Grease

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2011, 12:00am

Starring: John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
Director: Randal Kleiser
Year of original release: 1978
Genre: Musical romance

Set-up

Grease began life in 1971 as a stage musical. The plot follows the adventures of a group of high-school students in the 1950s as they explore love, music and fast cars. Their exploits take place in and around the fictitious Rydell High School, which soon became one of the most famous high schools in America. Rydell was the Hogwarts of its day.

The musical was first performed inside a disused old tram barn. From there it went on to conquer the stage in London and New York. By the time the show closed on Broadway in 1980, it had had 3,388 performances, becoming the longest-running musical in Broadway history. The music score of both the stage show and the movie echo the early days of the rock 'n' roll era. It recaptures the mood of an exciting new time.

The plot

During the school summer break, American teen Danny Zuko meets Sandy, an Australian visitor. They fall in love. Sandy enrols as a foreign exchange student at Rydell, the high school where Danny is a student. He is a member of a school gang called the T-Birds who think they are the coolest guys on the block. Their rivals are the Pink Ladies, who take Sandy under their wing.

The two besotted romantics' reunion does not go without a hitch. Everybody and everything seems to get in the way of their budding romance. As the school year passes, the relationship of Danny and Sandy is on and off more times than a kitchen light. There is plenty of singing and dancing to enliven the mood in Grease as we root for the couple to get back together.

Mind the hair!

The members of Danny's gang, the T-Birds, are Greasers, an American youth subculture popular during the 1950s and early 60s. Greasers were instantly recognisable by their hairstyle. The sides of their hair were greased down while the top was piled up. A central parting ran from the crown of the head to the nape of the neck. If you looked at the hairdo from the back, it resembled the rear end of a duck. Hence the hairdo's name: the Ducktail.

The Greaser movement got its name from the vast amounts of grease that were needed to keep their trademark hair style in place. Hair products for young men became big business. Leading the way was Brylcreem, a mixture of beeswax, water and oil invented in England in 1928. The advertising slogan 'Brylcreem - A little dab'll do ya' (translation: 'A small amount will work very well') was picked up and adapted by teenagers across America. They began greeting each other with the cry 'Yabba dabba doo!' The catchphrase went on to become immortalised as the cry of Fred Flintstone in the highly popular cartoon series The Flintstones.

Meet me at the drugstore

For teenagers in the America of the 1950s two places stood out as primary hangouts: the school and the drugstore. The drugstore, which sold medicines for everything from headache pills to baldness cures, was the centre of Main Street USA for most of the 20th century.

Like convenience stores today, drugstores had soft drink counters with soda fountains where teens could buy cherry coke and root beer, a nonalcoholic fizzy beverage. They gathered around the soda fountain sitting on high stools. They gossiped, did their homework and raved about the latest music craze: rock 'n' roll.

Rock Around the Clock

Rock 'n' roll began its life as a music movement for American teenagers. Its rhythms and lyrics put their concerns and hopes into a music form that their parents' generation neither liked nor understood.

With rock 'n' roll, teenagers finally had a musical style of their very own. The genre was a mixture of several American music styles, both black and white. It burst onto the music scene in the mid-1950s with a song called Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets. The song with its heavy beat and simple lyrics set the feet of teens tapping all over America.

Rock 'n' roll songs were about cars, love, school and rebellion against the adult world. The genre would change popular music forever, paving the way for today's medley of pop music styles.

Double Bubble and plenty of gumball art

In 1950s America, teenagers could chew any colour of bubble gum they wanted - as long as it was pink. Bubble gum was very much part of teenage culture in the 1950s. Chewing gum - and blowing bubbles with it - symbolised teenagers' rebellious devil-may-care attitude.

Bubble gum was invented by a company in Philadelphia in 1928. The new gum was less sticky and more elastic than normal chewing gum. Chewers could now blow big bubbles that didn't burst. The new gum was sold under the name Double Bubble. It was pink because the company had a surplus of pink food dye when the first batch of gum was manufactured. A bubble of almost 60cm in diameter, blown in 1996, holds the Guinness World Record for biggest bubble ever.