I Am FREAKING OUT About This Crucial Thing I JUST Noticed in “Grease”
A few years back, Bustle published “29 Absurd Things In ‘Grease’ You Never Noticed Before, Despite All Those Rewatches.” It’s a strong list, though far from comprehensive.
Ever notice how the lyrics to “Greased Lightning” are super dirty? Or how the movie contains the worst simile of all time (“We go together / Like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong”)? Or how the T-Birds invite Mrs. Murdock — their TEACHER — to the ILLEGAL DRAG RACE at Thunder Road and how NO ONE EVEN MENTIONS IT?
I could easily dial up my own “29 Absurd Things,” but I want to focus on one thing in particular, which I JUST noticed after about 500,000 watches. You know by now, given his egregious preying on Marty (“Maraschino…like the cherry”), that National Bandstand Host Vince Fontaine is a creep at best. But did you know that Edd Byrnes — the actor who played Fontaine but whom I will also just refer to as “Fontaine” from here on out — is a maverick and an (EVIL?) GENIUS? I’ll prove it to you.
If you’ve seen the movie enough times, you can imagine this scene. It’s the end of the National Bandstand National Dance-Off. Johnny Casino and The Gamblers (played by Sha Na Na, which is STILL TOURING) is crushing “Born To Hand Jive.” T-Bird Sonny has inexplicably torn Sandy away from Danny; she storms out and is replaced by Cha-Cha DiGregorio (the self-proclaimed “best dancer at St. Bernadettes”). Danny and Cha-Cha emerge as the victors, and as the song ends, the entire cast enters the frame and poses. Fontaine grabs the microphone and says, “Oh yeah! Now let’s meet ’em. Here they are, the new champs.”
If you’ve gotten this far you’ve missed it. Missed what? Missed THIS.
Do you see it yet? Look again. Stage left, your right.
Vince Fontaine FRONT HANDSPRINGS. From off-screen to the center of the shot. He CATCHES the VERY THIN microphone, which was TOSSED to him by SOMEONE off camera. AND, as he catches the microphone he turns his hand and his entire body IN A SINGLE MOTION before delivering the line PERFECTLY. Fontaine was forty-five at the time of filming. FORTY-FIVE. And he’s wearing a suit. A TIGHT suit.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
(Before I go any further, I have to give an enormous thanks to my friend Pilar. She loves Grease almost as much as I do, and I know that because she and I sing flawless karaoke duets of non-show tune numbers from the movie like “Tears On My Pillow” by Little Anthony and the Imperials…which is also STILL TOURING. After I discovered the Fontaine Flip, Pilar made the above GIF. I saved it on my phone and watch it twice a week.)
Once you overcome the shock of the fact that this front handspring happened and that you never noticed it, you start to ask questions. Here’s mine: The Fontaine Flip — whose idea?
My first thought — seemingly the obvious answer — is that is had to have been the director’s or choreographer’s. Let’s imagine it was the choreographer, Patricia Birch; considering she went on to direct Grease 2, I bet she was calling the shots anyway. And she MUST have been in total control of the Fontaine Flip: the entire show is choreographed with precision, this shot is especially busy, and the front-handspring-to-microphone-toss takes coordination, timing, and personnel. Every single thing had to be timed and curated and correct; no way the idea came from anyone but the choreographer.
Why would Birch throw in a gymnastics move at that moment — the busiest moment in the film — when there’s a dearth of tumbling throughout what you might imagine would be a gymnastics-heavy film? We get a few weak cartwheels from Sandy and the Rydell cheerleaders at the pep rally. A couple dudes dive roll during “Greased Lightning.” At the end of the movie, there’s a sweeping shot of the carnival, which takes place in a WIDE OPEN green field. If there’s an opportunity for some tumbling — back hand springs! back tucks! — THIS is it. Instead what do we get? A round-off. ONE measly round-off. And that’s it!
The only other legit gymnastics move is during the hand jive when Patty Simcox positively STICKS a front walkover in HEELS.
Thing is, Simcox’s acrobatics are directly in the middle of the screen, for everyone to see. THAT was planned. If Birch wanted there to be more legit tumbling, it would have been PLANNED. We would have SEEN it. And it’s not like she didn’t have the personnel on the cast. As we learn from the sequence where Danny proves he’s the worst athlete of all time in every sport, Rydell HAS A GYMNASTICS TEAM.
If Birch wanted tumbling passes she WOULD HAVE CHOREOGRAPHED TUMBLING PASSES. And they would’ve been done by GYMNASTS. So you’re telling me that Birch called for one front walkover, a round-off, and a couple weak cartwheels from dancers and ZERO tumbling passes from the gymnasts WHO WERE ALREADY ON SET and then TOLD forty-five-year-old Vince Fontaine to do a COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY FRONT HANDSPRING in the BUSIEST SHOT of the entire movie, where NO ONE would even notice it, not even me until my 500,000th watch?
No way. This has to mean it was Fontaine’s idea. It’s a CRAZY idea that he was CRAZY enough to even approach Birch with, RIGHT?
But why would Birch agree to this? This shot is a HUGE production in and of itself. There’s music playing and then stopping. There are at least twenty-seven people in the shot. TWENTY-SEVEN! There’s Patty Simcox’s giant papier-mâché Rydell Ranger moving its weird arms. There are BALLOONS. Balloons dropping from the ceiling! Balloons!!!
LOOK AT THE BALLOONS!!!!
ALL OF THESE BALLOONS!!!!
If they messed it up — if someone slipped or posed too early or didn’t catch their partner — they’d have to do the entire take again. They’d have to get twenty-seven people back in place. They’d have to move that weird thing’s arms. They’d have to PICK UP THE BALLOONS and DROP THEM AGAIN FROM THE CEILING.
The shot had to be perfect. Why would Birch agree to let Fontaine chance that on a front handspring no one would notice? She wouldn’t. Which is why I believe Fontaine told no one and went rogue.
IT WAS FONTAINE AND FONTAINE ALONE…
Alone…except for AN ACCOMPLICE.
WHO threw the microphone? And WHY? What did Fontaine offer to some twenty-two-year-old PA to convince him or her to risk their young, delicate career by serving as an accessory to Fontaine’s completely unnecessary, virtually unnoticeable, high-risk, no-reward front handspring???
This we may never know, but what we do know is that Fontaine had to give the microphone to that frightened, delicate PA, and THEN had to time and execute the front handspring PERFECTLY (which he did) without anyone noticing…including perhaps Birch.
But how could Birch NOT notice? It was a FRONT HANDSPRING. It was right in front of her face. How could she have missed it? The same way I did. The same way you did. The same way we all did.
Touché, Fontaine. Touché.
Are you FREAKING OUT ABOUT THIS (or something else in Grease)???? Please write a response below and/or tweet Ben Kassoy about it.