It seems that nowadays, you can’t have a single musical pop up without someone declaring “The Musicals are back!” before the genre sinks back into its dormant state. The cycle seems always the same: You get one hit. Everyone goes crazy with revival predictions and by the time the knock-offs come out, the trend seems to have passed and the overpriced wannabes send the genre back into oblivion.
The late seventies were such a time of revival. Bolstered by the success of Grease, Hollywood raced to get the next big musical in place. The results were catastrophic. Xanadu (1980) unleashed a barrage of hurt which took nearly 20 years for producer Joel “The Matrix” Silver to erase. One From the Heart (1982) created a virtual black hole which took American Zeotrope with it and forced Francis Ford Copolla to basically become a diretor for hire while he waited for his wineries to get him in the black again.
The problem is very often this: the turnaround time to get a movie started will usually take longer than any music trend will last. Popular music is very fickle, so unless you are making a classical musical, you better be ahead of the curve or else by the time you’re done, you’re about as relevant as yesterday’s newspaper.
Alas, nobody told this to Alan Carr, the (makeup wearing) producer behind Grease as he forged ahead with making the megahurt epic Can’t Stop the Music starring those lady-killing chartbusters of the 70s, The Village People.
Never mind that the whole Disco craze was not only fading away but that it was doing so amidst serious condemnation from a jaded public. People didn’t just tire of disco – they did so aggressively: wearing “Disco’s Dead!” t-shirts and “Disco sucks!” buttons.
A lot can be said about how much of the backlash against disco was homophobic (A lot of it was). But the main reason was that the repetitive nature of the music may have been fun in a club but it could get grating on the radio.
Frankly, what was a tad disconcerting was the amount of denial surrounding the gayness of disco. And this film is no exception, going as far as trying to make us believe the Village People were straight. Yeah, right! And if my grandmother had wheels she’d be a Roller Boogie Queen.
No director in Hollywood wanted to touch it, which led to the job going to Nancy Walker, who was “friendly to gay causes”.
Walker had never directed a film before. Her biggest claim to fame was as “Rosie” in commercials for Bounty towels.
Providing the thespian support to this piece is a trio of infamous fame hoggers from the end of the decade:
Bruce Jenner, cashing in on everything he could (because there are no real job postings for “Olympic decathlon champion” no matter how impressive the title is). His testing for the role of Superman didn’t even generate a callback. Watching him in this film, it becomes obvious why. To say his acting is “cardboard” is to insult the very boxes of Wheaties his likeness used to adorn.
Valerie Perrine, who seemingly leaped at any chance to display her cleavage. (So putting her in a hot tub with the boys would both be safe for her and make them look straight, right? Riiiight). Sometimes, she acted too. Sometimes…
Steve Guttenberg (who, in the 80s would give new meaning to the word “ubiquitous”) is the straight lead with the acting ability. The story is really about him as a songwriter becoming a DJ and networking his way up the music industry in a fantasy world where doing so somehow doesn’t involve white powder and carpet burns.
(Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffin were too young. You just know they’d be there if this was “rebooted” today.)
The musical numbers will simply leave you confused as to which sense you want to be deprived of first – sight or hearing?
“Y.M.C.A.” , despite the display of Ms. Perrine’s “water wings” in the hot tub, is quite simply the gayest thing ever committed to celluloid– it’s gayer than hardcore man/man peep show loops screened in an encrusted booth.
But the highlight of the film has got to be the jaw dropping milk commercial done to the tune of “Do the Milk Shake“, a tune massively laced with double entendres for “going solo”, which kicks off with kids dressed like the Village People.
It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you sit on or what team you bat for: This just smacks of “wrong”!
And so it was that in the summer of 1980, Can’t Stop the Music was unleashed on a totally disinterested public busy repeatedly lining up for screenings of the slightly less gay The Empire Strikes Back. A massive publicity campaign was mounted but to no avail. The 80s musical was dying its first major death (although musical montages would become one of the biggest clichés of 80s filmmaking). Disco was giving up its last breath. Being gay, in itself, would be labelled a death sentence as the scourge of A.I.D.S. would be making its presence felt in the tragic years that followed- leading to more backlash and discrimination than any musical genre ever could. It would be a health concern, you now, not intolerance. (The same “health concern” veneer of acceptable discrimination has been applied two decades earlier to syphilis and it’s “link” to african-americans to justify “white only” drinking fountains.)
This is one musical that, no matter how hard they’d try, the show Glee could not possibly make more gay. I dare them!
Pain Level: 9/10
Quality of Pain: Please make it stop!