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14 Naked Facts About Flashdance

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In 1983, the welder-cum-exotic dancer film Flashdance came out of nowhere and not only made a huge dent at the box office ($200 million worldwide on an $8 million budget), but also became a touchstone film, despite bad reviews. Here are some facts about the film that inspired a generation to “take your passion, and make it happen.”

1. TWO TORONTO STRIPPERS MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE INSPIRED THE ALEX CHARACTER.

In a lengthy and detailed 2014 BuzzFeed article, Toronto-based Gimlets strippers Maureen Marder and Gina Healey discussed how Flashdance co-writer Tom Hedley (scribe Joe Eszterhas was hired to punch up Hedley’s script, which was originally called Depot Bar and Grill) invaded their club, hired a photographer to take pictures of them in order to sell his idea, and based the Alex role on one of them (Marder supposedly worked a day job as a construction worker). But Hedley disagrees, telling BuzzFeed: “There’s no part of their stories that’s in the film."

What is certain is that the studio paid Healey and Marder $2,300 each to sign over their life stories, which relinquished their claim to the film. This didn’t stop Marder from suing Jennifer Lopez for the way Lopez copped Flashdance images in her “I’m Glad” music video. “She sued Jennifer Lopez for violating her copyright as part owner of the copyright of the motion picture,” Marder’s lawyer said. Marder, of course, lost the case.

2. THE SONG “MANIAC” WAS ORIGINALLY COMPOSED FOR THE 1980 HORROR FILM MANIAC.

Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky’s original lyrics for “Maniac” were as follows: “He’s a maniac, maniac that’s for sure / He will kill your cat and nail him to the door.”

“That direction obviously wasn’t going to work," Sembello told Song Facts. "Phil Ramone, producer of the soundtrack, [had] the vision to see the potential of the song, [and] asked us to change it to the present concept of a girl possessed with the passion of a gift for dance." Which is how the far less gruesome lines “She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor / And she’s dancing like she’s never danced before” came about. “Without Phil it would not have happened,” says Sembello.

The revamped song was nominated for an Oscar but was disqualified because “the song was changed from the original … which pisses me off to this day,” admits Sembello. Still, the soundtrack was a huge hit, selling more than six million copies.

3. THERE’S AN ALEX OWENS BARBIE DOLL.

Mattel waited until 2010 to jump on the Flashdance bandwagon when they turned Alex into a Barbie doll, replete with leg warmers and a torn grey sweatshirt. Because it was a Barbie Fan Club and San Diego Comic-Con exclusive release, it’s rare and expensive, so plan on forking over a lot of singles for it. Amazon sells it for $179, but eBay sold a few for cheaper.

4. THE SLEAZY ZANZIBAR OWNER, PLAYED BY LEE VING, WAS ALREADY A FAMOUS MUSICIAN.

Ving played strip club owner Johnny C. in Flashdance and went on play Mr. Boddy in Clue, but before those roles he had been immersed in a controversial music career. He’s the lead singer of the still active L.A. hardcore group Fear, which was profiled in Penelope Spheeris’ 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. Besides the doc, the band’s infamously known for trashing the SNL set during a 1981 Halloween appearance on the show.

5. DIRECTOR ADRIAN LYNE THOUGHT THE SCRIPT WAS “DUMB.”

“I just didn’t like the story,” Lyne admitted in an interview. “I thought it was kind of dumb. I wasn’t crazy about it, and I turned it down, a couple of times. Maybe three. Which was sort of difficult for me to do because I could tell that they were going to spend the $8 million on the movie, and so finally I said yes. I suppose it shows that you should have an open mind, really. I think it’s very dangerous waiting and waiting for the perfect movie to appear.”

6. HAPPENSTANCE IS THE REASON FOR BEALS’S OFF-THE-SHOULDER SWEATSHIRT.

The sweatshirt, which caused a fashion sensation in the ‘80s, was the result of unexpected shrinkage. “When I was in high school, I had a favorite sweatshirt that had remained in the dryer for too long,” Beals told the Toronto Star in 2011. “So the hole for my head was too small—I couldn’t get my head through. So I cut around the hole. I wore it to one of the auditions and they liked it.” But costume designer Michael Kaplan says it was he who came up with the idea after seeing Pennsylvania Ballet Company dancers wearing them.

In another act of wardrobe savvy, Alex takes off her bra without removing her shirt. Lyne had watched Beals do a similar thing during a wardrobe fitting and decided to put it in the film. On the way to horseback riding as a kid, she had to perform quick changes in the car, which is how she honed that particular skill.

7. THE SONG “GLORIA” WAS ACTUALLY A COVER OF AN ITALIAN SONG.

Laura Branigan’s song “Gloria” first appeared on her 1982 album Branigan, but its use in Flashdance resulted in the song selling over two million copies. The truth is, it’s a cover of a hit 1979 song by Italian singer Umberto Tozzi. “I really thought [the original ‘Gloria’] was too soft, so we rewrote it and gave it a really good American shove,” Branigan said in an interview. The Italian version, not Branigan’s, plays over a scene in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. KEVIN COSTNER AUDITIONED TO PLAY NICK HURLEY.

Costner, who didn’t become famous until the mid-1980s, auditioned for the role of Nick Hurley, Alex’s boss and love interest in the film. Lyne paid Costner $200 to lie in bed with Beals, but it apparently didn’t work for him as the part went to Michael Nouri. In a strange twist of fate, prior to auditioning for Flashdance, Costner starred in an Apple commercial directed by Lyne. The commercial aired a few months after the film was released and has an uncanny resemblance to Flashdance: Costner on a bike, with a brown pit bull running beside him.

9. SUNNY JOHNSON DIED A YEAR AFTER THE FILM’S RELEASE.

Johnson, who played Alex’s best friend Jeanie Szabo, died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 30 in 1984, one year after the film’s release.

10. JENNIFER BEALS TURNED DOWN DANCING WITH THE STARS.

Beals and three other people—including a guy—performed in the Pittsburgh Repertory Dance Company audition dénouement. So it’s hardly surprising that she said no when Dancing With the Stars came calling. “I am not a dancer,” Beals told People in 2011. “They asked me and I said ‘no.’ You could back up a truck to my door filled with cash and I wouldn’t do it … I’m not that kind of a performer.”

11. MICHAEL NOURI HELPED MAKE THE LOBSTER SCENE MEMORABLE.

The fancy restaurant scene where Alex dresses up in a scant tuxedo, seductively eats lobster, and massages Nick’s, um, nether regions, was done more for shock value than sex appeal. “Adrian kept asking me to be sexy. I was like, um, I don’t know really what that means,” Beals said during a Flashdance 30th anniversary screening Q&A. “And Michael [Nouri] said to me, ‘Just shock him. Just do whatever you can to shock him.’ I was like, oh, shocking. I get that. I can do that.” Eating shellfish was never the same again.

12. THE STUDIO WASN’T BANKING ON A HIT.

Lyne told Entertainment Weekly how Paramount thought the movie would be a flop. “In the two weeks before Flashdance came out, I literally couldn’t get anybody on the phone,” he said. “It was like everybody had run for the hills because they thought it was gonna be a total disaster. I didn’t know either. Paramount sold at least a quarter of their interest in the film in those two weeks. In other words, they saw the film, and thought, ‘Well, this is gonna go down the toilet.’” Luckily for Paramount and Lyne, the film opened to a healthy $4 million gross, which would be almost $10 million today. The film remained in the top 10 weekend box office for 15 weeks straight.

13. KYRA SEDGWICK WAS AMONG THE 4,000 WOMEN WHO AUDITIONED FOR FLASHDANCE.

For her audition, Sedgwick didn’t follow protocol. “My agent told me I was supposed to wear a leotard, heels, and no tights,” she recalled to The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “I had such bigger balls back in those days. I thought, ‘I’m not wearing a leotard. Instead, I’ll wear a little miniskirt and high heels.’” Her fashion sense was not the only factor that prevented her from getting the part; Sedgwick went on to explain how Lyne picked up his ringing phone while she auditioned for him. “I turned to him and said, ‘You’re not going to answer that phone call. I’m auditioning for you.’ Today, I don’t think I would ever do that.”

14. BEALS’S BODY DOUBLE, MARINE JAHAN, NEVER RECEIVED A CREDIT FOR HER ROLE.

Jahan auditioned for the role of Alex but got tapped to play her dance double instead. It wasn’t until after Jahan signed a contract that she realized she needed to ask the producers for billing. After watching a preview of the film, Jahan was crestfallen to discover her name excluded from the end credits, realizing the producers ignored her submission. Producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson explained her name was absent because they had to cut the length of the credits, which didn’t stop Jahan from being angry. “The film credited the dog and not Marine,” noted Flashdance choreographer Jeffrey Hornaday, who was seated near Jahan at the screening and said, “I’m sorry, kid. But you were great. They were applauding for you.” Jahan’s reply? “Yes, but they don’t know it.”

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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iStock
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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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