Stream This? is a feature devoted to exploring and reviewing some of the lesser known and often-times weirder films that can be found on various streaming services. Today, Roy Buckingham examines the 1980 musical Can’t Stop The Music.
For the first few entries in this feature, the films I picked were available for instant-streaming on various subscription services. This time around, I decided to rent a film online instead. Going through lesser-known films to see if anything grabbed my attention, I found Can’t Stop The Music and it is a gem.
The premise alone was enough to make me stop, rent and watch this thing, with the story being a fictionalized tale of how the Disco group The Village People (whose songs usually only play in gay bars or at wedding receptions these days) rose to fame. Yet the rest of the cast also made me have to see it in order to believe it. A pre-Police Academy Steve Guttenberg, as the man who discovers The Village People. A post-Superman: The Movie Valerie Perrine (aka MISS TESCHMACHER!) as the socialite model who promotes them. And a pre-sex change operation Caitlyn Jenner (still Bruce Jenner here) as the lawyer who represents them.
The plot is very simple, with the story setting up various musical numbers that build to the group performing at a big charity show in San Francisco. One by one, the band members are introduced in their eclectic, late 70’s Greenwich Village costumes, as the band forms and and becomes a musical sensation. Disco music is flung all over the place, flying as thick as the glitter that fills the air throughout the movie, as Jenner shows the entire world her horrible acting skills. In other words, it’s so bad it’s good fun.
The film was released in 1980, and due to the extensive sets, elaborate costumes and the licensing rights needed to have Dr Pepper be the only beverage that exists in this world outside of alcohol, the film cost $20 million to make. To put that in perspective, by today’s standards that would be the budget of a film like Avatar or Batman vs Superman. However, the fact that this film was made and released in 1980 is what killed it at the box office, despite the popularity of The Village People at the time. Why is that? Because by 1980, the “Disco Is Dead” movement was going strong and people were sick of even the good Disco performers. Had the film been released a few years earlier, it probably would have been a smash hit.
Now, as we approach 2020, we can go back and watch this film via online rental (or through the recent Shout Factory Blu-Ray release where the film gets a restoration it does not deserve) and see it as a perfect time capsule of a time in pop culture history that was too damn ridiculous to have existed: the Disco Age. And brother, do you get the Disco. So much Disco that you may actually overdose on it in, between shots of Gutenberg’s tight-in-the-crotch pants and Jenner trying to act her way out of a wet paper bag.
This film has developed a cult following over the years, especially within the LGBTQ community, and it is easy to see why. From the “YMCA” segment (which is pretty much a music video of the band’s biggest hit, shot in a real YMCA) to the all red glittery musical numbers with sexy kittens dressed like Robert Palmer’s Satan Minions, the film is just big cheesy fun. However, the real “Oh My God Did That Just Happen?” moment comes from The Milkshake Song aka “Do The Shake”.
The Village People, in an attempt to boost themselves, agree to make a commercial for the National Dairy Council. After the opening, which features young boys under the age of 10 dressed in full Village People costume (the boy dressed as the Leather Man is just flat out disturbing and bizarre), we are launched into a world of pure bright white and a giant musical number about milkshakes, where all the dancers are either all either tits-forward or crotch-ahoy. It is something that has to be seen to believed.
If there is one thing that brings the film down, it is the run-time. Clocking in at two hours and four minutes, the film could have benefited from some tighter editing. At one point, we go for 15 minutes between music numbers and it is the moments where the music stops (oh the irony!) that the movie becomes sluggish. The film is at its most alive when the music is playing, so these moments just spoil the film.
That said, this is a must see. If you are familiar with a similar Disco film called Xanadu (which was also released in 1980) note that this film makes Xanadu seem like Cool Hand Luke in comparison. It is definitely worth the rental, though.