March 27, 2008

"Grease" Censorship

Stupid Question ™
Oct. 26, 2000
By John Ruch
© 2000

Q: In the malt-shop scene of the movie “Grease,” there’s a painting on the wall that is blurred out. Why?
—Jason White

A: The blurry mystery picture appears about 42 minutes into the 1978 hit musical, in the first scene set in the Frosty Palace restaurant.

It’s not easy to miss—about 8 feet long and 3 feet high in a silver frame, it serves as a backdrop for Olivia Newton-John and her boyfriend as they eat ice cream.

The blurring was obviously done with special effects—it bobbles unevenly around the actors’ heads.

Despite the blurring, I could make out four people sitting around something on a table—something pinkish and phallic-looking, actually—with what is surely a red circular Coca-Cola logo in the lower left corner.

It’s not the only image altered in that scene. Later, a floating gray box blocks something on the menu board hanging over the counter. During a fast camera movement earlier in the scene, the menu board can be glimpsed unaltered, with something red and white where the gray box would later appear.

Red and white are Coke’s logo colors. But if Coke was being censored out of “Grease,” why does a red cooler bearing a Coke logo appear unaltered in the very same scene?

Nothing to do but go straight to the horse’s mouth: “Grease” director Randal Kleiser.

Kleiser told me the images were indeed Coke logos (though he couldn’t recall the actual content of the framed picture), which were censored because of a product-placement deal “Grease” producer Allan Carr had made with Pepsi. (You’ll notice a Pepsi ad in the film’s opening animated sequence.)

“Carr had made a promotional deal with Pepsi for tie-ins when the movie was released, but neglected to tell the set decorator,” Kleiser told me. “It wasn’t until he saw dailies [a review of each day’s raw footage] that he was aware the set had been filled with Coke products. He went ballistic.”

Kleiser had to either re-shoot the scenes without Coke products or use special effects to cover them up.

The logos were blocked out with an optical printer, a device that projects one piece of film (in this case, only a gray or blurry box) onto another piece of film to produce a combined image. It seems the large picture was only made blurry because a gray box would’ve been too obvious.

Kleiser called the results “very crude-looking,” adding, “I’m surprised more people didn’t notice it.”

And what about that unaltered Coke cooler in the very same scene? “That was impossible to cover with 1978 technology,” Kleiser said. “We just had to hope that Pepsi didn’t complain. They didn’t.”

The logos were blocked on the original release prints, and on the home video version made from them. The product-placement deal had expired by the time of “Grease’s” 20th anniversary re-release in 1998, and the film could have been shown unaltered—if the original print hadn’t been lost. The only surviving prints are censored.

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