This pack contains a photocopiable Student's Guide and a Teacher's Commentary

In the Student's Guide the film is segmented into units of 10-15 minutes duration. This facilitates work in the normal class period. There is a series of questions for each sequence that guides the viewing of the students and encourage them to keep a personal Response Journal.

The Teacher's Commentary is a well researched separate booklet which covers issues raised in the guide.

Each pack is priced @ € 40.00, postage free. Titles are shipped on receipt of payment. Delivery is by Standard Post: next-day delivery in Ireland, and 2-10 days for international orders.

Extract from Teacher's Commentary​

Let the film roll until Liz says "..... like you’re supposed to!"

The screen lights up to a shot of red curtains. They open as at the start of a theatrical performance. This film originated as a stage production during Baz Luhrmann’s time at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in New South Wales. The notes of Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz can be heard. The star-burst graphics accentuate the stresses of the music. Images of couples swirling around a great ballroom may come to mind as we listen to this tune. It is quintessentially Viennese. It belongs to a previous age. It represents great art, art that is classic and art that has stood the test of time. It sets a standard by which all else is judged as inferior.

As the characters are introduced, we see that the men are in formal dress. We judge from their body language that they are a happy and united group. Ladies in flouncing dresses enter. The characters look after each other’s costumes and slap hands affectionately. The ease of their movements suggest that they are comfortable in each other’s company.

The music seems to increase in tempo and excitement. The action of the characters is projected inslow motion and they move to the beat of the tune. A third couple move quickly into the queue, and there is a crescendo as the screen turns to colour and the frame freezes. We can see the facial expressions now, and empathise with the sense of anticipation, exhilaration and release the dancers feel as they move through the doorway from backstage to the full glare of the ballroom.

We follow the first couple as they move to salute the panel of officials for the The Southern Districts Waratah Championship. As the film proceeds we will see these officials seated at ‘top tables’ above the dancers. This acts as a recurring metaphor for the power structure of the Australian Dance Federation. Shots of two couples follow as they pause before the music picks up again. The first two ladies settle small, last minute details - a fleck of dust, a crooked bow-tie. The third touches the cheek of her white-haired partner. He grins, pleased with the attention. Each couple is presented to us as they bow and begin their waltz. The action is shown in slow motion to suit the tempo of the music and accentuate the gracefulness of the dancers. We have sight of the crowd but their cheers are barely audible at this point. The camera moves on a dolly around the floor to increase our sense of the smooth flow of the dance.

We cut to a score-sheet. Reality sets in. If we didn’t notice the numbers on the backs of the men and the word ‘championship’ on the panel’s table, then we certainly wake up now to the reality that all this elegance and grace is for show. It is all outward show designed to score points and win the competition. A heartfelt “Come on couple one hundred!” is the sound that follows the shot of the score-sheet. It marks the changeover from the almost dream-like moves and sounds of he opening moments to the reality of the rush of sound and movement that assaults us now. The blonde woman who shouted and introduced the note of harsh reality into the film is photographed in big close-up. She is lit in such a way that the lines of her face are accentuated. The low, side-lighting gives her a somewhat grotesque appearance. She will be shown like this at various stages in the film.

The outward appearance of finery, elegance and graceful companionship will often be contrasted with the reality of underlying bickering and jockeying for prominence in the course of the film.

The end of the dance is signalled by the music and the overhead shot of the floor followed by a quick tracking shot in to couple number one hundred. The movement freezes with the final cadence of the music.

The captions bring us further away from the dream-like state of the opening dance. The genre here is documentary. We have captions and interviews. We form impressions about people by what they say, how they look, and the things they surround themselves with. Shirley seems to be at home but looks dressed and coiffured for the ballroom. Her cushions and dress are colour co-ordinated. The room is full of trophies and photographs. All her life is ballroom. In a touch of irony, we learn that she is a cosmetics consultant. The theme of appearance and reality will loom large in this film. In the two-shot husband, Doug, sits inscrutable behind her on the sofa. He has nothing to say. He uses his inhaler spray at the mention of the word ‘champion’.

We cut from Shirley to the compere at she is about to mention the name ‘Barry Fife’. This destroys the notion of the straightforward documentary, and signals parody and pastiche. The low angle shot of both men gives an ironic twist to the piece. Once again, hairstyle is a notable feature of the characters, and the big close-up shots emphasise this detail. The tone is mock-serious. The camera looks up to Barry as he acknowledges the cheers of the crowd. The compere plugs Barry’s video - The Only Way To Dance. The title introduces one aspect of another major theme in the film - self-expression and conformity or, to put it another way, individual freedom and institutional control.

The medium shot of Shirley gives us the opportunity to take in her hairstyle, ear-rings and dress, as she dolefully enunciates what was in store for Liz and Scott. They would be “The next Pan-Pacific Grand Prix amateur five-dance Latin-American Champions”.

The Samba is introduced by the compere. We cut away from Shirley before he pronounces the dreaded word. Again the documentary genre is parodied in a way that strips it of seriousness. We cut from couple to couple with emphasis on couples 100, 54 and 69, as before. The couples seem to be expressing themselves more freely in this dance. Sound effects are added to increase the sense of exhilaration. The cuts from Shirley in her parlour to Ken Railings on the dance floor are full of irony. The image suggests a foppish character who is full of his own self-importance. The soundtrack has Shirley speaking in awe of him. His groans and yelp further distance him from our affections. We are being positioned to see him in a different light to the way Shirley sees him. Dramatic irony - the difference between what the characters know and what the audience has had revealed to it - will be a major dramatic device in the unfolding narrative of this film. Adding to the tongue-in-cheek irony of how Ken is presented to us is the fact that the music being played is Tequila. The irony of this counterpoint between the sound and the image will become more apparent as the sub-plot involving Ken is developed. This ironic distancing of the audience from the action is typical of Baz Luhrmann’s post-modern direction.

Doug is photographing Scott and Liz on his cine camera. We will see him associated with this prop and with photographs an many later scenes.

When Les Kendall appears on the screen he is filmed in medium shot. Once again our eyes are drawn to the hairstyle of the character. He speaks in clipped tones. He has a firm conviction of what is correct and acceptable on the ballroom floor.

The contrast noted earlier between the appearance and the reality is emphasised in Liz’ use of bad language. Once boxed in, Scott got out of the situation by using unorthodox moves. Reaction to the steps is caught in a series of close-ups of Shirley, Doug and Barry. The shock and horror on their faces is set in sharp contrast to the cheers and applause on the soundtrack. Scott’s moves are shown in slow motion as he calls to Liz to join in and follow him. Reaction shots in big close-up follow and emphasise the horror felt by Shirley and Barry. The two kids are taking on the classic role of the Chorus which traditionally comments on the action in the course of the play.

The camera follows Liz and Scott around the floor and catches the excited reaction of the crowd. We cut back to Shirley in her parlour as she gets more and more hysterical. Her behaviour is over-the-top even to the point where she doubts the way she reared her son! The worst thing, in her estimation, is that this all happened in front of Barry Fife. She is fast becoming a caricature in the way she is being presented to us. In comedy and satire characters are often presented to us in this one-dimensional way.

Once Liz gets over the initial shock of having to follow Scott, she seems to be enjoying herself. The camera, music and editing add to our enjoyment by increasing the sense of exhilaration in the sweeping movement of Scott’s steps. The table of Federation officials is appalled. Doug films the couple, obviously delighted with the dance. We cut to Barry Fife. Then to the two kids whose delighted cry encapsulates the joy of the whole crowd, and then to Shirley’s horrified gasp because she knows what Barry Fife will make of the steps.

According to Les, only a select few could pick out what was wrong with the steps. Only those ‘in the know’. Only those in the Federation. The metallic ‘clang’ on the soundtrack and the echo on his words, coupled with the lighting invite us to see Barry Fife as a threatening presence. The treatment is mock-serious, though. He is almost a pantomime villain, terrifying but presented in an ironic/comic way. The zoom in to his mouth for the word ‘win’ confirms this.

The compere appears again adding to the knowing, ironic distancing effect as he brings the truth of Barry’s statement to bear on the championship. He is filmed each time we see him from a low angle, increasing his stature. His voice is loud, almost distorted, as he ‘talks down’ to us.

Ken lets another yelp out of him as he moves up to receive his prize. We track to the smug grin of Barry Fife as he stares Scott down. A reverse shot of Scott and Liz shows their defiance and disappointment, respectively. The booming voice of the compere and the musical score add to the disappointment and frustration of Liz. It all becomes too much and she storms out.

Fran is presented to us in big close-up. Her hair is tied back and un-coiffed. She is dressed plainly and her most salient feature is her large spectacles. Her appearance is in contrast with that of all the characters we have met up to this, with the possible exception of Doug. Her grin after the line “I thought they should have won!” marks her off as a plain person who speaks her mind. In the flashback to the championship she wears a nondescript dress. She is knocked over twice, in the manner of cartoon victims, as Liz and then Scott storm past her. We don’t stop to ask ourselves if Fran is injured when she is knocked over. This is just the slapstick that forms part of the genre that is stage and screen comedy.

The setting in which an action takes place is always significant in literature. Sometimes that setting can take on a symbolic life of its own, as it were, apart from its significance in moving the action forward. Liz and Scott are filmed in a doorway. This may act as a metaphor. These new steps are a new way for Scott. For Liz they represent a threat big enough to make her close the door on what they have worked for “all their lives”. She does not want to dance with Scott again until he decides to conform. Everything was fine for her until he disrupted her world with his new steps. Narratives usually introduce such a disruption by presenting an enigma, a question or riddle that must be solved in the course of the action. The enigma becomes the engine that drives the story. The enigma here is whether Scott will conform to the rules of the Federation. This would please almost everybody in his world, by the looks of things.

The frame freezes on Scott’s exasperated face and the music beats a full stop to this sequence. Luhrmann has introduced almost all his characters at this stage. They are categorised by their attitudes to the new steps. Many of them seem little more than caricatures, in terms of characterisation. As has been pointed out, this is typical of comedy and satire. We have been presented with a hero in the person of Scott and a villain in the person of Barry Fife.

Fran and Doug have something in common - their appearance and their approval of Scott’s steps. Scott is at odds with those of the Federation who frown on new steps.

Extract from Student's Guide: 


Read the following questions and then let the film roll until Liz says "..... like you’re supposed to!"

What is the first thing we see when the screen lights up? What is the first thing we hear? Have you ever heard this *musical theme before? What associations have you in your mind with this type of opening? What impressions do you form of the characters as they are introduced to you? How did you form those impressions? How do the characters relate to each other?

What is happening to the music at this point? How does the action on the screen fit the music? What is the musical term for a gradual build-up of sound? What emotions are the dancers feeling as the music soars?

As they prepare for the waltz, what impression do you form of each couple? How are they differentiated? How is the action presented as they begin the dance? What is the first line of dialogue in the film? How does it fit in with what has been presented to us up to this point? What are we shown just before this first line? What new note has been introduced?

Freeze the frame as Shirley Hastings begins her story. What impressions do you form of her? How did you come to these conclusions? What change has come over the film at this point? What props are in the frame as Shirley speaks? What do you think of Doug? How is he being presented to us?

What impression are we being invited to form of Barry Fife? How are we being positioned to view him in this way? What is the name of Barry’s video? How is it introduced?

What have Scott and Liz worked towards all their lives, according to Shirley? (It’s quite a mouthful!)

We come to the second dance of the film, the Samba. How does it compare with the Waltz? How is Ken Railings being presented to us? What does Shirley think of him? Do you form the same impression of him? What is Doug doing as the young kids call out “Come on number one hundred!”? What impression do you form of Les Kendall? What is his most notable feature in your opinion? Have you noticed similar features in other characters so far? Do you know the name of the tune that plays for this scene?

Les says “It was no excuse for what Scott did!” What did Scott do? What are the reactions to what he did? How are those reactions presented to us? How do the two small kids react? (Watch out for this pair in the rest of the film and note the role they play.) How does the crowd react? What do you think of the various reactions to Scott’s ‘crowd-pleasing steps’? How is Shirley being presented to us? What impression of her are we being invited to form?

Is Liz enjoying the new steps? How are we, the audience, invited to view the steps? Is there any cinematic technique that increases the excitement of the dance? How do the officials react? Is Doug enjoying the steps?

Does what Les says about what is wrong with the steps make sense? How is Barry Fife presented to us? How are we being invited to view him? What cinematic techniques are used in presenting him to us?

What do you think of the compere? How are we being invited to view him? What do you think of the result? What does Barry Fife think of it? ..... Scott? How are they both photographed? What is Liz’s reaction?

The last person to be interviewed is Fran. How is she presented to us? Is there any difference between her and the other people who have been interviewed? How is this difference presented on the screen? How is Fran presented to us in the hall as Liz storms out? What is Liz’s ultimatum to Scott? Where does this row take place? Might there be any significance in this? How does the director, Baz Luhrmann, signal that we have come to the end of the first movement of the film?

Now it is time to take stock. The film Has been running for seven minutes. Make a list of the characters who have been presented to us. Say whether you’d like them or not. Say whether you’d have sympathy for them or not. Give reasons for your reactions to them. Remember Les Kendall’s phrase “crowd-pleasing steps”? Make a list of those who enjoyed these steps. Make a list of those who disapproved of them.

If you were asked to name the odd-one-out in the world of this film, who would it be? Is there more than one ‘odd-one-out’? Is this a serious film? How would you label it?

The theme of appearance and reality is very important in this film. Open a list of incidents and features of this film where appearance and reality don’t quite match.