The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Read more: Roger Moore’s review of the Footloose remake.
When I went to see Footloose on its opening night in 1984 with some of my church youth-group friends, I don’t think we realized we had done something anti-Christian.
A lot of us had the cassette tape (ancient precursor to the mp3) of the soundtrack on our car stereos or our Walkmans (ancient precursor to the iPod) months before the movie opened. It had hits including Kenny Loggins’ title tune, Deniece Williams’ Let’s Hear It for the Boy, Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out for a Hero and Shalamar’s Dancing in the Sheets — OK, maybe that last song should have tipped us off that something was a little risqué here.
Yes, we recognized that there was a strong religious element in the movie. The focus was on a small town’s ban on dancing at the urging of local preacher Shaw Moore, played with wonderful focus by John Lithgow. But we didn’t exactly recognize that brand of Christianity.
Our church was by no means a liberal mainline denomination. It was a non-denominational evangelical church before those got to be so hip, particularly with conservative Christians.
But bans on dancing and the like weren’t part of our world — although there was occasional debate about whether we should see “Hollywood movies.”
My impression was that the Footloose preacher learned a few lessons about being overly judgmental and controlling, and the kids turned out to be all right for the most part, even if they did dance to rock ’n’ roll music.
So, with the Footloose remake opening in theaters this weekend, it was eye-opening to look back and realize that in some circles, Footloose was considered anti-Christian.
In naming it No. 8 on its list of the “10 most anti-Christian movies of all time,” New York magazine wrote, “It’s Lithgow’s villain who really makes the movie: Soft-spoken and patronizing when he’s not spitting out the fire and brimstone (‘He’s testing us!’), his performance is a bone-chilling portrait of smug self-righteousness and could easily blend in among any number of Sunday-morning-TV preachers. The only thing missing is a bad hairpiece.”
I never saw Shaw as villainous – more like woefully misguided. With two more decades perspective, now I would want to ask him why he chose to turn a new teen in his congregation into an instant enemy instead of ministering to him where he was, which was sort of his job.
Clearly, however, there were Christians who felt attacked by the movie.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich