Sidney Poitier's unsung, underrated 80's cult dance film classic deserves a second evaluation and a place in hip-hop history.
The stars of 1985's Fast Forward, from left to right: Cindy McGee, Monique Cintron, John Scott Clough, Don Franklin, Gretchen Palmer, Debra Varnado and Tamara Mark.
Released by Columbia Pictures and on home video by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
A Film by Sidney Poitier
Produced by Columbia Pictures, 1985
Starring John Scott Clough, Don Franklin, Tamara Mark, Tracy Silver, Cindy McGee, Gretchen Palmer, Monique Cintron and Debra Varnado.
With Irene Worth and Sam McMurray.
Currently available on Amazon Prime and iTunes in High Definition
Whenever I ask someone about 80's dance movies, most people recall Fame, Flashdance, Stayin' Alive, Breakin' and Beat Street. Fast Forward is perhaps the last from this genre, and while it may have been a lifetime ago since its initial release, it is now being rediscovered on streaming services by a new generation, and it deserves an honorable mention.
The movie seemed to carry one noble cause: it aspired to blend class and race, bringing underground Hip-hop culture into a broader mainstream. While Breakin' was a tale about the West coast, and Beat Street the East coast, Fast Forward sought to connect middle America to Urban street music across the board.
The most notable aspect about this film is that it was directed by Oscar winner Sidney Poitier. It propelled the careers of Michael DeLorenzo (New York Undercover, Resurrection Blvd), Doriana Sanchez (who eventually directed and choreographed Cher's tours) and Siedah Garrett (who went on to sing with Michael Jackson and compose "Man In The Mirror").
Like with many modest budget films of that era, fading stars and character actors were utilized to fill the plot lines. We saw David White (from TV's Bewitched) alongside Irene Worth as the owners of the management firm holding the talent competition; rounding out the cast were the always reliable Doris Belack and Sam McMurray.
Perhaps because it took a long time to make, one of the film's challenges is that it was a 1984 story released in 1985, and with ever changing trends in pop music, that can be an eternity. We hear Shannon's "Give Me Tonight" from 1984 blasting out of a boombox in an early scene, but it still works.
The other obstacle was the film's search for its own identity. While it echoed Fame and Flashdance, it also borrowed from the Brat-Pack movies of John Hughes when one of its central characters, Matt (John Scott Clough), gets the Adventurous 8 (who thought of this name?) a performance gig in East Hampton and gets entangled in a love triangle with his wandering eye. You imagine Michael J. Fox or Molly Ringwald walking in at any minute.
Definitely a die-hard fan: From my home studio in Los Angeles, I'm holding my cherished DVD of Fast Forward, and the original 12-inch single for "Do You Want It Right Now" by Siedah Garrett, the club hit from the movie.
Okay, so here's the plot: Eight high school kids from Sandusky, Ohio escape their hum-drum lives to pursue the big time in New York as they enter the "Shoot-Out," a national talent competition. Their parents don't even know where they are. When they get to the audition on a promise from the owner of the management firm running the contest, they discover he passed away, and they're stalled for three weeks to audition. In that time, they support themselves by dancing on the street and getting the aforementioned gig in East Hampton to pay for their slum apartment, while finding creative ways to get meals!
When the new owner of the firm backs down on his promise to audition the kids, they reach out to the original late owner's widow, who as it turns out also has an agenda to honor her late husband's promise. Out comes Rosalind Russell in Gypsy! We're gonna put on a show!
It becomes a tale of integrity vs. corruption; love vs. ambition; honor vs. greed; talent vs. privilege. By now, I'm all in.
The most compelling aspects of the movie are found in the dance sequences, and the integration of cultures. The kids from Ohio are classically trained jazz and modern dancers. They're triple threats who also sing. Yet when they arrive to New York, they find their moves have no "edge," so they take to the streets and discover the city's hip-hop scene. This was very much what was happening at the time - you could walk anywhere and see kids popping and locking and break dancing their way across the pavements of Manhattan. At the nightclub, they witness another group of kids who own the dance floor. This movie popularized the "dance battle," and those scenes are the most riveting parts of the film. Here, everyone is in their element.
That's what makes the dance battles in Fast Forward, well, so fast forward! Race is never the issue, but street cred, is.
But where the movie shines the most is in demonstrating the fearlessness we all had at this age, capturing our dream at any cost. I found it very interesting to see the kids rent a NYC apartment and co-habitate. They become a real family. This is the heart of the film.
What sets this film apart from the others in this genre is in its blatant and deliberate cultural and racial diversity. It's clear Sidney Poitier made a career portraying men unfettered by racial lines. Race played a role in his films, but he was never trapped by it. More pointedly, he succeeded in portraying people of color in a positive light, and in telling stories of people of all color together. This movie is no exception.
Straying away from stereotypes, Poitier cast his black male lead, Don Franklin, as an elegant and articulate black man. John Scott Clough is a white male lead with a contemporary and soulful singing voice. The ladies of the cast co-exist without the subject of race ever entering the conversation. When they encounter danger entering the building of their apartment, their predator is white, not black.
The sisterhood of the ladies is refreshing to see. They're empowered by each other to be fierce young women, all of them. Most memorable are June (Tamara Mark), Francine (Cindy McGee) and Rita (Monique Cintron).
That said, Hollywood can oftentimes impede a groundbreaker such as this from living up to its full potential, simply by diluting the process in favor of the bottom line. But when you peel away the sometimes cheesy dialogue ("We have to get awesome!"), a goofy plot point (Ida Sabol as a leather punk rocker!) and disjointed music (Shannon and the battle music are sadly missing on the soundtrack album), there is still an undeniable honest presence in Fast Forward. You believe these people. You root for them, because it speaks to our own personal dream inside of us.
Inarguably, the movie managed one singular feat. It pioneered early hip-hop onto the mainstream, one whole year before Run-D.M.C. released Walk This Way with Aerosmith, and one year before the Beastie Boys broke the same ground with Licensed To Ill. Its influence cannot be diminished. It became an inspiration for other films, such as the 1987 Bollywood film, Dance, Dance. Despite its challenges, Fast Forward still landed ahead of its time. Warmly regarded today as a cult favorite, it is destined to have a place in pop culture history.
Why I Could Have Been Cast In Fast Forward
Yours truly, in 1984. I was an actor ready for the world.
Once upon a time, there were two children who aspired to be in show business. One had the lead in the sixth grade play. She was beautiful. The other joined the class three months before graduation. He was the new kid on the block, dealing with his parents' divorce.
The boy was transferred out again and the girl went on to attend the High School Of The Performing Arts. She was ultimately cast in a number of shows as an actress and dancer, such as the touring company of Fame.
He commuted from New Jersey and fought his way into show business, making his Off-Broadway debut with the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, launching a career with roles on stage, TV and film . He also broke ground as an out and gay recording artist when it was unheard of.
The boy and girl found each other again years later, and they remain friends to this day.
That boy was me. The girl is one of the original cast members of Fast Forward!
I have to believe in my heart that had I remained on track with my career and stayed in New York, I may have just been cast in Fast Forward. For one thing, I knew the casting director, Joy Todd.
In fact, many agents and casting people at the time didn't know what to do with me because I was so different. Years later, Michael Amato, the late agent, said to me, "You know, I really could have used you once MTV exploded. You were ahead of the game."
However, I never had any hard feelings. In fact, when I saw my friend up there in that movie, I was thrilled beyond belief, and proud. She had that "it" factor. Still does.
Just this past week, there was a Fast Forward reunion, and she invited me to join a few of the cast members for dinner. What transpired at the dinner for me was transformational. I had no idea I'd connect with them so profoundly. They made me feel included, that I was a part of it all.
At the end of the evening, John Scott Clough presented me with a gift, and made me an honorary "Fast Forward" member. I was blown away.
As I said goodnight to my new friends, I realized that despite everything, despite the roads taken, we were all meant to be friends after all.
This past weekend, I was proud to be counted as an "honorary member" of Fast Forward by its star, actor John Scott Clough - presenting me with a hand made African Cross, as a token of appreciation. It meant a lot to me!