hypocrisy and bigotry.

The dictionary defines bigotry as the stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.

The movie is about how people can have one set of standards, values and professed ideals for themselves and yet apply another standard to those who are not like them.

Crisis moment, Baby (played by Jennifer Grey) says to her dad, (played by Jerry Orbach),

“I told you I was telling the truth Daddy. I’m sorry I lied to you. But you lied too. You told me everyone was alike and deserved a fair break. But you meant everyone who was like you. You told me you wanted me to change the world, make it better. But you meant by becoming a lawyer or an economist and marrying someone from Harvard …”

Does Johnny (played by Patrick Swayze) change? Does Baby’s dad change? In what ways does Baby change?

By the end of the movie, I cried.

Giant: Hollywood Came to Marfa, TX in 1956

A coincidence, when Dirty Dancing was over, I watched a TCM (Turner Classic Movies) program I had recorded about actual filming of the 1956 movie Giant.

“Return to Giant” documentary was made in 1996 for the 40th anniversary of the film classic.

Director George Stevens chose to make his film adaptation of Edna Ferber’s 1955 novel Giant in Marfa, one of the most remote areas of Texas. Presidio County has 3,856 square miles, making the area much larger than Delaware, Rhode Island and Washington D.C. combined. Booming back then, county seat Marfa had a population of 5,000.

For 50 days, the cast and crew of Giant lived among the residents of Marfa.

Giant did for Texas what Gone With the Wind did for Georgia,” one person said.

This documentary was made in 1996, more than 20 years ago.

Residents of Marfa reminisced about the extraordinary effect the making of Giant had on them, as well as on their tiny town.

One of the persons interviewed, then Presidio County Judge Jake Brisbane, said he was 11 or 12-years-old when he first saw the newly released film. He described the impact a scene at the end of the movie had on him. From that moment on he recognized racism as “evil.”

Epic scene in the movie Giant, the main character Bick Bennedict (played by Rock Hudson) comes face-to-face with his own racial bigotry. Inside a diner where the owner Sarge “Reserves the right to refuse service to anyone,” Bick starts a fistfight with Sarge over his refusal to serve Hispanics. While the jukebox booms “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” Bick loses the fight but gains the respect of his family.

Give people time to change

Contextual irony, larger-than-life, self-possessed rancher Bick Bennedict changes over the course of about 40 years.

Thanks to Bick’s sister Luz, Jett Rink (played by James Dean), inherited a piece of property on the immense Reata ranch. Jett, former poor ranch hand turned oil millionaire, uses money, power and race to prove to himself that he is better than anyone.

Money changes Jett’s circumstances, but not his character.

Men’s bigotry, hypocrisy and prejudice revealed: A character like Sarge stays the same. A person like Bick changes. Someone like Jett Rink destroys himself.

Agreeing with the person who said, “If I could put one film [about Texas] in a time capsule, it would be Giant,” I smile.

Movies Matter

Because ideas matter. What people think shapes attitudes and beliefs before it affects behavior.

Two unrelated films that I happened to see back-to-back made me think about change.

A cross-section of people, places and values, both films offer honest portrayals of human beings who face the destructive power of prejudice.

O, Humanity! The best stories show how people change.

Marfa,Texas, as I see it …

Palace Theater where director George Stevens viewed the films “dailies.” Residents were welcome as well.

The main drag

Beautiful County Court House

 

Marfa 1883, “You are welcome”

Paisano Hotel where the cast of Giant lived for 2 1/2 months during filming.

Inside Hotel Paisano, tributes to the cast and crew of Giant.

 

The facade built for the Reata ranch is gone now. Actor Chill Wills said, “The ghosts are still there.”

One thought on “Dirty Dancing and Giant Revisited: Story Lines about Change

  • October 11, 2017 at 8:35 am
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    Thank you for your insights into these movies and their messages. I haven’t seen Giant since I was in high school. It bears watching again.

    Reply

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