One of my favorite new collaborators is Savannah M. With the annual arrival of the fall county fair to my hometown (and literal backyard), I proposed we do a “Grease”-themed carnival photoshoot.
(Click on images to see larger sizes)
“Grease” is a 1978 American musical romantic comedy movie based on the 1971 musical of the same name by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The classic film depicts the lives of greaser Danny Zuko and Australian transfer student Sandy Olsson who develop an attraction for each other. The film stars John Travolta as Danny and Olivia Newton-John as Sandy.
In the summer of 1958, local boy Danny Zuko and vacationing Sandy Olsson meet at the beach and fall in love. When the summer comes to an end, Sandy — who is going back to Australia — frets that they may never meet again, but Danny tells her that their love is “only the beginning”. The film moves to the start of the seniors’ term at Rydell High School. Danny is a member of the T-Birds greaser gang.
After her parents decide not to return to Australia, Sandy enrolls at Rydell. Unaware of each other’s presence at Rydell, Danny and Sandy tell their respective groups the accounts of events during the pair’s brief romance, without initially mentioning the other’s name. Sandy’s version emphasizes the romance of the affair, while Danny’s version is more sexual.
“Tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight…?”
During a surprise reunion for the two, Danny is forced to maintain his bad-boy attitude in front of his pals, upsetting Sandy, who storms off. In an attempt to impress Sandy, Danny turns to get into sports, eventually becoming a runner. He reunites with Sandy and they attempt to go on a date, but their friends crash it.
The school dance arrives, broadcast live on television and Danny and Sandy arrive together and dance well during the chaotic hand jive contest; just before the end of the contest another girl cuts in to win the contest with Danny.
Danny tries to make it up to Sandy by taking her to a drive-in theater but makes a clumsy pass at her, causing Sandy to leave.
Sandy watches Danny race a car from afar, concluding she still loves him. She decides to change her attitude and look to impress him.
On the last day of school, the class celebrates their graduation at the fair on the school grounds. Danny has become a letterman but is shocked when Sandy arrives in black leather. In song, the two admit they love each other and reunite.
It is that iconic scene Savannah and I sought to recreate with the carnival backdrop.
Savannah is the perfect Sandy. Like Olivia, she has a girl-next-door wholesomeness that can totally transform to jaw-dropping sex appeal. Having collaborated with her three times now, I can tell you that this was very edgy for this sweet country girl, who doesn’t even have to try to look sexy. She simply is by virtue of being gorgeous, playful, and allowing us to see a small bit of the sensuality beneath the surface. I imagine there are scores of boys who’ve grown up infatuated.
I found out at the start of the portrait session that “Grease” is one of Savannah’s favorite movies. She said she has portrayed the character more than once in local stage productions.
She proved this by singing a few bars from the catchy song associated with this scene, “You’re The One That I Want.”
“You’re the One That I Want” is one of the best-selling singles in history, having sold over 6 million copies in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France alone, with estimates of more than 15 million copies sold overall. It was written and produced by John Farrar.
“You better shape up, ’cause I need a man
And my heart is set on you
You better shape up, you better understand
To my heart I must be true
Nothing left, nothing left for me to do
You’re the one that I want
(You are the one I want)
Ho, ho, ho honey”
So many great songs in that movie, including Newton-John’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Summer Nights,” and “Born to Hand Jive” by Johnny Casino and the Gamblers
I’m not a big musical guy, but these songs are so catchy. The story is so relatable as a universal American experience of boy meets girl.
There’s also a treatment of masculinity in the film that we rarely see: the idea of posturing for the opposite sex as well as getting respect from the other boys. “Grease” is one of those movies that has some story-appropriate raunchiness reflecting the sexual fixations of teenage boys.
With a four-speed on the floor, they’ll be waitin’ at the door. You know that ain’t shit when we’ll be gettin’ lots of tit. You are supreme. The chicks’ll cream. For Greased Lightnin’.
It’s so subtle that your mom probably missed the filthy lyrics in “Greased Lightning” or was too busy fondly reminiscing when she was that conquest.
The real antagonist in the story is Danny’s masculine bluster getting in the way of maturing and moving beyond silly high school posturing. The movie was a sentimental look back during the cynical seventies, a treatment on innocence reflective of the wisdom rising from the sexual revolution in America.
That final scene works because Travolta’s bad boy admits to his male buddies that he’s going to grow up, drop the facade and just be himself to win back the girl he loves.
Sure, he’s waited until the last day of his senior year to do it, but how many of us wait until our 10-year class reunion to show these people who we actually are?
Sandy shocks him (and us) by showing up at the fairgrounds in skin-tight hotpants and red heels, showing that she can meet him in the middle and fulfill his fantasies of the sexual goddess with a heart of gold underneath all of that makeup. The scene would have sent a far different message without Danny’s pre-emptive actions to shed his own illusions out of a devotion for Sandy.
The Danny and Sandy characters presumably get married so they can actually have monogamous sex to make babies and fulfill the American dream of backyard barbeques and swimming pools.
My thanks to Savannah for her excellent modeling (tougher than it looks, it was hot as hell while we shot this), along with VFW Post 3128 and Kissell Entertainment.
Yaw’ll come enjoy the DeKalb County VFW Agricultural Fair!
© Photos 2019 Steven Stiefel / Stiefel Creative
© Blog 2019 Steven Stiefel | Stiefel Creative