I’d Always Admire Seeing a Billy Elliot in Anyone

I do not know, but I seem to be inclined to choose and screen films not of recency. I am more interested in films released a decade ago or a couple of years back.

Partly the reason, I guess, is that I never really had the time to screen movies when I was younger or during my high school or college days. I rarely went to movie houses then and the technology in those days only allowed you to use VHS and VCD players–and I did not have the resources to buy or rent or acquire contemporary titles.

One that caught my attention was the British film Billy Elliot. I heard of that title back in 2000 but can’t remember my first impressions. I surmised I hadn’t given it much attention. I also heard it was made into a musical, with Elton John commissioned for the music. Those were all I knew.

And now, 12 years later I decided to watch it. And I found it wonderful! So wonderful that I quickly recognized it to reach my list of most favourite movies of my lifetime. The first being The Cure (1995). Probably I’ll put Billy Elliot on the 2nd. That wonderful to me!

By the way, what was on the 2nd spot then? It was Homerun (2003), a Singaporean film based that was adapted from the Iranian film Children of Heaven. Well, perhaps I have to relegate Homerun one level down.

***

I won’t be writing the story of the film here. I suggest you watch it too. Instead, I’ll be writing about some themes that bemused and inspired me.

Billy Elliot was an 11-year-old lad living with his father and brother in a mining town in northern England. The story started with Billy signing up for boxing training. But he quickly traded the boxing gloves and boots for ballet shoes after he saw a ballet class training at the same gym. Caught by the piano accompaniment and the little girls in tutus following a teacher, Billy soon joined the class, imitating the ballet movements. He could hardly quell his urge to dance to the cadence.

Later in the film, Billy had to fight the misconception that ballet is only for girls and that any boy who aspires to be a ballet dancer has to be gay (or poof). You see, he lived with his father and brother who were both miners. Having the thought to be a ballet dancer in a mining town would be deviant to the “masculine” image. But this was proven wrong in the film, in a very subtle way.

Billy did not confront his father with “I am not like that” or something but he had to showcase his talent to him on a winter night, surprised but proud. (And this scene made some tears well up.)

Proving people wrong can be difficult and at times frustrating. But doing so is personally gratifying and rewarding, knowing that you’ve proven your point and you’ve changed an erring mind.

Another theme in the movie that I found interesting is coming out and acceptance.

Billy’s best friend Michael later revealed that he was gay. While Billy had been struggling to fight off the misconception of being a sissy, his friend also had a battle with himself. In an 80s setting in a mining town, where men should be appropriatelt masculine, being gay was something scorned at and humiliated. But Billy never regarded Michael as inferior or less of a person. Here is a transcript of their dialogue:

MICHAEL: Maybe you could run away or something. You know, join a dancing troupe.
BILLY: Don’t be so stupid.
M: Well, maybe it’s all for the best.
B: What do you mean?
M: You won’t have to go away or nothing.
B: My hands are freezing.
M: Give us ’em here. (Putting Billy’s hand into his jacket.)
B: What are you doing?
M: Nothing. Just warming your hands up.
B: You’re not a poof?
M: What gave you that impression?
B: Aren’t me hands cold?
M: I quite like it. (Kisses Billy in the neck.)
B: Just ’cause I like ballet doesn’t mean I’m a poof, you know?
M: You won’t tell anyone, will you?
B: Come on. (Smiles and goes to the gym to teach Michael some basics of ballet.)

It was a rather lovely and heartening acceptance. Nothing changed between them; they were friends, after all.

Realising one’s potentials and talents, in the same way, can rush in disquietude. The thrill is always faced with anxiety. There is a voice that tells what you know is not enough, as if saying you are trailed to fail. This impetus to be the best and great is reciprocated by the opposite virtues of fear and frustration. And one has to struggle with this dichotomy and ambivalence.

Later in the film, Billy had to audition at the Royal Ballet School. And he felt these mixed feelings whilst performing in front of a panel of arbiters. And when asked what was the feeling like when he was dancing, Billy’s reply was this:

“Don’t know. Sort of feels good. It’s sort of stiff and that… but once I get going, then I, like, forget everything… and… sort of disappear. Sort of disappear. Like I feel a change in me whole body. Like there’s a fire in me body. I’m just there… flying like a bird. Like electricity. Yeah… like electricity.”

Billy Elliot (2000)
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Written by Lee Hall
Starring: Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis and Jamie Draven

***

By the way, I cannot let this year pass without finally watching a real ballet performance. I already bought a ticket of Ballet Philippines’ Rama Hari to be staged at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines. This is going to be fun, I can feel it!

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