CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC: Definitely Camp But Not Quite Classic

Is it possible for a film to overdose on camp spectacle without quite rising to the level of camp classic? Can’t Stop The Music provides an answer to this esoteric question.  This film is perhaps the most absurd and misguided of the failed Movie Musical Revival of 1980 (other casualties: Popeye, The Apple, Xanadu). It automatically achieves kitsch-artifact status thanks to the fact that the plot revolves around the Village People but the results aren’t as irresistibly trashy as one might hope.

Can’t Stop The Music is a fictionalized account of the rise of the Village People, done up in a self-conscious camp style that tries to evoke the ‘let’s put on a show’ musicals of the 1930’s and 40’s. Jack Morell (a fiendishly overexcited Steve Guttenberg) is a daydreaming disco fanatic who aspires to be a great composer of pop hits. He manages to get Samantha (Valerie Perrine), his ex-model roommate, involved in his schemes and they put together a motley gang of singers to perform his tunes in hopes of currying the favor of a shark-like record exec (Paul Sand).

There are also a variety of subplots: a lawyer from the Midwest (Bruce Jenner!) falls for Samantha, Samantha’s old boss (Tammy Grimes) tries to lure her back to the modeling biz and Samantha’s pal Lulu (Marilyn Sokol) lusts after everything male on two legs. In between all the flailing plot threads are a barrage of musical numbers by the Village People, including an absurdly homoerotic visualization of “Y.M.C.A.”

All this frenetic activity adds up to a glittering mess. Can’t Stop The Music is one of those “how the hell did they get this made?” kind of films. As usual with such fare, the problems start at the script level: there’s too many characters, plot threads are either left hanging are resolve themselves instantaneously and the tone veers between wink-wink gay innuendo & attempts to eradicate the gay subtext of the whole Village People concept.

However, the film’s oddest aspect may be the fact that the Village People end up being glorified extras in a film that is supposed to tell their story. That said, this is probably for the best though because the few lines they get reveal that none of them were destined for screen stardom. The rest of the film’s b-list cast does okay, with the notable exception of Guttenberg, who is so spastically excited about his role that it seems like he might boogie right out of his skin at any moment. It’s a miracle that he had any kind of career after his work here.

Finally, first-time director Nancy Walker – an actress best known as the Bounty Paper Towel Lady – fails to keep control of her material, resulting in a film that drags on for just over two hours. This film should have been 90 minutes, tops – even the misguided souls behind The Apple were smart enough to obey this rule.

Thus, Can’t Stop The Music falls short of camp classic status… but it still exerts a strange fascination for students of cultural detritus. It can be fun in small doses – particularly the full-on musical numbers: the aforementioned “Y.M.C.A.” is the most memorable but Schlockmania’s personal favorite is “I Love You To Death,” a sicko solo number for the Construction Worker in which he sings questionable lines like “love you till the end, then love you again” while engaging in a dance with red-gowned ladies who toss handfuls of red glitter at him as he manhandles them in a disco-S&M style.  It’s like Argento decided to do a Busby Berkeley impression.

So if you choose to watch this flick, do so with caution and have your remote control close at hand… because if you don’t, the giddy wrongheadedness of Can’t Stop The Music will bowl you over like a sequin-studded mack truck.


One Reply to “CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC: Definitely Camp But Not Quite Classic”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.