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HSC English Prescribed Text Analysis Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom Area of Study: Belonging An Analysis for HSC English (Standard) and HSC English (Advanced)

Anthony Bosco

Copyright Š 2012 Emily and Anthony Bosco Into English Pty. Ltd. 19/2 Everton Road Strathfield NSW 2135

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Close Analysis of Strictly Ballroom 

00:00:20 – The soundtrack choice of the “Blue Danube”, the most recognisable of all traditional waltz tunes, begins playing against a black screen. Immediately, the responder is immersed in a world of glamour and romanticism. The exclusive nature of this community is symbolised by the red theatrical curtain which slowly appears as a fade-in (approx. 25secs).

00:00:45 – The red theatrical curtain parts and the responder is invited in, is asked to belong, to the community of ballroom dancing.

00:00:52 – 00:01:22– A slow upward tilt reveals a full shot of silhouetted dancers. The silhouetting is a technique used to show their congruency with the surroundings and is a potent symbol of how deeply they belong to this community. The dancers move elegantly in slow motion, conveying their grace and confidence. Costuming is used to symbolise their belonging and sense of solidarity; the men are dressed in identical suits – a uniform – and the women are dressed in similar, although different coloured, gowns of great extravagance. The body language of the men and the physical exchanges of hand-slapping are also employed as symbolic actions denoting solidarity, acceptance, recognition and friendship. As the soundtrack changes to a more enlivened tune at 1min, 22secs the power relationships and hierarchy between the four dancers is revealed. Scott Hastings uses a single hand-gesture to control the actions of the remaining three, getting them all into line, and he is the first to move towards camera. All these actions communicate the characters enthusiasm to conform to prescribed actions, rituals and an established power hierarchy in exchange for acceptance and adulation within the community of ballroom dancing.

00:01:30 – A freeze frame mid-shot of Scott and Liz in the foreground, with Wayne and Vanessa in the background, shows their happiness upon entering the dancing arena; a joy which epitomises their sense of belonging at this point in the film.

00:01:31 – The slow-motion montage, containing many identical shots of different dancers, evinces an even deeper sense of belonging to the community. The dancers dance identical steps, the costuming are of a highly similar nature, and the expression of each dancer’s face is one of forced and disingenuous happiness. The women wear make-up of an exaggeratedly feminine and cartoonish nature, which is a symbol of the suppression of their individuality beneath a literal and metaphorical “mask”. The men, too, wear make up to conceal their uniqueness. The lighting of the scene is gaudy, conveying a sense of the scene’s artificiality and the falseness of


those participating in it. A close-up of Shirley Hastings shows the responder that even those who are non-competitors must uphold the appearance of hyperbolic femininity, through costume and make-up, if they wish to remain an accepted member of the group. Of great significance is Shirley exclamation: “Come on, a hundred!” The reduction of an individual’s uniqueness and individuality to a number is a potent symbol of the need to suppress any semblance of self-expression in order to achieve acceptance within the community of ballroom dancing. 

00:02:30 – At this point the film changes to a docu-drama style. It is an interior midshot. The use of props and colour choices conveys the dominance of Shirley within the family, which is reinforced the body language of Shirley and Doug on the couch. Shirley’s direct-to-camera monologue rapidly informs the responder of vital information regarding Scott’s background, which is necessary to understand the significance of his upcoming rebellion against the established order. Shirley’s hyperbolic sadness over her son’s rebellion clearly defines the values and attitudes of the community as being ruthlessly competitive. Luhrmann uses a series of crosscuts, back and forth from the dance arena to the interior of the Hastings home.

00:03:00 – The low angle close-up of “Federation President Barry Fife” establishes his important and power at the pinnacle of the ballroom dancing community’s power hierarchy.

00:03:08 – The extreme eye-level close-up of the announcer promoting Barry Fife’s video “Dance to Win”, which is also shown is the frame, further emphasises the ruthlessly competitive vales and attitudes of the community.

00:05:00 – The cross-cut montage now includes a direct-to-camera interview with Les Kendall, Scott’s coach. Luhrmann extends the range of achronological interviews in order to explain to the responder the significance of what they are seeing; as newly inducted members of the ballroom dancing community we, the responders, must be initiated by having the values and attitudes of the community clearly defined for us and the established order of authority explicated. Les Kendall explains the “boxed-in” scenario that affected Scott and Liz, and then goes on to pass judgement upon Scott’s reaction in accordance with the establishment’s values and attitudes, ie. Conformity, uniformity and obedience. It also quite clearly illustrates how thin the veneer of solidarity and friendship between community members is, especially in the pejorative exchange between Liz and Pam: “Piss off!”

00:05:41 – The addition of a high angle full shot of Liz Holt to the ongoing cross-cut montage establishes further the values and attitudes of the male-dominated


Strictly Ballroom Prescribed Text Analysis Sample  

A complete analysis of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom for the HSC English Area of Study: Belonging.

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