Can’t Stop the Music was produced by Allan Carr – who was also responsible for the mega-musical Grease (1978) – as a vehicle to promote the Village People. It’s a vibrant and uplifting musical . . . and probably the longest and most expensive television commercial ever made.
Idolised and applauded by children and adults of every age, language and cultural background (without the vaguest idea what they were singing about in gay pride songs like YMCA), the Village People cleverly fingered the pulse of a society immersed in rapidly changing values and made it dance along to a disco beat.
The people who made Can’t Stop The Music cleverly incorporated many of the production values of the old MGM musicals and brought them up to date in a glittering package for the disco-centric demands of contemporary society.
The result is a revolutionary kind of musical that explodes on the screen – Whatever else you think of the movie, you certainly won’t be bored by the musical numbers.
The Village People can’t act, but they are in excellent company here, since nobody else bothers to do much acting, either.
Valerie Perrine is in hot water the minute she tries to make something out of her role as a retired fashion model who plays den mother to the good-natured lunatics in her Greenwich Village neighbourhood.
Steve Guttenberg is her appealing house-sitting roommate who writes rock songs, and Bruce Jenner – the former Olympic gold medal winner whose acting makes Muhammad Ali seem like Robert DeNiro in comparison – is a stuffy tax lawyer who gets involved in the madness when he delivers a cake.
Wafting in and out of all the imbecilic confusion are such grand old pros as Tammy Grimes, as an aggressive, grasping agent in the Eileen Ford mould trying to talk Valerie into a milk commercial; June Havoc, as Guttenberg’s pushy showbiz mother – who uses her training as a former chorus girl to outsmart record moguls in contractual negotiations – and Barbara Rush as Jenner’s rich society matron mom whose enthusiasm for the kinky kids provides them with a launching pad to stardom in the form of a charity show in San Francisco.
The kids who revelled in the gyrations of the Village People didn’t seem to get the homosexual implications in everything the group (and the movie) stood for. They responded to the Village People the way they responded to Pee-Wee Herman as grownups who dress up in their fantasies the way children do at birthday parties.
They didn’t really have a clue what the big spectacular YMCA number was all about, with its quick shots of male full-frontal nudity as Valerie Perrine danced through the showers.
Every gay centrefold from Blueboy and Playgirl seems to have been recruited for this number, and on the day it was filmed, every gay bar on Santa Monica Boulevard must have been empty.
Did the kids understand what’s happening when Bruce Jenner attacks Valerie Perrine for hanging out with guys who are “weird,” and she counters with “There’s not a person alive without peculiarities, and as long as they don’t hurt anybody, it’s none of my business”? Probably not.
And later, when Jenner discards his three-piece Bamey’s suit and dances down Christopher Street in cut-offs to symbolise his own liberation, nine-year-olds still squealed with glee. Of course, Jenner took his own liberation many steps further when he came out as a trans woman in 2015 to become Caitlyn Jenner.
Frankly, none of this matters if you can break down your own uptight defences the way Jenner does and let Can’t Stop the Music wash over you.
It doesn’t matter how hip you are to the gay scene to get the implicit humour in the Village People‘s dressing room when the leatherman gets an attack of nerves and says, “Leather men don’t cry”, and the cowboy, in an aside to the audience says, “Oh, yes they do!”.
It doesn’t much matter, either, if you don’t know the Steve Guttenberg character is based on Paul Jabara or the Paul Sand character is a combination of David Geffen and Neil Bogart. It’s the spirit that counts, and Can’t Stop the Music is loaded with it.
From the wonderful opening number – David London singing The Sound of the City – to the star-spangled finale, the music lifts you off your feet and keeps you moving.
The choreography, by Arlene Phillips, is hot, the costumes sizzle, the photography by Bill Butler is eye-poppingly lush, the direction by Nancy Walker (best known as Rhoda’s mother on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) is as corny and awful and perfectly suited to the film’s dopiness as all the stuff she learned in the old MGM days.
The yield is a purée of Technicolor musicals that combines the best of Busby Berkeley with the best of contemporary musical ideas. Perpetual motion is what Can’t Stop the Music is all about.
It’s a glorious mess – it ended Valerie Perrine’s hopes of being a first-rank movie actress and sent the promising career of Steve Guttenberg into the doldrums so deep he was forced to star in four Police Academy movies – but its feet never stop dancing.
David (Construction Worker)