Favorite Title Theatre: Can’t Stop The Music (1980)

While I’m flogging this 80’s neon horse, I thought of a film that I actually saw upon release at ye old Roseville Tower where all the kids went on Tuesday night (at 75 cents each). My first pre-teen thought at the start of CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC, the Village People’s debut film, was that this was the gayest thing I’d ever seen in a major motion picture. And it still kinda is. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it’s everything right about this misguided effort (at 20 million dollars!) that seems the result of deals made over razor-cut glass tables at Xenon or Studio 54. Trying to launch the Village People into the New Wave decade was fairly futile as the “band” represented the end of the EST liberal hedonism of the 1970’s amid the stick-shift to GOP conservative decadence.

To that end, Valerie Perrine’s enthusiastic pronouncements through the film like, “Hey, anything can happen — it’s the 1980’s!” only served to illustrate the ephemeral nature of the Village People’s admittedly fun output. They arrived in a borderline tolerant time where few in the mass media questioned the band’s sexuality, even though each member was the archetype of a New York gay club fantasia. I mean, The Village People were so gay they made Paul Lynde blush. And that’s what I loved about them, that America was dancing along to “Y.M.C.A.” and “In The Navy” without thought to Jacques Morali’s coy in-your-face Tom Of Finland pop chorus satire.

That doesn’t excuse the fact that CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC is deliciously, staggeringly awful, coming as it did on the heels of XANADU, another false prophet of 80’s culture — 1940’s musicals on new wave roller skates (though its terrific soundtrack was far more successful than the movie). XANADU did signal the flat pastel look of the decade, and strangely, the skate sequences were supervised by Bill Butler, who also shot CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC (and JAWS). The other unique musical of this early period, SHOCK TREATMENT (1981), was the best of these, but could never compare to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. I digress. I just want to know how Nancy Walker landed the directing gig for CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC — who knew she had directed episodes of RHODA and MARY TYLER MOORE? And I’d like to think that’s her at 2:59 in a cameo. But at least along with the Village People, Walker had the best star talent available to her, most notably Bruce Jenner, famous comic actor. His seduction by Valerie Perrine (a trooper) is one of the most awkward bits of slapstick I’ve ever seen.

I also recall the scene when Perrine’s neighbor, Felipe Rose aka “The Indian,” climbs into the kitchen window, prancing about like a parody, and how unabashedly gay he was and none of my friends seemed to notice. I don’t even know what to say about the big dance number, “Milkshake.” CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC has the liberated spirit de corps of that dying disco period pre-AIDS and this is no better exemplified than by my lone favored moment, the film’s opening credits with the catchy song by David London, “Sounds Of The City,” over a jaw-dropping montage of Steve Guttenberg (nuff said) replete with transistor, fearlessly roller-skating through the streets of the urban jungle, repeatedly lifting his arms Balboa-style to express unfettered joy at the madcap Manhattan buffet surrounding him. Hey, anything can happen — it’s the 1980’s!

19 Responses to “Favorite Title Theatre: Can’t Stop The Music (1980)”

  1. Uh…wow. As I recall, this film prompted “please, stop the music!” cracks from more than one critic.

    Jenner and Guttenberg’s characters are supposed to be straight, right? In those shorts. It was a different time, all right.

    I still say the fact that we all know Steve Guttenberg’s name is a horrible, horrible mistake of some sort.

    I’m gonna go back to the dragons on Youtube and try to forget about this now. To keep the nightmares at bay.

    • christian Says:

      I have to give credit to Bruce Jenner, the world’s greatest athlete at the time, for being so secure. Or completely unaware: “Oh, I get it. A police officer, a construction worker, a cowboy and an Indian. It’s like America. Only in a disco.”

      Guttenberg will roller boogie his way straight into your dreams tonight. And your heart.

  2. Yeah, this film along with XANADU and STAYING ALIVE would make an endurance-testing triple bill of early ’80s cheese. Bonus points for resisting the urge to gnaw off your own leg by the end of it.

    • christian Says:

      Sadly, I adore XANADU and CSTM; long ago I was the only straight employee of a gay-owned regular video store and I would torture my co-workers by playing either of the two on my Friday night shifts. They begged me to stop. But you CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC, NOBODY CAN STOP THE MUSIC…

      • xanadu is really massive. the animated sequence, the perfect 80s vibe, the LA forgotten places, the greek context…. amazing experience. i would put FLASHDANCE up there too, a very intimate movie, much more than we actually give it credit for. there is a need to revisit this stuff in the light of what happened in movies since this fee-wheeling era of non gay gayness – television gym, the art of masquerading as super heroes, throbbingly erotic pop. this is very special, and it needs to be differentiated from kitsch. growing up in 80s made us different, in our approach of popular, libidinous urban culture.

        • christian Says:

          XANADU I adore — FLASHDANCE was the first film I saw in a theater where I realized there was no plot and the images were nothing more than MTV porn. When it was over, I was thinking, when did it even start?

          I love all the steel workers hanging out after a hard day’s slog at this weird hi-tech dancing lounge…a very silly movie that I never want to see again.

          • cannot blame you for that. i have trouble defending my flashdance fetish against any rational movie lover. it’s like porn : a dirty, shameful, compulsive secret. don simpson deserve a place in hel for bringing slut training to fairy tales monomyth.

  3. So phallic.

    Oh, wrong thread.

    Or is it??!!

  4. Truly has to be seen to be believed. Amazing.

  5. I find XANADU pretty painful as well. But this is flat-out surreal.

  6. Speaking of unaware, my dad thought the Village People were a nice, manly, wholesome singing group. Old-fashioned, even, like something out of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. In the Navy — can’t beat that for patriotism!

    To his credit (considering his generation and background) he a good laugh when someone explained the context to him.

  7. Your descriptions crystalize what I’ve maintained for years, which is that for all of its materialism and excess, the disco era was the society’s last gasp of joy and tolerance, where a band like the Village People could be explicitly gay and parents would gladly allow their children to listen and enjoy their music; nowadays, you could never market that group to the mainstream, they would never make it out of the club ghetto. The world was one big party that everyone wanted to be at – nowadays, all the subgroups have fractionalized into their own, impermeable bubbles. The frightening hatred displayed at that legendary “destroy disco” event at the baseball game signalled the renewed hammer of straight white male oppression to come.

    No, it will never be a good movie, but CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC had an open heart and a cheery smile and that seems to be lacking in a lot of movies nowadays.

    • christian Says:

      Totally agree Marc. I mean, Donny & Marie were shocked when Paul Lynde was busted in some gay sting and he stopped appearing on their show. And look how dedicated Liberace’s clueless geriatric set fan base…You nailed it with the “destroy disco” moment, helped along by the middle-class music critics who hated everything that lacked New Jersey grit, discordant avant-gardia or three-chords-and-the-truth….

      And yep, CSTM has a good “let’s all get along” heart as does XANADU.

  8. “The flat pastel look of the decade” — so I’m not the only one who notices all those sickly browns.

    And bad hair. And men in short-shorts. And too-tight clothing.

    Thanks to this write-up, I Netflixed the puppy and was hit right between the eyes. Is the DVD version the one that was released to theaters? I ask because I’m sure it wasn’t X-rated, yet I saw Valerie’s nips and a few uncovered cocks in the YMCA scene. (Which, by the way, rivals the gym scene in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES for gay bravado.) According to a customer at Amazon.com, the VHS version had those scenes fogged out.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  9. […] from THE WARRIORS (1979) roller-skating in the tightest shorts this side of Steve Guttenberg in the title scene of CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC. And of course, Olivia Newton John as his Muse, who doesn’t have much to do besides sing, […]

  10. Wow, this post is pleasant, my sister is analyzing such things, so I am going to inform her.

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