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!