Even with his very first movie, Baz Luhrmann arrived fully formed. “Strictly Ballroom” tells the story of Scott (Paul Mercurio), a man who enters into the ballroom dancing competition scene in Australia, and has a penchant for performing his own moves deemed too outlandish and scandalous by the greater ballroom dancing community. Because of this rule-breaking, his dance partner breaks up with him and in steps Fran (Tana Morice), an amateur who greatly admires his bravado.
This was a story Luhrmann started working on as a stage production back in the 1980s at university, and it is extremely clear how similar Scott, the lead character, is to Luhrmann himself. The flair, the drama, the rule-breaking. That is all in Luhrmann’s DNA and can be seen in every single one of his films. Although the story originated before they met, you can also draw a pretty strong line between Fran and Catherine Martin, his closest collaborator in work and life. Everything you want to know about Baz Luhrmann’s artistic mindset is in “Strictly Ballroom,” and the rest of his filmography is just an extension and expansion of that very mindset.
This film was truly the only time when Luhrmann worked with a small budget in his filmmaking career, and despite those limitations, he found ways to maximize every single frame. Nowhere is this more evident than in the dancing sequences, which are just as thrilling 31 years later. It isn’t a perfect film. You can tell he wants some of those constraints lifted so he can just go hog wild, but as a first feature, anyone would be proud to have this as their calling card for their career.