Friday, February 28, 2014

Can't Stop the Music (1980): Gay Panic!

Can't Stop the Music (1980)
dir: Nancy Walker

Manufactured Bands have been around since the dawn of pop music. Bands have been constructed by managers and marketing gurus for ages. If it wasn't completely obvious to anybody, the Village People were certainly one of those pop bands that was crafted by a marketing genius, and were aimed specifically at the gay crowd that frequented the discos.

In case you weren't sure, the Village of the title referred to the then-gayborhood of Greenwich Village in New York City. The people were dressed as gay fetish icons of ultra-masculinity, including a straight-up gay leatherman. One would assume that Can't Stop the Music, a movie created to highlight and feature the Village People, would be queer as a two dollar bill. While it is campy as all hell, it was created to primarily assert the heterosexuality of the individual band members through far too long musical numbers (with one exception).

Can't Stop the Music is the fake origin story of our cinematic heroes the Village People. It tells the story of Jack Morell (Steve Guttenberg) getting his big break by playing one of his songs at a disco night, but having the record producer say that he and his vocals weren't interesting enough. Instead of Morell getting to sing on the track, they create the Village People group to record the song and other songs which Morell may write.

Of course, the members of the Village People, by 1980, wanted to assert their heterosexuality, especially David Hodo. In fact, David Hodo gets his own overlong ode to his heterosexuality in the musical number I Love You to Death, which seems to go on and on, but is only 3:39. It probably seems like that because it only has about 15 words in total that get repeated throughout a prancing musical number set in a fantabulous sparkly brothel construction site where Hodo can dance around with a bunch of spangly-dressed women in order to say "Hey, I may be in a gay group, but I love PUSSY!!!" with jazz fingers and uber-macho moustache.

That duality sums up one of the basic problems with Can't Stop the Music. All of the musical numbers, save for Y.M.C.A. (incidentally, the only one of the Village People's actual hits that is in the movie...what the fuck is wrong with these people?!), are focused on showing either how famous they are or how straight they are. At one point near the end, they make a 3:30 commercial for milk with their song Milkshake...where you'll be surprised that the song is only 3:30.

This movie is over 2 hours long, with only a handful of musical numbers. The soundtrack features 6 numbers by The Village People, 2 by David London, and 2 by The Ritchie Family (another producer based group, only female). Probably about 30-40 minutes of this movie is music, and the rest is the god-awful plot with god-awful acting, including Bruce Jenner in short shorts. No, really, that exists. And, the only moment that truly actually calls to the gay culture that gay the Village People fame is the video for Y.M.C.A.

Now, mind you, Can't Stop the Music actually is a PG-rated adventure. But, Y.M.C.A. is all about athletes, exercise, swimming, and bathing...sometimes naked. Yes, Can't stop the Music is a PG-rated film with full frontal male nudity, albeit in fleeting flashes. So, I guess Nancy Walker threw the gay community a bone (entendre intended), and actually gave a few minute of homo-related activity. But, that's about it.

Can't Stop the Music was released in 1980, which is also the year that Cruising came out. Instead of being an counterpoint of gay positivity to Cruising's supposed negative gay stereotyping, Can't Stop the Music shoved the gays back into the closet and ignored everything about it. The problem being that Can't Stop the Music is also not a good movie. At all. It is a resounding failure on all levels, including most of the camp levels. It's barely bad enough to be good. And, by alienating the gay audience, it also alienates itself from the biggest connoisseurs of trashy camp classics. It would have been a slam dunk, if it wasn't so obviously pointed against its biggest audience.

Which is to say that Can't Stop the Music is nearly unwatchable by any standards. Oh, sure its one of the more fun trashy disco musicals, but its not that fun. It's not any good. And, it's way too long to be sustainable. That it sold out the gay crowd doesn't help its case. But, it makes a grand case for the excess of the disco era, and how ego can blind you to your failures.

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