Strictly Ballroom Power
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. ” Baron Acton (1834 – 1902). Baz Luhrmann’s bizarre romantic comedy, “Strictly Ballroom”, is based on the idea suggested above, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Barry Fife, played by Bill Hunter, could be seen and described as a dictator who rules the world, the world of ballroom dancing. He is the villain in the plot, the main antagonist.
Baz Luhrmann conveys this idea of absolute corruption through images and camera techniques, such as low angled and close up shots. Baz Luhrmann also portrays the idea of power being a dangerous possession through Scott Hastings, played by Paul Mercurio as the main protagonist, or, the hero. Scott is portrayed as a hero also through images and actions in the ballroom, such as his rebellious steps in the ballroom. Barry Fife is the Federation president, the head judge, the dominant figure.
His power and dominance of the ballroom is highlighted through extremely close-up and low angled camera shots. Extreme close up shots to his mouth also suggests his influence in the world of ballroom dancing. At one scene, Barry Fife denies the idea of new steps with an absolute statement, “There are no new steps”. The camera zooms into his mouth and a newspaper spins out of it. This imagery suggests that Barry Fife is so influential that his words were immediately published into the media as soon as they were said.
Influence is also portrayed by his product, his video, titled “Dance to Win”. The title of this video implies that the only way to win is to dance as Barry Fife says. His influence and control is also portrayed in the surroundings of his office in the beginning of the film, where he states, “Well of course, you can dance any steps you like! But that doesn’t mean you’ll… … win. ” This statement shows Barry Fife’s influence over the world of ballroom dancing, showing that he has the power to decide who wins.
In this scene, a map of the world could also be seen, further showing his influence over the world of ballroom dancing. In the beginning of the film, Scott can be seen and described as rebellious; instead of dancing traditional Federation steps, he improvised and made his own steps. His moves were seen as outrageous, “crowd pleasing” steps, of which the judges did not approve. Scott lost the competition, and at about 7 minutes into the film, Scott is seen locking eyes with Barry Fife. The camera zooms into his face, showing defiance and determination.
Barry however, raises his chin, making it clear that he is in power, that he has the power to select the winner. When alone in Kendall’s dance studio, the Blue Danube Waltz, a traditional dance music, was played. This contrasts against Scott’s improvised steps and shows a barrier in which he is confined, to the traditional dance steps. When Scott stamps his foot, the music stops, suggesting that Scott has broken away from the barrier, a free man, in control of his own life and is able to dance as he likes.
Barry Fife’s eventual fall of power was triggered by Fran, who was the heroine in the film who acts as a counter to Barry Fife’s manipulation techniques. As soon as Scott met Fran, Fran has been implanting into Scott’s life a Spanish proverb, “Vivir con miedo, es como vivir a medias”, “A life lived in fear is a life half lived”. This proverb acts as a counter to Barry Fife’s absolute power because it encourages Scott to dance his own steps at the Pan Pacific Grand Prix and not to fear Barry Fife’s power in the Ballroom.
After meeting Fran, Scott seemed to have lost his sense of fear. This is shown in the kitchen with Barry, after being seen dancing with Fran. The kitchen was filled with steam, which suggests Barry is angry. The cook then grabs the meat and takes it past Scott and Barry, which contrasts against the current relationship between Barry Fife and Scott Hastings. It also emphasizes Scott’s line, “out of a job” which shows his realisation of Barry Fife’s manipulation and shows a change in power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely”; Barry’s Fife corruption led to his final demise. After Doug Hastings, played by Barry Otto, convinced Scott to dance his own steps in the Pan Pacific Grand Prix despite the fact that he might not win, Barry Fife begins to lose his power. This is enhanced in the scene when Wayne catches Barry Fife assuring Ken Railings that he would win despite how Scott danced. After a series of what could be described as the awakening of the manipulated, the entire stadium stood up against Barry Fife in the final scene.
Barry Fife could then be seen as dishevelled and red faced when he makes his final stand against Scott, attempting to disqualify him. Failing this, a change in power is seen, when camera angles change and we begin to look at Barry Fife from above when he falls over the trophies; showing the fall of Barry Fife and the fall of his manipulation that winning is paramount in the ballroom world. Power might be a desirable possession, but too much power can corrupt one’s mind; and this corruption was the cause of Barry’s Fife’s demise.