“Is that all it takes, 15 minutes?”
That line from the movie Grease was one of many that would perplex me for years. I was 8 years old when the film first came out and like every single person I knew I was going to the theater and seeing that movie over and over again and yet the sexual innuendo throughout was so over my head that huge chunks of dialogue would just fly by without my even knowing. And yet nothing could stop me. The impact of that film on my life cannot be underestimated. Sometime over the course of my obsession, I begged my mother to buy me the “fotonovel” of Grease, which was like a comic book that used stills from the movie, and until it actually arrived in the mail I truly had nightmares that it would arrive damaged in some way.
Though if you were around when that movie came out, you’d have to agree that its impact was a collective one. You couldn’t go anywhere that summer without encountering a group of kids with their arms around each other singing “We Go Together.” My friends and I acted out scenes from the movie with our Barbie dolls. If you did not know the lyrics to every single song, even the one that Stockard Channing sings towards the end of the movie, you were something of a loser.
But what exactly were we getting out of Grease? If for whatever reason you never saw the movie (loser), here’s the plot: It’s the 1950s. Danny and Sandy meet on some California beach the summer before senior year of high school, they fall in love, she tells him she has to go back to Australia, but then on the first day of school, there she is. Danny is a greaser and Sandy is hopelessly devoted to him, but also totally uncool, despite hanging around with the Pink Ladies, a group of sometimes mean girls, who, if you look closely, are all about 30 years old. After a whole bunch of misunderstandings at a drive-in, the school dance, a car race, Sandy proves she truly loves Danny by wearing a skintight black leather jumpsuit and high heels. Everyone sings “We Go Together” and Sandy and Danny drive off into the sky.
What I’m leaving out here is all the singing and dancing everyone was always doing in the 1950s! This is what made the movie such a hit, of course. Who could forget the song “Greased Lightning” with the line: “You know that I ain’t bragging, she’s a real pussy wagon.” Or even better: “The chicks’ll cream for greased lightning.” I remember singing along to these lyrics as a child, totally clueless. From this movie I learned the terms “knocked up” and what it means to “put out,” though I’m not sure I entirely got the context of either. I noticed, bewildered, that adults in the audience laughed every single time Marty said her last name was Maraschino: "You know, as in cherry."
And yet it was that singing and dancing that kept bringing us back. I recall one time seeing the movie with my mother and some of my friends, walking out of the theater, and then simply turning around and walking right back in to see it again. No one’s parents had any objection to this movie, clearly, though I was not allowed to see Saturday Night Fever, even when the PG version of it was released. The curious message of the ending, when Sandy dresses like a slut (I’m using this word with all due respect) in order to win the man of her dreams, was never questioned. In fact, I seriously imagined that I would be wearing that exact outfit someday since that was clearly the ideal of womanhood. Our John Travolta-loving parents brought us to this movie over and over again. Do you see what I’m getting at? There is something so hilariously innocent and also disturbing about this, which is probably a good way to define the late 1970s, if you think about it. And jeez, maybe it's time I got that leather jumpsuit already.