Release Date(s)1983 (April 11, 2023)
Studio(s)PolyGram Pictures (Paramount Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C-
While there are many films that may seem to represent the quintessence of the 1980s, if any one of them truly helped to define the entire decade of American cinema, it’s Flashdance. Glitzy, glossy, shallow, yet undeniably compelling, it came out of nowhere in 1983 to become one of the highest grossing films of that year. In many respects, it’s one of the most “Eighties” movies ever made, and the behind-the-scenes talent included a veritable Who’s Who of the people who really helped to shape the era (for good or for ill): director Adrian Lyne; co-screenwriter Joe Eszterhas; cinematographer Donald Peterman; costume designer Michael Kaplan; composer Giorgio Moroder; producers Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Lynda Obst; executive producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber; and Paramount executive Dawn Steel. Even editors Walt Mulconery and Bud Smith provided the flashy MTV-style cutting that would become so ubiquitous for the rest of the decade. To paraphrase Peter Shaffer, when one is watching Flashdance, one sees such sights and hears such sounds, and what can one say but... “Eighties!”
Yet there’s no denying the fact that plenty of films in that decade offered the same levels of glitz and gloss, but still failed to connect with audiences to the same extent that Flashdance did. An effective marketing campaign certainly didn’t hurt, but while some people might not want to hear this, the reality is that the simple story ended up being one of its biggest hooks. The screenplay from Thomas Hedley Jr. and Eszterhas was hardly groundbreaking, but it did tap into the kind of “follow your dreams despite the odds” narrative that has always had universal appeal. Of course, that appeal was greatly enhanced by the fact that the dreamer in this case was embodied by newcomer Jennifer Beals, who simply owned Peterman’s camera every single time that she stepped in front of it. The rest of the cast was filled out capably by the likes of Michael Nouri, Sunny Johnson, Kyle T. Heffner, Lee Ving, Ron Karabatsos, and Belinda Bauer, but whenever Beals is on screen, all eyes are inevitably on her. She may never have starred in another hit of the magnitude of Flashdance, but it would be a mistake to overlook just how important she was to the success of the film.
Flashdance is unquestionably the prototypical time capsule of the Eighties, for better or for worse, but watching it in 2023 is a bittersweet experience, and not just because of simple nostalgia, either. The film opens with the late great Irene Cara’s Oscar-winning song What a Feeling, and that really stings considering that she’s only been gone for a few months now. She’s not the only loss, either; Simpson and Steel both passed during the Nineties, and Peterman died about a decade ago. Even co-star Sunny Johnson died tragically of a brain aneurysm just a year after it was released. Flashdance may capture Eighties lightning in a bottle, but time is a cruel mistress, and the truth is that its escapism was only ever an illusion. Yet the kind of illusory escapism that it does provide is still the essence of what the cinema is, has been, and always will be. Flashdance certainly does represent the beating heart of the Eighties, but in its own sometimes fumbling way, it also represents the heart of why moviegoing has been such a universal experience for more than a century now. It’s been erroneously called a “guilty pleasure,” but that’s a ridiculous phrase that needs to be struck permanently from the lexicon. There’s no reason whatsoever to feel guilty about enjoying the kind of escapism that Flashdance has to offer.
Donald Peterman shot Flashdance on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35 BL cameras, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. Paramount describes this version as a “4K restoration supervised by director Adrian Lyne,” but hasn’t provided any other details about it. Regardless, properly understanding the qualities of this master does require an understanding of how Peterman photographed Flashdance. Lyne preferred to shoot quickly, using limited lighting setups and long lenses, and he was more than happy to let mistakes creep into the cinematography, preferring just to cut around them later as needed. Peterman shot most of the film on fast Eastman 5293 stock, rating it as high as 400 ASA and even 800 ASA. That didn’t necessarily push the grain, which was already prominent on that stock, but it did push the contrast. (He used Eastman 5247 any time that he wanted softer contrast.) He utilized a lot of backlighting and single-source lighting, but without adding any fill lighting to balance it out. He also shot in a lot of low-light situations, sometimes using only the natural light that was available.
What all of that means is that the image isn’t the most detailed, rarely rising to true 4K levels, and the grain is quite prominent. (Paramount isn’t above scrubbing all of the grain away and then adding a layer of fake grain instead, but this does seem as if it’s the real deal.) The optically printed opening titles are naturally softer and less well-resolved, but while things do improve once the credits have finished, it only goes so far. The grain is generally managed well by the encoding, even though the bit rate does run disappointingly low sometimes. It’s still better in 4K than it is in 1080p. Yet the biggest difference between this 4K version and the Blu-ray lies in the HDR grade (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are included on the disc.) The colors are warm and glowing, without appearing exaggerated (although Michael Nouri’s skin does appear perhaps a bit too bronzed at times), but it’s the contrast range that really sings. It’s probably the best reproduction yet of the contrasty nature of Peterman’s cinematography, with genuinely deep black levels. That does mean that the blacks don’t always have the most detail within them, but it’s not because of crush; it’s just because that’s how Peterman shot everything. The contrast in this HDR grade is strong enough that it almost looks like a bleach bypass print, and that seems faithful to Peterman’s intent. Flashdance has never looked this good on home video.
A word of warning: please be aware of the fact that the HDR grade does heighten the effect of the strobe lighting in one of the dance sequences, so be careful if you’re sensitive to those kinds of effects. It only happens during that one number, but it’s intense enough that some caution is definitely in order.
Primary audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Flashdance was released theatrically in Dolby Stereo, though there were also some 70 mm prints with 6-track mag sound. Paramount hasn’t included the original mix here, at least not as matrixed 2.0, but the exact nature of the 5.1 mix isn’t clear. It’s definitely not any kind of a significant 5.1 remix, so it may just be the original discrete 4 channels from the Dolby Stereo master encoded in the 5.1 configuration. It could also be a direct encoding of the 6-track mag mix, but either way, there’s not much of a difference. Typically for Dolby mixes of the era, everything is focused on the front channels, with limited use of the surrounds (just an occasional effect such as rain or thunder). Of course, the music is the real star of Flashdance, and it’s reproduced well here in lossless format. While a bit more immersion might have been nice, as long as the music has been given a chance to shine as it has here, all is well.
Additional audio options include English Descriptive Audio, plus German, French, and Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, German, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), French, and Japanese.
Paramount’s 40th Anniversary 4K Ultra HD release of Flashdance is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film and a slipcover, with a Digital Code on a paper insert tucked inside. Despite the relatively low bitrate, there are no extras on the UHD. The extras on the Blu-ray are identical to the ones that were included on the 2020 Paramount Presents Blu-ray, and they’re all in HD:
- Filmmaker Focus: Director Adrian Lyne Discusses Flashdance (5:50)
- The Look of Flashdance (9:12)
- Releasing the Flashdance Phenomenon (8:52)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:41)
They’re all brief featurettes, with a few interesting stories here and there, but no real depth. Filmmaker Focus features Lyne talking about how he turned the project down twice, and while he doesn’t consider himself an intellectual, he’s happy that the film that he made pleases so many people. He also talks about his relationship with music producer Phil Ramone, meeting Bob Fosse, and casting Jennifer Beals. The Look of Flashdance examines the visual style of the film, featuring interviews with Lyne, Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Nouri, Kyle T. Heffner, Bud Smith, producer Lynda Obst, and costume designer Richard Kaplan. It delves into the Pittsburgh and Los Angeles locations, the lighting, the omnipresent smoke effects, and the costumes, but it still manages not to mention Peterman by name, let alone his work on the film. Releasing the Flashdance Phenomenon includes most of the same participants, this time covering the ruthless editorial process during the preview screenings, the negative reviews, and the eventual box office success.
Missing from the 2013 Warner Bros. Blu-ray release of Flashdance are the equally brief featurettes The History of Flashdance, Flashdance: The Choreography, Flashdance: Music and Songs, and the Teaser Trailer. While the Filmmaker Focus was added for the 2020 Paramount Presents release, The Look of Flashdance and Releasing the Flashdance Phenomenon did originate with that Warner Bros. disc, so it’s not clear why the others weren’t included on either the Paramount Presents version or this 40th Anniversary UHD. In any event, Flashdance is the kind of film that most fans want to enjoy for what it is, rather than to think about why it does (or doesn’t) work, and this new 4K presentation serves that end nicely. It’s a beautiful disc.
- Stephen Bjork