Tuesday, July 15, 2014

1980 Week: Can’t Stop the Music & Xanadu



          Since disco was already dying by the time these two spectacularly bad dance-themed movies were released, it’s not fair to say that either picture killed disco. Nonetheless, the sleazy Can’t Stop the Music and the wholesome Xanadu certainly inflicted wounds. Starring the Village People, Can’t Stop the Music is perplexing right from the first frame, because the opening-credits sequence features Steve Guttenberg roller-skating through New York City, in a split-screen effect, as he listens to the Village People on his personal radio and as the credits reveal the motley crew assembled for the movie. Beyond Guttenberg, the cast includes athlete Bruce Jenner and sexpot Valerie Perrine. Stranger still, the picture was directed by Nancy Walker, best known for playing greasy-spoon waitress “Rosie” in ’70s commercials for Bounty paper towels.
          Can’t Stop the Music purports to tell the story of the Village People’s formation, and like everything else related to the ridiculous vocal group behind “Macho Man” and “Y.M.C.A.,” Can’t Stop the Music avoids the elephant in the room—the fact that the Village People coyly repackaged homoerotica for mainstream consumption. Can’t Stop the Music is outrageously sexualized, featuring scenes in gyms and saunas and swimming pools—there’s even the occasional glimpse of a penis, despite the film’s PG rating. The five singers in the Village People give terrible acting performances, as does Jenner, and the whole movie is cut so fast that it feels like a hallucination. Weirdest of all, perhaps, is the unrelentingly upbeat tone—Can’t Stop the Music is like an old Garland-Rooney “let’s put on a show” picture, only set in a bathhouse.
          Xanadu is just as exuberant, and occasionally just as surreal, but it lacks the subversive quality of Can’t Stop the Music. Instead, Xanadu is an infantile phantasmagoria. However, I must confess to loving the movie’s soundtrack album, featuring songs by Electric Light Orchestra and the film’s leading lady, Olivia Newton-John. (True confession: Xanadu was the first LP I bought with my own money.) Michael Beck, a long way from The Warriors (1979), plays Sonny, an L.A. artist who paints billboard-sized versions of album covers. While roller-skating around Santa Monica one afternoon, Sonny meets the beguiling Kira (Newton-John), who turns out to be one of the Muses from Greek mythology. Kira provides magical inspiration to both Sonny and aging song-and-dance man Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly) as the three contrive to build a roller-disco palace called Xanadu. That is, until Zeus decides Kira must return to Olympus.
          In the course of telling its silly story, Xanadu toggles between cinematic styles with great abandon. There’s an animated sequence, lots of special effects, endless roller-disco jams, and a bizarre mash-up number combining a WWII-style big band performance and a guitar-heavy throwdown by L.A. pop-punkers The Tubes. As with Can’t Stop the Music, the genuinely terrible Xanadu is best experienced with either abject disbelief or ironic amusement. The only unassailable aspect of the film is the leading lady’s appearance, because Newton-John was at the apex of her girl-next-door sexiness. Amazingly, Xanadu has enjoyed a long afterlife, even spawning a Broadway musical. Turns out you really can’t stop the music—no matter how hard you try.
          FYI, the collective awfulness of Can’t Stop the Music and Xanadu led to the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards, which honor cinema’s worst achievements.

Can’t Stop the Music: FREAKY
Xanadu: FREAKY

4 comments:

William Blake Hall said...

I know a woman whose name, Kira, was inspired by -- you guessed it. It's a shame she's not younger, so that she could attribute it to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," or a respelling of Ms. Knightley's name.

AndyHunt said...

I can for give understand your dislike for 'cant stop the music' It is indeed a terrible, terrible movie. I saw it on video and the whole way through i was aware of how easy and pleasurable it would in fact be to stop the music with just one press of the remote. unfortunately it was my sisters choice of family film for that week so the rest of us just had to sit there and suffer.
I cannot understand your dislike of Xanadu. Sure, its a childish, lazy, idiotic display of wasted ideas and talent, but, and its a perfectly formed but, Olivia Newton John.
That's all I have to say in its defence, but it's all I need to say, and will defend my opinion if needs be to the death. Olivia Newton John.
Olivia Newton John.

D said...

I will happily admit that Can't Stop the Music is awful but I will also happily admit that its one of my genuine truly guilty pleasures. It's just so ridiculous that it makes me smile.

Xteve said...

LOVE the soundtrack for Xanadu. Still carry a torch for Olivia Newton Jphn too!