Can’t Stop The Music
At the beginning of Can’t Stop the Music (1980), Steve Guttenberg optimistically shouts, “My time is now!” In actuality, nothing could’ve been further from the truth. This disco extravaganza was intended to ring in a new era of movie musicals, but a combination of bad planning, bad timing, and just plain bad luck, resulted in one of the most glittering flops of the decade. When something goes this wonderfully wrong, you can bet that Cool Cinema Trash will be there with bells on, or in the case of the Village People’s Felipe Rose (the Indian) with ankle bells on.
During the opening credits, Guttenberg roller skates through New York City to the marching band infused disco tune “The Sound of the City”. This is the first of several songs by acts who, like the Village People, were signed to Casablanca Records. Steve Guttenberg plays songwriter/producer Jack Morell (loosely based on real life Village People songwriter/producer Jacques Morali) who feels an upcoming DJ gig is his ticket to music superstardom. His roommate Valerie Perrine isn’t so sure. Our first Village person sighting is Felipe Rose. He plays their affable Greenwich Village neighbor.
Jack Weston, the cheesy owner of Saddletramps, tells Perrine to, “Relax. Boogie. Have yourself a good time.” She “gets down” with several club patrons, including Randy Jones (the Cowboy) and David Hodo (the Construction Worker).
Inside the DJ booth Guttenberg tells Perrine that, “These switches can lift, drop, and change the disposition of everybody in here.” Sorry Steve. Booze, pills and coke are most likely responsible. “Look at them. They’re happy, so happy. Music is magic.” He says, then earnestly confesses that, “I wanna make that magic.”
Perrine is determined to help him get his music produced, “Mama has connections!” As everyone dances to the tune “Samantha”, Felipe shakes his booty atop the bar in front of a neon rainbow.
The next day, ex-model Perrine gets a call from her ex-agent Tammy Grimes. Perrine has no intention of coming out of retirement. “The seventies are dead and gone,” she tells Grimes. “The eighties are going to be something new and different.” Oh Valerie… if you only knew.
While walking through the village, she lines up some talent for an impromptu demo recording session in her backyard. The Indian agrees to come and so does the Cowboy, who offers Perrine his red bandanna. Obviously ignorant of the hanky code, if she knew what it had most likely been used for, she wouldn’t be wiping her mouth with it.
The Construction Worker intends to join the sing-a-long as well. This leads into “I Love You to Death”, a crazy number where Hodo cavorts on a pipe and girders soundstage with dancers dressed in Halston-inspired couture. As the girls toss glitter everywhere, Hodo manhandles them via choreography in a macho misogynistic manner. As cheesy as the sequence is, it’s hard not to see a subtext for the looming AIDS crisis. The lyrics of the song equate love with sex and death. The predatory female dancers dressed in red represent the deadly blood borne virus while the red glitter they scatter symbolizes the infection rate which will decimate the gay community in the coming decade. Not that CCT ever thinks of things in a socio-political context. We just love the scene because it’s brassy, tacky, and all about glittery disco glamour.
That night, while getting ready for the demo session, Perrine’s wacky gal pal Lulu (Marilyn Sokol) catches sight of Felipe in his skimpy native costume. “I go for exotic types, particularly when they’re half naked. You tell him I’ll make up for all the indignities they suffered in Roots.” Huh?! She then shares a joint with Guttenberg. A stoned producer, hmmm… some might say that explains a lot about the music of the Village People.
Uptight tax lawyer Bruce Jenner delivers a cake to Perrine’s apartment. This “cute meet” makes no sense but sets the two of them up as the film’s romantic leads. If you’ve wondered what ever happened to Baby June, here’s your answer. June Havoc shows up as Guttenberg’s enthusiastic mom. Grimes crashes the party too.
Everyone has a blast while the boys perform “Magic Night”, but Jenner leaves mid party, it’s all too wild for this Midwesten boy. With the exception of an oversexed Lulu cornering poor Felipe, the proceedings are rather tame. What’s truly disturbing are the female extras in the scene. None of them are introduced and none of them have any lines, but there’s one for each of the boys. These “girlfriends” aren’t fooling anybody.
Perrine must now get the demo into the hands of her record producing ex-boyfriend Paul Sand. She’s not looking forward to the task as Guttenberg tells her that, “Anybody who can swallow two snowballs and a ding-dong shouldn’t have any trouble with pride.” In a remarkably unfunny (and never ending) scene, Perrine attempts to sell the group to a harried and constantly distracted Sand.
At the auditions to find more singers for the group, Jenner’s mom Barbara Rush asks, “Didn’t Greenwich Village people-types go out with the sixties?” People-types? At any rate, the boys now have a name. The G.I. (Alex Briley) and the Cop (Ray Simpson) are added. Once the Leatherman (Glenn Hughes) auditions by lip-synching an improbable version of “Danny Boy”, the group is complete.
You might think that there’s nothing gayer than the themed attire of the Village People. You’ve obviously never seen Bruce Jenner cruising the village in a pair of Daisy Duke’s and a crop top. Jenner takes the boys to rehearse at the Y.M.C.A. where they (surprise!) perform their biggest hit. The visuals that accompany the song are mind boggling. It might be the strangest, campiest, and gayest musical number in cinema history. This is Cool Cinema Trash nirvana.
We are treated to the sights of a shower room filled with naked soapy men, a topless Perrine frolicking in a hot tub with the boys, Busby Berkley-style pool choreography, and dozens of shirtless men performing every sport imaginable.
In the recording studio the boys perform “Liberation”, a gay pride anthem with lyrics vague enough not to upset record buyers who wish to remain completely clueless. Botched choreography fails to impress Paul Sand. His comment upon first seeing the group, “I hate Halloween.”
Undaunted, Perrine decides to raise funds by appearing in a public service announcement for the dairy board. Just when you think things couldn’t possible become more camp, Can’t Stop the Music blows you away with an even more outrageous moment. The commercial features homemaker Perrine pouring milk for pint sized versions of the Village People. “If you want to grow up big and strong and sing and dance, you’ve gotta drink your milk.”
The ensuing song “Milkshake” is not only a recipe for “a big thick and frosty shake”, but an introduction to the latest dance craze. While the boys cavort in all-white versions of their character drag, Perrine lounges in a giant champagne glass of milk. “Do the milkshake, the milkshake, do the shake.”
Grimes has bad news concerning the commercial, “The higher echelon of Madison Avenue feels that it may be too controversial for their American family image.”
Havoc’s retort, “Corporate thinking sucks.”
Rush has an opinion as well, “I thought it was very chic and tasteful.” Well, there’s no accounting for taste, but she does have a solution to the problem at hand. “I am in charge of a really grand affair next month in San Francisco at the Galleria. Now, would it be possible for the boys to sing a few songs?” The Village People making their live debut in San Francisco? How apropos.
Proving that Mama Rose didn’t raise no dummy, Havoc and Guttenberg finagle a record and merchandising deal with Sand on a cross-country jet flight. When the big night arrives, Lulu tries to calm the boys backstage. The G.I.’s girlfriend comments that, “San Francisco high-life is one of the kinkiest things I ever saw.” This coming from a girl who hangs out with the Village People.
When performance time comes each of the boys makes their stage entrance in their own special way. The Cowboy comes through a pair of saloon doors with guns blazing while the Indian shimmies his way out of a teepee. The Cop rides in on a police motorbike and the Leatherman on a Harley. The G.I. drives a Jeep and the Construction Worker a … John Deere tractor?
The Village People, dressed in sequin encrusted costumes that would make Liberace proud, perform the catchy title tune in front of their screaming fans. While their stage show was undoubtedly cutting edge in it’s day, the lasers and a couple of spotlights along with their simply synchronized choreography seems quaint compared to the million dollar extravaganzas that pop acts put on nowadays. For an encore, the boys are joined onstage by the film’s female cast members and they sing the song again. As the glitter falls, the Village People are a success and everyone lives happily ever after … sort of.
As enjoyably over-the-top as Can’t Stop the Music is, audiences in 1980 just didn’t care and it flopped spectacularly. During the film’s production, the “Disco Sucks” rally/riot happened during a Chicago White Sox game. This single event marked the beginning of the end for disco and virtually guaranteed the films failure. The movie served as a career obituary for nearly all concerned, with the exception of Steve Guttenberg, though some might argue that countless Police Academy and Short Circuit sequels are a different kind of career death.
Why was Can’t Stop the Music such a disaster? Was it the fault of overconfident producer Alan Carr? Was it the fault of first (and last) time director Nancy Walker? Perhaps the public just wasn’t ready for the world’s gayest disco musical. Decades later a cult following would blossom as a new generation of fans fell in love with the movie’s unique brand of disco excess. Whatever the reason, the bad movie gods must blessed Can’t Stop the Music from the moment of inception. What other explanation could there be for a movie this blissfully bad?
The DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment is exceptional. The widescreen (2.35:1) print is practically flawless. With a remastered Dolby digital soundtrack, the film undoubtedly looks and sounds better now than when it was released twenty-five years ago.
Included on the disc are the theatrical trailer and a revealing (literally) photo gallery that showcases Village People trading cards, pages from the Can’t Stop the Music souvenir program and near nude shots of the boys ripping each others clothes off! In lieu of a featurette, there’s the extremely thorough text essay “The Village People Story” (mistakenly listed as a photo essay). It details the making of the movie, the creation of the group and has bios for each the original group members.
For those who can’t get enough Village People in their lives, check your local cable listings for reruns of the E! True Hollywood Story: Village People. It examines the groups rise and fall with plenty of juicy tidbits about the making of Can’t Stop the Music.
A trivia footnote: John Wilson, the mad genius behind The Golden Raspberry Awards, dreamed up the “Razzies” while sitting through a double bill of Xanadu (1980) and Can’t Stop the Music.
- Learn more at imdb.com
- Felipe Rose Official Website
- Randy Jones World
- Village People
- Valerie Perrine Home Page
- Check TV Listings
Can’t Stop the Music Publicity Images
CCT also recommends:
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band