I caught the last 20 minutes of this urban never-never-land rock fable on A&E one afternoon (cast: Diane Lane, Michael Pare, Willem Dafoe, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Lee Ving, Bill Paxton, Ed Begley, Jr., the Blasters, Robert Townsend), waited out the plot for the final musical number, and had my memories of the film dissolved by the wonder of what goes on. There’s a tremendous unreality to the sound and staging of “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young”—it’s thrilling but in a prickly, disturbing way. Music videos have never come within centuries of what Hill (and Jeffrey Hornaday, the choreographer) does here with every gesture. Contradictions are the medium: singer Lane’s dress is at once tight and hanging on her like a piece of paper, slit all the way down in back—she’s not thin. The perfection of every move, every cut, is scary, and the sense that this isn’t happening is overpowering: it’s as if this is no performance but a transmission to the stage, by unknown technology, of your deepest performance fantasies. The audience waves its arms, and you peer through them: at the way the drummer, shot from below, makes the beat, the way the guitarist frames Lane with his back to her, his zoot suit touching her skin, the way the black vocal quartet enters the ensemble, strolling and strutting as if they’ve been called forth to walk it like she talks it.
On-screen the music—by some faceless aggregation called Fire, Inc.—sounds a thousand times better than it would on a record. This is exactly right for what you know cannot be real: the many female and for all I know male voices coming out of Lane’s mouth. There’s no way in the world what you’re seeing is making the sound you hear, but you can believe the performers, in character, know this as well as you do. As you, in the audience, watch, the performers are projecting their own fantasies onto themselves, desperately, happily, casually, as a matter of life and death. Isn’t this what happens in a real show?
Artforum, September 1994