Rich Wilhelm

The VHS Experience–Dirty Dancing

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2014 at 11:13 am
Notes made while viewing Dirty Dancing VHS tape, Aug. 16, 2014.

Notes made while viewing Dirty Dancing VHS tape, Aug. 16, 2014.

Ever since launching Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks–a crafting mini-business in which I make notebooks from old record album covers, VHS tape boxes and cassette single sleeves–I have been quietly amassing a collection of examples of that cutting-edge technology known as the VHS tape. These will eventually be properly recycled, but in the meantime, I thought, why not watch a few and take some notes? This could be fun, especially since I’m one of those people to whom others often exclaim, “Whaddya mean you’ve never seen…?” This week’s movie? Dirty Dancing.

Dirty Dancing–the story of Baby and Johnny and their love of dance, set during the summer of 1963, just before the Sixties exploded–was unleashed to an unsuspecting world on August 21, 1987. Nobody expected it to make much of an impression. Critics had some nice things to say but weren’t terribly impressed. The movie didn’t have a huge promotional rollout. The general assumption was that Dirty Dancing would be quickly put in a corner and left there to be forgotten.

As we all quickly learned, however, nobody puts Dirty Dancing in a corner.

The release of Dirty Dancing certainly didn’t leave any initial impression on me. Even as the movie began to gain traction, I managed to ignore it. I’m thinking that if I dove into my 1987 journal, I might find a mention of the fact that some of my friends, perhaps thinking that the dancing was going to be dirtier than it actually was, had gone to see Dirty Dancing on a particular evening and asked me if I wanted to join them, but I couldn’t have been bothered.

I was way too cool for Dirty Dancing. At least in my mind.

By the end of 1987, I was working at a chain record store, Record Bar, in Granite Run Mall. I began to understand the impact of Dirty Dancing at Record Bar, as I rang up one cassette copy of the Dirty Dancing after another. After another. After another. After another.

Folks were crazy for “She’s Like the Wind,” “Hungry Eyes,” “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” and, of course, “Do You Love Me.” I cranked more Dirty Dancing soundtrack tapes out of Record Bar’s theft-prevention cases and placed them into the hands of more happy music consumers during the December 1987 Christmas season than I did any other title during my entire tenure at Record Bar.

There was just one problem. “Do You Love Me,” which originally hit #3 on the charts for the Contours back in 1962, was nowhere to be found on the soundtrack. If my memory is correct, the only place you could initially get “Do You Love Me” was on a 45 rpm single, at just the moment when the technological and culture importance of that medium was about to go into hibernation for more than two decades.

This lack of “Do You Love Me” caused gnashing of teeth and general wailing among Dirty Dancing fans who wanted all of their songs in one place. Sometime in early 1988 though, the More Dirty Dancing soundtrack, “Do You Love Me”-enhanced, emerged, and all would be right in the world once again. (Much, much later, mega-versions of the soundtrack that included every scrap of music in the movie would be released.)

Back to me at the Record Bar register: behind my benign record store customer service smile, I began harboring and nurturing an intense dislike for the “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” which would go on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. This is a dislike that continues on to this day.

I was still working at Record Bar on the much anticipated day that Dirty Dancing was commercially released on VHS tape. List price: nearly $100. We had someone buy our one copy at that price on release day, though I think a case of buyer’s remorse prompted the buyer to attempt a return the next day. I’m not sure whether we honored that request or not.

Despite its modest release, Dirty Dancing–the movie, the soundtrack, the lifestyle accessory–became a monster, an unstoppable cultural phenomena. And it has remained just that for 27 years.

As for me, I didn’t see Dirty Dancing until my wife Donna–we may not have even been married yet–suggested we rent it in the early ’90s. She was not among the ardent fans, and may not have originally seen Dirty Dancing in its original run, but she was curious, so we checked it out one night. It didn’t leave that great an impression on me.

In recent years, Dirty Dancing has taken on a new importance for me. In the wake of Patrick Swayze’s struggle with pancreatic cancer and a family member’s very intense pancreatic surgery at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson Hospital, I decided that I would donate all proceeds from the sale of Dirty Dancing notebooks to Jefferson’s pancreatic cancer research center. This has led me on a quest to buy up every Dirty Dancing VHS tape (both the original and the 1997 anniversary version) I can possibly find. These days, the tapes can be gotten for much less than $100.

These sales do not generate a huge amount of money, but every now and then I’m able to make a contribution and I am a firm believer that every little bit helps.

Last weekend, I watched Dirty Dancing for the second time in my life. Maybe I’m mellowing, but I enjoyed it. I still find it annoying how a few very ’80s-type songs are plopped into a movie set in 1963, and I still find the overall Dirty Dancing experience to be hokey. That’s OK though–Dirty Dancing was never meant to be the time of my life but millions of other people have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy it for decades to come. I will not put all of these fans in a corner, I promise.

Here are a few brief observations from my recent viewing:

I believe that Baby’s line “I carried a watermelon” should be at least as iconic as “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

The point at which Robbie the rich kid waiter whips out this Fountainhead for Baby to see proves that Dirty Dancing is both randy and Randy.

And, finally…

Jerry Orbach!!!

This week’s edition of The VHS Experience was brought to you by Rich’s ReallyCoolNotebooks, which you can find at http://www.etsy.com/shop/ReallyCoolNotebooks.

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Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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