Monday, November 4, 2013


For this essay ushering out the month of October and welcoming in November, I present for your edification, a movie that qualifies as both a Halloween horror and an overstuffed Thanksgiving turkey. Said turkey being Allan Carr’s notorious Can’t Stop the Music, a longtime guilty-pleasure favorite that, unlike most camp films in my “favorites” canon, grows increasingly less fun to watch as time goes by. 
A highly fictionalized account (and I stress fictionalized) of the creation of the gay-themed disco singing group Village People, Can’t Stop the Music, released in the summer of 1980, hit theaters at the worst possible time and under the worst possible circumstances. If Xanadu—that other 1980 summer musical release that tanked at the boxoffice—suffered from too much '80s faddism by way of roller skates, spandex, and leg warmers, Can’t Stop the Music looked and sounded exactly like a disco relic that had been gathering dust on the shelf since 1978.
A 1979 Trade ad from Boxoffice Magazine with the film's original title.
Note the dodged-a-bullet cast members, Chita Rivera and Pat Ast.
Presumably in the Altovise Davis and Marilyn Sokol roles

So significantly had the music and cultural landscape shifted from the time of its August 1979 production start date to its June 1980 release, Can’t Stop the Music opened at theaters as a literal, antiquated period piece. Thankfully, someone saw the writing on the wall early enough to jettison the film’s original title: Discoland: Where the Music Never Ends, but not early enough to tone down its already anachronistic glitter & amyl nitrate fueled “shake your booty!” overzealousness.
Valerie Perrine as Samantha Simpson
Steve Guttenberg as Jack Morell
Village People as the closeted version of the Village People
Caitlyn Jenner as Ron White
Tammy Grimes as Sydne Channing (are they kidding with that name?)

Bad timing also reared its head in that the release of Can’t Stop the Music—a self-professed family musical with a closeted, “don’t ask, don’t tell” gay sensibility—coincided with an emerging cultural conservatism (aka, The Reagan Era) that was anti-gay, anti-sex, and anti-drugs  (the naive "Just Say No!" campaign started in the '80s). Can't Stop the Music came out, so to speak, during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. The attendant groundswell of public anxiety at the time prudishly and homophobically associated it with the '70s sexual revolution and the drugs & sex lifestyle that disco culture glamorized and marketed.

It also hit theaters in the wake of the earlier release of two controversial 1980 films with gay themes: Gordon Willis' Windows, about a homicidal lesbian; and William Friedkin's Cruising, a movie about a gay serial killer. Given the paucity of positive portrayals of gays in films, activist groups were wise to protest two films released within months of each other depicting homosexuals as homicidal maniacs. The heterosexual filmmakers behind these epics took a wide-eyed "Who me?" position, playing ignorant to observations that such a concentrated association of Gay=Death could only feed into the rising tide of homophobia and anti-gay violence across the country. 
Into this atmosphere of what appeared to be media-sanctioned homophobia came Can't Stop the Music, a gay film that came across as being duplicitously coy about that very fact.
Reflecting perhaps the tastes of the film's casting, agent, the eye-candy supporting cast of himbos, twinks, and Muscle Marys is predominantly white. Which is pretty much in keeping with the way the gay community tended to depict itself in the '80s.

Had Can’t Stop the Music been made with even a shred of the strength of its flimsy convictions, I’m sure its leering “cocaine and Crisco” homogenized ode to homosexual hedonism would have come under attack as well. But at least then the film's "out and proud" dialogue: "I don't judge people. I accept them"  - and anthems like Liberation would have made a little sense.
But as it stood, Can't Stop the Music failed to take any kind of stand whatsoever, for producer Allan Carr knew that much more money could be made from within the closet than outside of it.
Good, Clean, Wholesome, Hetero Fun!
With scenes like the above in a PG-rated "family" musical, Alan Carr relied on coding to attract "knowing" gay audiences, while simultaneously banking on mainstream viewers remaining reliably clueless of the film's so-obvious-even-a-blind-man-can-see-it gay subtext. And why not? Keeping it in the closet for capitalism certainly worked for the Village People themselves. In the 2012 documentary The Secret Disco Revolution members of the group contributed such eye-rolling statements as: "Our songs were never gay, we were just a party band!" and the absolutely mental "There was not one double-entendre in our music. 'In the Navy' was just about enlisting." Right...and Dinah Washington's "Long John Blues" is just about dental hygiene.

At a time when it really would have made a powerful statement to have an unashamedly out, “We’re here, we’re queer” mainstream movie in the theaters (along the lines of The Ritz or The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Allan Carr, one of the most high-profile and powerful gay men in Hollywood (especially after Grease), instead gave the world a movie so self-negating, so deeply in the closet and in denial about itself, Liberace could have been its technical advisor.
We know, James...we know

Although it didn't hit me as strongly in 1980 as it does now, Can’t Stop the Music, to an almost contemptible degree, suffers from a distasteful undercurrent of homophobic self-loathing and ideological selling-out. In an effort to keep its many corporate sponsors happy (Dr. Pepper, Baskin-Robbins, Famous Amos Cookies, American Dairy Association) and to court the mainstream boxoffice that made Grease into such a mega-hit, Can’t Stop the Music systematically and schizophrenically undercuts every bit of the film’s laid-on-with-a-trowel gay subtext with an unpersuasive overlay of bland heterosexuality. Honestly, in spite of Can’t Stop the Music being about a gay-themed singing group formed in New York’s Greenwich Village featuring numerous coy allusions (acres of male flesh on display, a multitude of homoerotic double and triple entendres) - I don’t think the word “gay” is uttered even once in the whole film.
Olympic Gold Medalist Caitlyn Jenner, making her film debut, here achieves the
impossible by actually managing to look sillier than the Village People

To paraphrase one of my favorite Judge Judy-isms, Can’t Stop the Music is a movie that doesn't know whether it’s afoot or horseback. It courts gay dollars with its setting, its music, its "Auntie Mame syndrome" supporting cast of flamboyant elderly actresses, and its virtual non-stop parade of beefcake. Yet it doesn't want the polarizing effect (at the box-office) of actually being what it is...a big budget, big ol' gay musical. Instead, it operates in a sex-neutral (Guttenberg’s character swears off sex until he becomes a success…how convenient), heterosexual-insistent (just WHO are those nondescript, lost-looking women clinging to the Village People during the “Magic Night” number?) limbo that makes no sense. As I mentioned earlier, at one point in the film, the Village People sing a song titled “Liberation,” but in the "Ain't nobody here but us straights!" context of the movie, what the hell kind of liberation are these guys even singing about?
Male starlet Victor Davis strikes a pose to show Guttenberg & Jenner
just how "not gay" Can't Stop the Music is.
In trying to be the all-things-to-all-people crowd-pleaser its sizable budget demanded, Can’t Stop the Music wound up not being much of anything to anybody.

Seventies bisexual porn "star" George Payne jogs by (twice!) in the
excruciating Guttenberg-on-roller-skates opening sequence

A must-read for behind-the-scenes details on the making of this rainbow-colored fiasco is Robert Hofler's 2010 Allan Carr biography Party Animals. Wherein we learn that Carr's desire to bring back the glamour of old Hollywood extended to reviving the casting couch. In an attempt to put a male spin on the old MGM "Goldwyn Girls" tradition of featuring beautiful girls as extras and bit players throughout the film, Allan Carr made ample use of a coterie of male dancers, models, hustlers, starlets, and party boys ("Cash or career?" was purportedly Carr's standard come on when meeting a handsome young man). We also learn that director Nancy Walker and Valerie Perrine hated one another, that sizable chunks of the film were actually directed by choreographer Arlene Phillips and cinematographer Bill Butler (GreaseJaws), and that Allan Carr harbored a near-Hitchcockian obsession with his heterosexual protegee, Steve Guttenberg. 
I took this picture in the summer of 1980 not long after this billboard for Can't Stop the Music was unveiled on Hollywood's Sunset Strip during a red carpet ceremony on what LA's mayor declared to be "Can't Stop the Music Day." The Village People were granted the key to the city (or maybe it was to a bathhouse, I'm not exactly sure)

That summer, my excitement regarding the forthcoming release of Xanadu so eclipsed all else, I tend to forget that 1980 was something of a banner year for musicals. There was Alan Parker’s Fame and Saturday Night Live alums Belushi & Aykroyd brought their characters The Blues Brothers to the screen. The heavily-hyped Can’t Stop the Music wasn’t very high on my list of must-see summer films mostly due to my general antipathy towards Grease (I know it’s considered a classic and all, but I just find it clunky) and my lack of fondness for the Village People (their anthem-like songs always sounded like Romper Room marching music to me, and, having grown up in San Francisco, their costumes suggested nothing more daring than your average ride on the Market St. F streetcar).
However, being the devoted disco maven I was (and remain), just the idea of a multi-million-dollar disco musical was too tantalizing a prospect to dismiss. Which brings me to the reason I was most excited to see Can’t Stop the Music: choreographer Arlene Phillips.
Arlene Phillips (Annie, The Fan) first came to my attention through her work in a series of fantastic TV commercials for Dr. Pepper. The top photos are from the 1975 Sugar-Free Dr. Pepper commercial, "Penthouse" (see storyboard here), which bears a strong resemblance to Can't Stop the Music's "Milkshake" number. Even down to sharing the same set designer, Stephen Hendrickson.
Gay, straight, or bi, the one thing we DO know about Jack is that he's a Pepper!
CSTM came under fire for its comically blatant product placement

While my enjoyment of Can’t Stop the Music’s non-musical sequences has diminished significantly over the years, my affection for Arlene Phillips’ deliciously awful/wonderful musical numbers has increased, tenfold. I absolutely love them. Her cheesy “Las Vegas showroom by way of aerobics class” choreography fairly oozes with late-'70s sleaze, and her “What WAS she thinking?” staging has the staggering, jaw-dropping lunacy of Busby Berkeley at his most ingeniously demented. That these musical numbers are also monumentally tacky, done with a great deal of wit, and, like the film itself, possess an almost surreal lack of self-awareness, only adds to their appeal.  Each time I have a chance to revisit the industrial glitter factory of “I Love You to Death” or that wholesomely raunchy paean to homoerotic health & fitness “YMCA,” my heart soars and a smile comes to my face. 
Given how so many of Arlene Phillips' dance tableaus resemble photoshoots from Eyes of Laura Mars, it comes as little surprise that the late Thenoni V. Aldredge, the designer of all those slit-skirt ensembles for Faye Dunaway, also contributed costume designs (with Jane Greenwood) to the musical numbers in Can't Stop the Music.
Seriously, if it sounds as though I'm putting these dance sequences down, nothing could be further from the truth. They're a delight and a lot of fun. Most of them appeal distinctly to all my aesthetics, which more than one person has assured me run to the cheesy and grandiose. They're, clever, cinematic, over-the-top, and for me, more than worth the price of admission on their own.

Where to begin? What can be said about performances in a film where the amateurism of the neophytes and professionals is evenly matched? I like Valerie Perrine a great deal and she seems like an awfully sweet woman, but her (and there’s no other word for it) fag-hag role here requires a personality, not an actress. Ms. Perrine splits the difference by being neither. She comes across as the genial housemother for a gay fraternity.
No, that's not Tim Curry's Dr. Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show making a cameo appearance. That's actress Marilyn Sokol attempting to channel Bette Midler's bawdy Divine Miss M "Bathhouse Betty" persona. To grating effect.

And then there's Steve Guttenberg. Prior to this, I'd always considered Todd Susman's underground newspaper journalist in 1971s Star Spangled Girl to be the most annoying performance committed to film. Guttenberg wins by a landslide.
Striving for boyish exuberance, he gives a performance of such overarching hyperactivity that a mere absence of restraint can't be the only answer (it's like he's on crack). He's a character who never speaks when he can shout, and is perpetually in motion. With eyes popping, cords in his neck bulging, forming his words as if to make himself understood by lip-readers on Mars...Guttenberg constantly appears on the brink of popping a blood vessel.
Actor Jack Weston (Wait Until Dark) pops up briefly as disco proprietor Benny Murray

There being so many of them, the Village People have little time (and even less ability) to establish themselves with any personal individuality. Thus their costumes are left to do all the acting., often coming off as visiting tourists in their own movie. 

I've seen Can't Stop the Music so often that when I watch it these days, it's usually with my remote close at hand, finger poised over the FFWD button, moving swiftly from one delightfully garish musical number to the next. They are totally awful, but I swear, I love them to pieces.
Taking four days to shoot and featuring 250 dancers, athletes, and sundry bleached-blond hunklets, the full-tilt camp YMCA song - a salute to the gymnasium number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - is said to have been Allan Carr's most hands-on sequence. Which I don't doubt for a minute. There allegedly exists an R-rated cut of the shower scene, commissioned by Carr for his private collection.

I Love You to Death
This number most resembles Arlene Phillips' work with her dance troupe Hot Gossip. A staple of the '70s UK TV program The Kenny Everett Show, you can see a slew of Hot Gossip videos here on YouTube.

Her Milkshake Brings All The Boys To the Yard
The Busby Berkely-esque "Milkshake" number really does a body good. Choreographed for the camera in a series of rhythmic cutaways, close-ups, and inserts, it's pure movie musical bliss. The most fun 3 1/2 minutes of the entire film. 

Can’t Stop the Music is kind of a strange movie to include in a collection of films I love, because, in many ways, I find the film to be rather cowardly and reprehensible. Part of me wants to simply enjoy the movie on a Showgirls level…just escapist, mindless, campy fun. But as a gay man, I find myself unable to get past the fact that Can’t Stop the Music is (to me) such a colossal sellout. A bunch of wealthy gay men make a movie full of gay people, gay references, and gay music. But because there are dollars to be made and hetero sensibilities to be appeased, the film spends all its time trying to avoid making an assertive declaration of what is hidden in plain sight. What could have been a mainstream celebration of the Queer influence and contribution to the arts ends up just another pop culture misfire.
Paul Sand, the David Schwimmer of the '70s, as record exec Steve Waits

I watch this movie and sometimes and all I can see, at worst: gay self-hatred; at best: the kind of fence-straddling, middle-market project that remains willfully clueless of the far-reaching cultural ramifications of perpetuating gay "invisibility" under the guise of a broader audience appeal.

And as an ostensibly “family-oriented” entertainment that thinks it’s being racy by slipping in coy and winking gay references at every opportunity, Can’t Stop the Music is a homophobe’s dream (nightmare) of the subversive cult of a “gay agenda” being secretly foisted upon unsuspecting straights. Look!...a red bandana! Look!...naked men playing innocent grab-ass in the shower! Listen!...subtle-as-a-sledgehammer jokes like, “Anybody who can swallow two Sno-Balls and a Ding Dong shouldn't have any trouble with pride.”
Joining Jenner and Perrine in this shot are Broadway star Tammy Grimes and actress-dancer (and Mrs. Sammy Davis, Jr.) Altovise Davis. Grimes sang a song in the musical 45 Minutes from Broadway called "So Long, Mary" which, when you stop to think of it, would have been a great subtitle for this movie.

All gripes aside, I still rate Can’t Stop the Music among my enduring favorite musicals because, as I look over my career as a dancer, Arlene Phillips ranks among the choreographers that were the most influential and inspiring to me. A list headed by Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, and David Winters (growing up, I was a big fan of the teen variety show Hullabaloo).

Can't Stop the Music is so problematic it's difficult to imagine it would have been much of a hit even at the height of the disco craze. But there exists the possibility that it could have grown into an affectionately-remembered cult hit had it at least acknowledged the community that Village People grew out of (and initially intended to celebrate).

In the terrific Christopher Guest Hollywood satire For Your Consideration..., there's is a scene in which the makers of the film "Home for Purim" - a movie about the distinctly Jewish holiday, are told to "Tone down the Jewishness" in order to appeal to a broader market. Clearly poking fun at Hollywood's legendary lack of backbone, I laugh, but how satiric is it, really? One can easily imagine a similar gay-centric scene being played out in production meetings for Can't Stop the Music. This perspective severely undercuts my ability to wholly abandon myself to the film's campy sense of fun. And as it now stands, Can't Stop the Music has become for me a little like one of those tasteless jokes you initially laugh at, only to regret it later.

Can't Stop the Music Addendum:
11/11/13  Yay! After posting this essay critiquing Can't Stop the Music on its closeted, mainstream agenda and total lack of a single (acknowledged) gay person in the film, my eagle-eyed sweetheart spotted what may be the film's sole gay couple!
Although their presence is used as a kind of "We're not in Kansas anymore" sight-gag for Caitlyn Jenner's straight-laced character to react to as she walks the streets of Greenwich Village, there is nevertheless a prominently featured gay couple shown with their arms across each other's shoulders in a PG movie. I love it! 

Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 2013


  1. To look at this as a horror film is probably the best way to approach it. I know the first time I watched it was with slack jawed horror and incredulity that so much money had obviously been spent on something so inane. Since then I have seen it a few more times but only with friends and always with at least one person who hasn't seen it before. That way we can mock it and enjoy the newbie's looks of disbelief as it lumbers from one ridiculous point to another. That line you quoted about Sno-Balls & a Ding Dong was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the title, it captures the crassness of the movie so well. Oh and that hysterical rollerskate opening really is perfect for it since it tells you right away what kind of experience you're in for.

    I too really like Valerie Perrine. It really seemed to be happening for her there for a few years in the mid-70's but she waited too long to do her next film after Lenny and then it was the middling W.C. Fields and Me. I remember seeing her once on Merv Griffin with an incredible panel of guests, Alexis Smith, Glynis Johns (she sang Send in the Clowns), Cloris Leachman and she. It was enough to make a young gaylings head explode! Anyway she talked about waiting for the right script which apparently was the prevailing attitude then since she mentioned that Liza Minnelli did the same thing after Cabaret, for Lucky Lady?!, instead of striking while the iron was hot. It didn't work to her advantage in the long run unfortunately.

    Never knew about the animosity between Valerie and Nancy Walker, I must hunt down that book and read it, thanks for the tip and I really enjoyed your revisit to this vintage Edsel of a movie.

    1. Hey Joel
      The word "crass" is a perfect summation of the film's screenplay, which was allegedly beefed up by Bruce Vilanch (which I can believe). Your experience of watching it and later sharing it with dumbfounded friends is pretty much par for the course with this film. It's so bad you somehow feel compared to share it with if to confirm you actually saw what you saw.
      And yes, this movie and the forgotten "W.C. Fields and Me" did Valerie Perrine's promising career no favors. Oh, and that Merv Griffin episode you remember sounds terrific! What a group!
      Anyhow, thank you for once again tuning in (so flattered that you've read so many of my posts Joel), and I hope you track that Allan Carr book down on Ebay or something. It's a great read and captures the craziness of showbiz in the 70s and 80s very well.

    2. I meant to mention I loved your referencing of Dinah Washington's great rendering of Long John Blues in terms of lyrical double meanings and subtext. I'm a huge fan of hers and she was the one of the best at interpreting that sort of material. I believe Dinah, no shrinking violet when it came to appraising her own talent would have said she was the Queen of it and unlike the VP would have made no bones about what it meant.

  2. I remember the ads at the time but somehow managed to avoid this movie until now. Coming at it fresh, then, I'm afraid I don't see what you see in Milkshake. Your Ken Dolls choreography is so much more interesting than what's there!

    Conversely, I think I like The Village People music more than you do -- while quite admitting the truth of your description of it -- but a large part of that is for their fine lyrics, of which this had none. (Lyrics can be great because they make things look difficult, like Sondheim, or because they make things look easy, like Joni Mitchell. YMCA, for example, is at the latter extreme.)

    If Milkshake is the high point I can't say I'm tempted to peruse the other dance numbers.

    I read the name "Nancy Walker" and couldn't believe it's the same person. But yes, it's the quicker picker upper! How sad for this to be one's only movie directing credit.

    By the way, have you seen Head (1968), a parody of the Monkees, starring the Monkees, written by Jack Nicholson under the clear influence of paranoia-inducing hallucinogens? At the least, I expect you will find it a work of greater artistic integrity than Can't Stop the Music.

    1. Hi Allen
      You made me simultaneously laugh and blush with your comparison of my Ken Dolls choreography to what's on display in "Can't Stop the Music." Chiefly because I love the choreography in this film so much, what you say is a huge compliment. Thanks!
      You make a very interesting and sound point about the lyrics of some of the Village People music. Case in point, I hated the song "Go West" until it was covered by the Pet Shop Boys. Very different arrangement to be sure, but the song itself and lyrics were really appealing to me. Likewise, "In the Navy." Never cared for the VP version, heard someone cover it and found the lyric rhythms and rhymes to be very good.
      I don't know what happened, but the songs in this film are all like Village People B-sides.

      As for the "Milkshake" number...even writing about it now puts a smile on my face. Not sure exactly what it is about it. I love that there are parts in which a dancer is just seen walking across the set, I like that it is choreography sostatic that it actually makes the camera and editing dance, and I find the motifs of squatting, crawling, and thrusting hips to be so offbeat that they are amusing. But trust me, I don't know a single soul who likes this number. maybe just me and Arlene Phillips' mother.

      And no, I haven't seen the movie "Head" although I had a chance a while back to DVR it when it was on TCM. i always thought the Monkees suffered from a bad case of the "cutes," but if the film is a parody of them, maybe I'd enjoy it. I'll keep my eyes peeled.
      Oh, and just in case you might be tempted to one day check this film out, there is one scene that features several jugglers (one juggling axes). You can let me know if they're any good. thanks a heap for your comments, Allen. You're awfully kind.

    2. I realized, reading the Head wikipedia page, that the parallels go even deeper. In both cases the filmmaker tries to sell the musical group to a new audience, and fails to connect to them while simultaneously alienating the previous core audience. Here straight/gay audiences, for Head the hippies/pop fans.

      (One difference is that the musical segments of Head are, for me, the most skippable parts. I suppose the Solarvision effects must have been exciting at the time but they're not any more, and I definitely will skip them should I watch the movie again.)

    3. Well, you've made the most compelling case for my checking out Netflix for the movie "Head" I can think of. Really, what you point out would make a marvelous topic for a film class thesis: to explore films that, in attempting to reach out to a new audience for it's star, alienate the core audience that led to said film star's initial success. (Meg Ryan's "In the Cut" comes to mind).
      I'm a sucker for that era in film anyway, perhaps you've pointed me in the direction of my next new "old" favorite.

  3. Hi Ken, This is a fascinating movie. Your amzingly honest and funny review makes me want to read it again and see the movie again. I don't know what to make of the film. May I ask: was it really a flop? I know people laughed at it as something embarrasing but maybe it achieved Allan Carr's aim - to make a glamorous profit? I suppose it wasn't a hit since the career of the group did not survive it, but I still have a feeling that people went out and saw it in cinemas without telling their friends that they had...

    I was in my early teens when I saw it and this film was fascinatingly super GAY to me. I watched it many times on video. I think that if there had been more really good catchy hit songs in it the film it would be better remembered and considered an addictive guilty pleasure. As it is, it hardly ever mentioned.

    There are so many things that could have been better with this film. A decent plot and less characters floating by would have helped.


    1. Hi Wille
      "Can't Stop the Music" seems to be one of those films where, if you wanted to see it, you probably did, but if it held no initial interest for you, no one could ever tell you anything about it that would change your mind.
      I can't vouch for overseas markets (I think this was like a huge hit in Australia or something) but in LA and most of the urban markets where it would most likely have done its best business, "Can't Stop the Music" was a major flop.
      Disco was on the wane, there were no radio hits off of the soundtrack album to sell the film, and while it may have been true for a time that large sectors of the preteen market had no idea about the gay subtext of the Village People and their music, this movie, with its squirm-inducing male nudity and constant close ups of men's genitals encased in tight pants, proved entirely too "gay" for the mainstream crowd.
      Gays more or less abandoned it too because it didn't really speak to them. In fact, it tried to climb over the backs of the gay community to get at the bigger mainstream dollars.
      It also didn't help that the film tarnished the reputations of almost everyone involved in it.
      I think people enjoy laughing at it, but not in the same affectionate, protective way they do "Valley of the Dolls" or "Showgirls"...people seem to laugh at its bizarre cluelessness.
      It IS kind of hypnotizing to see such a GAY film carrying on as if it weren't. I've always felt that if the character Corky St. Clair in "Waiting for Guffman" was a movie, he'd be "Can't Stop the Music."

      If you give this movie another look any time soon, let me know what you think. Thanks, Wille!

  4. Ken, by now you know how much I adore your posts and your wondrously insightful writing, so I hope you won't take offense if I sort of disagree about one thing --> "it would have made a powerful statement to have a really out, “We’re here, we’re queer” mainstream movie in the theaters (along the lines of The Ritz or The Rocky Horror Picture Show) to counter the wave of homophobia that arose in the wake of the “gay cancer” scare of AIDS in the early 80s"

    Not that I disagree with your stance on the self-loathing, coy, closeted stuff, but I don't think we can really take Allan Carr to task for not countering the AIDS scare when in '79 that was still a couple of years away from public consciousness. How could he or any of us know what sort of horrible nightmare and public backlash was on the horizon? (Hitting its stride, btw, when I was a senior in high school and putting a deep fear in me regarding homosexuality and sex acts.) I think he may have just wanted to have fun without rocking the boat too much. Then again, perhaps he could have tried to do something that would at least keep Anita Bryant and her ilk at bay!

    I recall movies with gay content being "funny," often stereotyped, but also somehow tolerant prior to the AIDS crisis. Like 1982's "Partners" (with Ryan O'Neal and John Hurt) for instance. I haven't seen it in ages and while I'm sure it was crass and insulting in a lot of ways, I also seem to recall it giving the homosexual characters a healthy dose of acceptance and appeal nevertheless with an opportunity for gays to have a degree of representation in the mainstream cinema. This type of lighthearted film would not have been made just a couple of years later.

    I was pretty young at this time and didn't see CSTM until much later on grainy pan 'n scan VHS. I really need to see it in high-def widescreen and assess it from that angle (or at least enjoy some of the views and the campy musical numbers you've highlighted!)

    At the time, Bruce Jenner seemed like the most "together," handsome, white-bread straight hero imaginable though recently he's had a lot of hubbub surrounding his plastic surgery addiction and alleged predilection for cross-dressing! Maybe somewhere in there is an explanation for his appearance here...?

    It always surprised me that it flopped simply because The Village People seemed such a sensation at the time! Like they could entice anyone to come into the theater to see them! But, no... (This happened somewhat more recently in 2003 when white-hot American Idol winner and runner-up Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, respectively, were plopped into "From Justin to Kelly" - seemingly a surefire hit that was a total disaster and an abject humiliation!)

    Thanks as always for your great posts and site.

    1. Hi Poseidon
      Oh, I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I enjoy hearing from you in any capacity, and that agreement or concurrence with what I write is not a prerequisite. Unless we're talking about F-stops and emulsion, film discussion is largely the sharing of subjective aesthetic opinion, and as such there HAVE to be differences.

      I stand by my feeling that both Allan Carr and "Can't Stop the Music" (politically speaking) are embarrassments, not because they should have anticipated the whole post-AIDS homophobia thing (no one could), but because he sought to financially ride the wave of gay pride that was attendant in the whole disco movement and Village People phenomenon, while not giving gays anything in his film but sly innuendo.

      A single gay character would have been nice to see in the film. Somewhere…anywhere!
      What you get in this film is what you largely still get in Hollywood and show business today, gay people playing straight. Or worse, neutral. It seems benign because it is “entertainment”, but I find it to be irresponsible and pernicious, especially if the man with all the money, who has the power to veto, is a gay man.

      That’s why the campiness of the film leaves a bad aftertaste, and I would wager that many gays seeing this film have a strange subconscious reaction to watching something that simultaneously acknowledges and ignores them.

      But see, this is just my take on it. I honestly am not trying to change anyone’s opinion who loves it for feels 100% differently about it.

      That’s why I think your comments are well taken and provide perfect counterpoint. And any fair discussion of a movie needs to have the other side aired. So I actually thank you for that.

      Faddish movies are always so dicey at the boxoffice, they can either strike a cultural zeitgeist and become huge hits, or, like "Can't Stop the Music"...all the right elements for success could be assembled (who thought young people could possibly "get" all those mom types like Tammy Grimes, Barbara Rush, and June Havoc?) and everything just fall flat on its face.
      Like "Myra Breckinridge", "Can't Stop the Music" is one of those "what were they thinking?" curiosities that can probably never be answered.
      And, as always, Poseidon, thanks for adding to my site by providing more food for thought!

    2. I think I get your point of view much more clearly now that you've fleshed it out even further (after I forced you to! Ha!) Thanks for devoting the time to expressing your thoughts about it to me. Til next time! (And by the way, I, too, find Marilyn Sokol terrifying!!!)

    3. Ha! you did not force me to. I really welcomed an opportunity to clarify points I can't go into at much length in my post (it sounds preachy).
      I think you helped me to clarify that it was just bad timing that resulted in a closeted film coming out just when anti-gay sentiment was on the rise.
      Some critic (maybe The Advocate?) made the point that "Can't Stop the Music" confirmed fears among straights that should gays be allowed access to TV and film (silly, since we've had access all along), they would use the media to enforce a mysterious gay agenda by slipping secret and subversive "gay code" images and references into family entertainment.
      So thanks for offering a different viewpoint and feeling comfortable enough to express it. It makes for a much more interesting post, I think!

  5. I'm also a big fan of this movie for its train wreck qualities, but I'm not sure I agree that there's a self-loathing to the gayness. There's definitely a major conflict going on between the family entertainment and the gayness, but I've always seen it as accidental, which is fascinating. It's like the makers were so gay they didn't know what not-gay was!

    For instance, did Allen Carr know straight corn-fed teens don't wave giant Chinese fans around at concerts? I'm not sure.

    It's the obliviousness to how gay everything reads that always gets me. There's plenty of costumes that would say "Indian" to an audience, but instead of a fringe shirt, they put him in a loincloth. Like, he's going to the market. In a loincloth. Once Bruce Jenner stops being an uptight lawyer, it hard cuts to him in those tiny cutoffs and belly shirt hanging with a bunch of men. They're trying to say "He's laid back with friends," but we see "He's laid friends of Dorothy."

    But then again, how do you make a straight movie about the Village People? Give them all wives? Can you cram five straight relationship subplots into a musical?

    1. Hi Neely
      I think your question, "How do you make a straight movie about the Village People?" is at the crux of why "Can't Stop the Music" was such a flop. Or at least why it's so problematic.
      The answer is, you can't. But Allan Carr tied to. The Allan Carr book I mention in the post details how the filmmakers were puzzled by how to de-gay the Village People's image. How they made sure that there was a woman with each one of them in the "Magic Night" sequence, how they scrambled to fill the front rows of the final concert with women because gay males showed up almost exclusively, how they struggled in the the script never to make any direct allusions to anyone's sexuality but the leads (on the "CSTM" TV special that aired the night before the film opened, Felipe Rose [the Indian] spoke with a straight face of how he was given a "love interest" in the film. The terrifying, Lulu -Marilyn Sokol).

      I think Carr tried to do the impossible in trying to make a straight film about a tres gay subject. And as much as I would love to believe that its wrongheadedness is born of naivete, Carr was far too savvy, too knowing of what he had to conceal, too aware of what he wanted to slip by the censors and unwitting, for me to not view the whole enterprise as a conscious effort to exploit the moneymaking aspects of gay culture without actually having to deal with anything gay.
      I know in Hollywood, the selling out of a one's culture and identity for the sake of a big boxoffice payoff is business as usual, and done every day.

      But to me, being anything less than you are (even for the sake of making it "easier" for the mainstream to digest) is an act of self-loathing.

      I reiterate (perhaps unnecessarily) that this is exclusively my feeling about the film. It's only my opinion, it's not fact.
      I actually envy you a bit in being able to cut the film some slack. It would certainly make watching the non-musical bits of the film more enjoyable than they've become.

  6. Great post, Ken - you have fully captured the barrage of glitter and glamour and lack of substance that is Can't Stop the Music. One of those movies that I want so much to love but CAN'T. I do enjoy the musical numbers (though they are not of a memorable caliber as you point out, they are exuberant!), and Bruce Jenner's cutoff shorts and midriff shirt were the stuff of a pubescent gay boy's fantasy for many a moon after seeing this...and I must admit, I did have a big crush on the Indian, the hottest Village Person in my opinion.

    Recently on Here! TV they showed an old interview with Nancy Walker, who had just directed this fiasco - her feature debut - yes, this was directed by Rhoda's mother, the Bounty quicker-picker-upper!! She didn't seem enthusiastic about it even as it was being released...she said she had to work with too many non-professionals (the Village folk) and inferred that it was a difficult shoot. I think the lack of a workable script was also mentioned...surprise!!

    But this is one I will always record when it comes on TV - I fast-forward through most of it...but I do absorb some of that unforgettable froth and glitz along the way! We need it sometimes!!

    Thanks for memories, Mr. Ken!!

    1. The hiring of Nancy Walker was just one of the many head-scatchers associating with this film. There seem to be those who think that Carr merely picked the director he could best control (I know she had had some experience directing TV episodes), others think he hired her at some party in a coked-out stupor. Either way, I recall that she was not the most enthusiastic booster for the movie when it came out.

      I can't imagine how this film must have appeared to a youngster, but it amuses me to think of your being taken with Jenner in his abbreviated outfit and with Felipe Rose.
      I know many people who enjoy how bad this film is, but like you, I really don't know anybody who loves it. I wish someone like John Waters would do a DVD commentary track for it. I've never seen it with a post-80s audience, so I only have the experience of seeing it with people sitting in dumbstruck silence. I don't know how contemporary audiences take it or what the most derisible elements are (although I could venture a few guesses). Thanks, Chris!.

    2. Of course! Felipe Rose. I did know that name at one point in my life!
      Ken, when I first saw this movie in the theater, I crouched low in my seat many times, especially the shower scene you illustrated. I was SURE that everyone in the theater knew I was gay and THAT was why I was see the gay Village People and the naked guys. Come to think of it, that IS why I was there...and I believe I came out to the world within the next year or two. Maybe this movie helped!!

    3. When I was young, I remember it was VERY powerful seeing gay images onscreen. I saw this terrible comedy, "The Gay Deceivers" (1969) when I was 12 or 13, and there is really mix of fascination and awkwardness in the experience of feeling so exposed just by watching a film.
      It would be nice to think that "Can't Stop the Music" might have had something to do with your coming out. I'd like to think all thisexpense and bad taste had some good come out of it!

  7. For your interest, "Can't Stop The Music" screened in Australia as recently as November 2011, as part of the Canberra International Film Festival, on 35mm print, no less (at the same festival, "Xanadu" played, also in 35mm). Alas, I didn't make it to the screening of "Can't Stop The Music". Honestly, I really do want to see this film, preferably on the largest screen possible. It just seems like way too much fun to disregard.

    I'm surprised you know of Kenny Everett and Hot Gossip, but I'm very glad that you do. Back in the 1980s, every Friday night, I switched on to the ABC at 7.30 in the evening to watch Kenny Everett. Just a few weeks ago, I was in a video store and an episode was playing on the TV screen, and there was Hot Gossip. Just awesome--why don't they have dancers like them anymore?

    Apparently, "CSTM" did do good box office in Australia. Please keep in mind, around the same time, a certain insufferable Swedish pop band was still doing huge business in this country (supposedly the Scandinavian group, whose name doesn't bear repeating, were much more popular Down Under than elsewhere in the world). I guess that Australia was stubbornly refusing to move out of the 1970s.

    Not sure if I've ever told you about this, Ken, but I recall when I was a child back in the mid-80s, one sunny day, one of my school teachers had us out in the playground for sports, and I kid you not, she put on a tape of the Village People, and made us exercise to "YMCA".

    Ken, I can still see her, to this day, deadly serious, like a drill instructor, not a hint of irony, making damn well sure we formed the flesh letters to "YMCA" in the proper manner, as the Village People blared from her cassette player (perhaps validating your claim that Village People music is fit for kids on "Romper Room"). Yes, she REALLY loved the Village People (oh, and she also had a penchant for loud Cosby sweaters, too). But you know what? These were just two of the things that made her my favourite teacher from my primary school years.

    Oh, just one more thing: I have great difficulty believing that Valerie Perrine (who is really quite good in the small number of films I've seen her in), of ALL actresses, would fail so miserably playing a fag hag character. Surely she would've been a natural.

    1. This is a film I would say warrants a large screen, and in fact, it's one of the few older films that would be improved with a 3D upgrade (the thought of all all those thrusting pelvises and 3D glitter boggles the mind).
      Given what you say about Australia's love of ABBA (sorry, i said it) i can imagine Can't Stop the Music's bubblegum soundtrack appeal.

      I really didn't discover The Kenny Everett Show until YouTube. Before then it was just Hot Gossip clips on various TV shows and when Arlene Phillips did some stuff for Benny Hill. I love the dancing on those shows, but those clips reduce most of my friends to hysterics or gasps of disbelief.
      That YMCA story is very cute, and a great deal of fun. I can well imagine variations of that scenario being played out in children's exercise classes the world over. The cadence of those Village People anthems are perfect for kids just learning rhythm.
      As it stands, I can't attend a wedding reception without YMCA being played (apparently it has replaced "Shout" in the wedding band repertoire). Thanks for a very fun comment, Mark!

    2. To me Samantha Simpson (Valerie Perrine) is more a beard or a den mother than a fag hag. The conventionally attractive and sometimes scantily-clad Sam is pretty chill, and is not actively pursuing or insinuating her way into the activities of the Village People members. Now Lulu (Marilyn Sokol), she's a fag hag. And among my fave moments from the film are when the vamping Sydne (Tammy Grimes) gets down with the group during the Magic Night and Can't Stop the Music numbers.

    3. Your on-point comments really gave me a chuckle because you are so right! Of course Lulu is the fag hag...she has no other dominant characteristic in the plot. And by the defining parameters you cite (not actively pursuing or insinuating her way into the activities of the Village People) the point is made abundantly clear. I don't know how I could have thought otherwise!
      I love your way with words, by the way. To read Samantha described as "conventionally attractive and sometimes scantily-clad" is a hoot.
      And yes, when Tammy Grimes dances on the table...
      Thank you for contributing so sharp and amusing a comment!

  8. Hi Ken,
    I haven't seen CSTM, but I want to say how much I appreciate your great post and the fascinating discussion in the comments section on the gay-themed issues this film has raised. Critics talk about how great art illuminates and transcends, but I think there's something to be said for the analysis of pop culture, especially bad pop culture, and the responses it elicits and how people see themselves refracted in it. I love how you always bring that perspective to the films you review - keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks, GOM
      That's very kind of you to say, and may I add, very perceptive of you to take note of an underlying theme of my entire blog. When I fell in love with the movies during the 60s, a great many of my favorite film critics (chiefly Pauline Kael) made a big impression on me by stressing a point I think is very true and which you actually reference in your comment.
      I think that great art often shows us our idealized selves. the people we aspire to be, and how we'd like to see ourselves. But pop culture (as you say, especially bad pop culture) i think reveals a great deal about the way we are.
      Both good and bad films serve as a kind of mirror of our existence, and so, I too enjoy the kind of discussion a rather inconsequential film like this can engender when analyzed from a cultural perspective.
      Thank you very much for your kind words!

  9. This is wonderful writing. So interesting and insightful and nostalgic and campy and sad.

  10. Valerie Perrine made some really off choices in her career that had been so promising. She was a Vegas showgirl turned actress who really seemed kind of the other way around. There was a quality to her that was of a real actor.

    1. Hi Gary
      Thanks for visiting the site and taking the time to comment.Love your observation of Valerie Perrine. To see her in "Lenny" or even "The Border" and you see an actress of real potential who really made some unfortunate career choices. She is always very likable, though. Even in this...a real career killer.

    2. Did you know that Allan Carr wanted to make Cher a movie star during her "Take Me Home" phase...and this was one proposed vehicle! Cher's dodged a lot of bullets in her career ; ) I remember Carr schmoozing Cher about her star quality on "Mike Douglas Show" and she was just smiling...good thing there's not thought bubbles in real life! Could you imagine The Village People and Cher in one movie...Camp Nirvana!

    3. Eek! Cher hooked up with Allan Carr sounds like a nightmare. And in a campfest like this?
      It's a good thing Cher had been around the success block a couple of times by the time Carr came along. He had a trail of (to my eye) unwarranted successes that would have turned the heads of less career savvy folk.
      I never saw that Mike Douglas episode you speak of, but I've seen Cher on talk shows and she always comes off, it not intellectual, then certainly street smart.

  11. Although I know of this movie, I can't remember actually seeing it. I must have but I have no memory of it. There's a part of me tempted to check if it's available on Netflix (the part involving the shower scenes!) but the closet gayness is off putting. It's difficult to see vintage photos of Bruce Jenner and not think of his transformation into Caitlan. Perhaps all the fabulousness of this movie was an influence.

    Another great analysis as usual.

    1. Hi Frank (I think)
      i think you'd get a kick out of seeing the film again after so long, but I suspect it might be one of those films whose laughs are hard earned. It's a personal thing with me, but the closet-case subtext of the movie DOES undercut the fun I have watching it (i have the same experience with George Cukor's "The Women". It's a funny movie, but there is an undercurrent of misogyny that makes it a tough sale).

      The only thing that seems to be gained seeing "CSTM" now is knowing that Caitlyn is actually very present throughout, giving Jenner's terrible performance a vibrancy it lacked in 1980.
      Thanks for the compliment, and a bigger thanks for commenting!

  12. Every News Years Eve for the last approx 15 years like clockwok Channel 9 in Melbourne Austalia play Can't Stop The Miusic. To use a Seinfeld-ism, it's an ugly brute of a movie yet I can't look away. Every year we pick up something different such as Glen Hughes rendition of Danny Boi when he stops to take a little sip of his drink before he hits the high note yet the drink barely hits his lips. Like the fact he is completely uncoordinated yet completes his moves on a split second time delay. Like Guttenberg humming out compositions at a 160bpm when the songs are 125bpm. Like Gutterberg dancing to the sound of a different tune to what's playing that makes him look more like a a "frog in a mixer'. Until recently we swear that Bruce Jenner was gay and it was even more poignant last night when Valerine Perrine says to Jenner "There isn't a person who lives and breathes who doesn't have some peculiarities" (great timing) but for everything that is politically incorrect it's a campy pleasure that both my kids, now 10 & 8 years of age love every time.
    Both my wife and I mad disco freaks and me being a former profile DJ back In the day & one of the few straights to play for years at some of the more popular gay clubs, the playing non traditions Village People songs were my weekly staple. Eg In Hollywood, San Francisco and the underrated Sleazy. Hence when the V.P. came to Australia either at their peak and as recently as last year for their 'Super Annuation' tour where they played the Melbourne Zoo outdoor night concert we couldn't resist. I've seen them at least a dozen times over the years. The band were even pointing out my 8 year old daughter who was front and centre, singing the words to all their songs because of her yearly commitment to this ever green mirror ball and she Didn't Stop Dancing Yet (oops that was Gonzalez). Sorry I got lost in nostalgia. Can't Stop The Music will always remain a guilty pleasure, watching with one eye open whilst turning way yet singing out loud to the dreadful intro Sounds of The City, to the creamy Milkshake and the cheesy yet inspiring Magic Night. Please Channel 9 Australia never stop repeating this timeless tragic classic otherwise I may have to play my collectors anniversary edition DVD.

    Stan Michael

    1. Hi Stan!
      I had no idea that "Cant' Stop the Music" was something of a holiday tradition in Australia. Is it because everyone celebrates Olivia Newton-John turning it down to make "Xanadu"?
      First of all, let me tell you that its so refreshing to hear of a straight person who appreciates this magnificent disco timepiece, and that kids can find something to laugh at/enjoy in this movie (Alan Carr would be proud to know his "family" musical fantasies have come true!).
      Its also remarkable that you have an authentic background in disco's loud and glittering history that only fuels your affection for this movie. You and your wife must be so much fun...having kids who know the words to Village People songs!
      Everything in your wonderful comment points to exactly why a movie doesn't have to be "good" to be fun, inspiring, cheesily enjoyable, and loaded with fond, nostalgia.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this film. Your words have made me want to look at it again! Thanks so much, Stan!

  13. Not one day after I posted my thoughts, cable tv in Australia showed CSTM on repeated. Of course I "camped out" in front and watched it again. (Yes I'm a masochist). It goes to show that every tragic movie has it's day or yearly event in this case.
    Stan Michael

    1. Ha! I wish it would catch on in the States like that. The closest we get is that the terrible/wonderful "Lost Horizon" musical has become a holiday staple on some networks, always being broadcast around Thanksgiving or Christmas.
      We all know there are much better films than CSTM, but why this film is one that has endured while others have fallen by the wayside should give hope to bad filmmakers everywhere. Melbourne sounds very cool!
      Thanks, Stan!

  14. Ken
    Thank you for your kind words. If you ever come to Melbourne please contact me. My Twitter handle is @stanmichael (do you have one?) I can tell you stories of how I introduced Nikki Siano (original DJ of Studio 54) to Austrlalia and has returned many time since and many more stories. Most of them tragic I'm afraid haha!
    BTW I've purchased the book Partiy Animals. I can't wait to read it. That'll go with my previous purchases such as the Sylvester autobiography, Nile Rodgers Le Freak, Fabulous A photographic Diary of Stufio 54, Disco Years by Ron Galella and recently To Disco With Love about all those classic yet tragic disco LP covers of the time.
    Please keep up your flair for writing. I'll be reading.
    Stan Michael

    1. For a disco fan like myself, you have the most amazing history! I still inflict disco music on my dance students (they love it, so I don't mind that they consider the music "oldies").
      I had to Google that book of disco album covers you mentioned. OMG- it's got my name written all over it.
      Thanks for the contact info, I'll be following you on Twitter, and thank you for the kind words!

  15. FYI Austtalia is quite camp even if it doesn't know it. 3 classics movies are always on repeat in Aus-Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Muriel's Wedding & Baz Lurmanns Strictly Ballroom. Both Priscilla & Strictly were converted to stage plays where they were both more camp &!entertaining than the movies. Reminds me of that joke-How many line dance instructors does it
    take to change a light bulb?
    A. Five!...Six!...Seven!. Oh Dear....

    1. Ha! Culturally I've never been able to put my finger on the character of Melbourne. Part camp, part very macho. I like your take on it.

  16. This is one of those movies I just have never gotten round to seeing. I know I would like the disco tunes and star-spangled campy goodness, but the self-loathing element you mentioned may be a deterrent for me. There are all too many films with that kind of content, and I find them so painful that I avoid them at all costs. That's why I've never watched The Boys in the Band, btw; after seeing the trailer on YouTube, I knew I would find it excruciating, plus knowing how many of the cast members subsequently died of AIDS would make it an even sadder film-watching experience. (Though now whenever I see obviously gay men--or heck, even just male dancers or models--in 70's/early 80's footage, I always wonder if they are still with us today. More grateful {{hugs}} that you are!)

    Because denial is the single more predominant characteristic in my family--apart from the depression everyone has, about which the denial exists in the first place--I have a really hard time watching films in which the gay subtext is so strong, yet the script or direction tries to assert otherwise. Don't tell me those damn curtains are blue when I can see for myself that they're lavender! Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet was a wonderful validation of all the times my gaydar beeped, no matter what hetero nonsense was being promulgated. Ultimately it's just insulting the audience's intelligence on a "wardrobe malfunction" level of disingenuousness!

    I know the term "fag hag" is frowned upon by the young folk today, but after being repeatedly referred to as a fag hag (and once, I called myself someone's "personal pan fag hag"), I'm okay with the term. After my brother-from-another-mother died from AIDS in 1994, one of the ways I tried to cope with my overwhelming grief was to start writing a memoir entitled, "The Fag Hag's Guide to Life," but not long after, I saw a book entitled, "Why Gay Guys Are A Girl's Best Friend," which basically mined the same territory, albeit in a much lighter vein, so I never finished writing it. I'm not sure if I could even get a book with that title published today, though. What say you, good sir?

    1. Hi Lila
      Wonderful points taken! Camp movies can embody a lot of things. The homophobia swathed in hipness that permeates "Valley of the Dolls" is funny because the very heteronormative narrative is 100% ignorant of its queerness. I find that to be true of Russ Meyer films, too.

      Sometimes a film with a gay sensibility can be made by a homophobic director (like Myra Breckinridge) and one can laugh at their totally missing the point.
      But it is a uniquely uncomfortable experience for some to watch a film that is the cinematic equivalent of Liberace's life...which is what "CSTM" feels like for me.
      I don't say it's everyone's experience watching this movie, but what you wrote about in-your-face denial of the obvious is so prevalent in CSTM. Some may find it funny, some find it sad, others dont mind it at all. But I enjoy the film with a clear-eyed awareness that (for me) self-loathing is on every frame.
      As a black man who doesn't get the cultural "pass" of being able to pretend not a person of color in a racist society, my empathy is not as strong as it might be for for gays who hide in closets. And a film like this, that tries to have it both ways, is like Hollywood and the movie industry in a nutshell: if more money is to be be made, let's "tone down the gay."

      For the longest time I have felt the term "fag hag" to be one of those words like "queer"; onetime insult transformed and reclaimed to another, more positive meaning. Now I'm not so sure where I stand.
      When I listen to pop stars like Madonna, Lady Gaga and professional bigmouth Kathy Griffin go around using terms like "my gays", "the gays love me", "The gays"...I dunno.
      To be honest, my eyes have been opened a bit by Tumblr, where young gay people post things like "We are not your pets, accessories, or surrogate girlfriends"
      I hadn't thought about it before, but I see the point.
      Valerie Perrine's character is a classic fag hag, but maybe she's also a bit of a relic-too. Perhaps the image of the gay-friendly woman has broadened into something more expansive and I wasn't paying attention.

      Boy, everything you brought up in your comment really got me to thinking and it feels like it should be expanded upon in an article. Food for thought from a CSTM essay. Whoda thunk? Thanks so much!

    2. You know I could sit here all day reading your blog and making comments, right? :) But I was compelled to do a rapid response here, because I HAAATE that arrogant-yet-possessive use of, "the gays." To me, it's not far from a redneck bigot's, "them queers." It may be meant affectionately, but it feels both patronizing and distancing, or "othering," like the kids on Tumblr say.

      I just finished reading a biography of Isabella Blow, whose two best friends were hatmaker Philip Treacy and designer Alexander McQueen, yet she would tell her straight friends, "I have to be so careful with these queens. They could cut me off entirely." There's just so much ugly condescension there, and toward the men who ended up dressing her in her casket and planning her splashy funeral. Gay men have always been my heroes and role models, so I can't understand having such a fundamentally hateful attitude toward supposedly beloved friends. It feels rooted in homophobia, so anyone who uses such terms is giving "fag hag" a bad name!

      BTW, it makes perfect sense to me why you have limited empathy for closeted gays. Incidentally, this past year I finally got 'woke,' though I'm sure I still have a lot of internalized racism that I have yet to recognize. I've always been concerned about the safety of my friends of color with regard to the police, but I have since moved into "abject terror" mode. Whenever I hear about another blameless black man being murdered by cops, you are now one of the first people I think of and worry about. As well, I now have a mixed-race niece and nephew, and it's all I can do to stop myself from asking my sister-in-law to never let them leave the house. (Wow, I've actually started crying as I write this.) My impulse is to tell you to be safe, but I'm sure you already try to be. I'm equally sure that Philando Castile and Alton Sterling tried to be safe, too. I hate feeling so helpless. It feels like all I can do is call out racism whenever I see or hear it (esp. in my own pro-law-enforcement family--my dad and sister are retired CHP), and rant like this:

    3. I actually love when a film sparks commentary about other aspects of our culture. This particular conversation is very intriguing because I've known a lot of gay people who enjoy CSTM, but they don't "love"affectionately like Valley of the Dolls or something. An perhaps what you hit on is at least part of the reason.
      There must be many folks, gay & straight alike who are made uncomfortable by the closet vibe of this movie.
      in all my years as a dancer I've met many straight people of both genders who sound like Isabella Blow: there is a great deal of gay-friendliness amidst a great deal of condescension.

      People are divided over what a film like CSTM accomplishes. Some are still thrilled that a major motion picture attempted to peddle "the gays" to mainstream America; me...I say if you have to cloak gay story in a heteronormative fairy tale, you're only fooling yourself that it's progress.

      I share your concern and fear about being concerned for the safety of people of color in society. People who don't get to be safely in the closet because their skin defines them 24/7. I mostly feel it for my Muslim friends who really must be catching it these days, and for my sisters and nephews. Me, I'm in my "kiss my ass" years. I not only refuse to let fear be a part of my racial consciousness, but after having found love at age 40, my partner and will be damned if we are going to our graves without holding hands in public, kissing in public, and giving a big finger to haters. I've always felt that if this put me at risk, it's better to die being yourself than live even one day afraid.
      By the way, I LOVE your twitter link, and THANK YOU for what is probably the only intellectually stimulating conversation to come out of a discussion of "Can't Stop The Music"!

    4. Eight months later, my second response there now makes my finger hover over the 'delete' button. There's just sooo much hubris in declaring myself "woke." It's not for me to make such a determination, FFS! In fact, I'm not sure if white people should even use the term to begin with, as it feels kinda appropriative, but in any case, becoming more aware of my own privilege has led to a lot of these *facepalm* moments. I'm hoping that as time goes on, there will be fewer instances of me wanting to delete evidence of my cluelessness such as that. Please allow me to apologize for that, and for still not having seen CSTM yet! Netflix is down for maintenance right now, but I'm pretty sure it's in my queue! Any movie you love is something I need to check out ASAP! <3

    5. Aw, I think you're being a tad hard on yourself. Our initial correspondence was during the height of the media focus on all those police killings/acquittals and emotions were high.
      I do think you have something there about the term "woke," which speaks to what we all strive for: continued growth and self-awareness. So no apologies needed.
      Recently CSTM was screened by the BFI so there have been a lot of posts online by people who've never seen it before. No one concedes that the film is any good (lulu and Guttenberg are a bit much for some) but its dated and camp elements seem to have found a new appreciation. hope your eventual revisit proves as rewarding as your re-up of "Sgt. Pepper"!

  17. I don't think CSTM needs to shout from the rooftops "This is for the gay community!" for it to be understood. Laying a message between the lines isn't selling out to me. Like, you mentioned that "Magic Night" scene; it's not about pairing off men and women, it's about people from different walks of life getting along (which the Bruce Jenner character can't quite accept at the moment). Not saying the execution is perfect, hehe, but I do see it as a celebratory moment.

    As for the Secret Disco Revolution documentary you cited, maybe they want to be remembered for their music and showmanship (same as anyone else) and not just for being "the gay group." No one likes being put in a box and told to stay there.

    I enjoyed your review though, and your responses to the comments! Funny that cinematic flops often seem to prompt the most fascinating discussions! ;)

    1. Hi Heralde
      Thanks very much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. As you say, the flops have something about them that doesn't lend itself to indifference.
      I see your point, of course, and I'm of a mind that it's likely a distinctly personal thing how one responds to the "gay" in a film like this.

      For me, in a world where heterosexuality is the default which no one considers to be a limiting label; the invisibility of gay contributes to the continuing stigma.
      The near rabid heterosexuality of say, Warren Beatty or Elizabeth Taylor never limited them or put them in a box. It was a natural part of what we knew about them as rounded individuals.

      Being gay will always be the only thing a gay artist is remembered for if the world is allowed to persist in the shared delusion that everyone is straight. Visibility and claiming one's identity is the only way to expand the narrow box. I'll never be persuaded that the denial of self in that documentary isn't the height of self-loathing. It can be rationalized socially, economically, or culturally; but it's still a rationalization.

      Much like the idea that color-blind thinking is an antidote to racism, I've never bought into the idea that identifying gay is limiting. People want it to be, need it to be, but it won't change until gay artists and movies like this one stop treating it like it doesn't matter. Non-covert visibility and representation matters a lot.
      Thanks for granting the opportunity to soapbox on the topic again!

    2. I hope it's OK if I reply one more time. You got me curious so I checked out that documentary, lol. It sounds like they were trying to stake their territory a bit. That if there were any double entendres, it was in their characters and their performances, not so much in the song lyrics (which were written by other people). Plus, the group has always been about diversity: the members are both black and white, gay and straight; the characters are from vastly different backgrounds (cowboy, Indian, biker, etc.). So they've never really been about representing ANY one particular group, not entirely anyway.

      The movie IS 36 years old, and a lot of movements do start out being covert, so as to allow future generations to build on that and be more out in the open. I think progress has been made, I don't know if you agree?

    3. Oh, by all means, it's OK to reply. You're vary gracious and it is an interesting topic, even if we don't exactly see eye to eye, no? I appreciate you input.
      I think it is a matter of degree and personal preference: I am not fond of the "give them time to get used to the idea" element of human rights and sexual politics. I think a too-conservative approach hints that others (straights) hold the approve/disapprove cards and gays internalize that caution, promoting them to distance themselves from gay self-identification as though the label were the problem and not that social "attitude" about the label.
      So, while it's undeniable that progress has been made, no doubt about it, too cautious a path and too slow progress means that many more kids and teens grow up wanting to distance themselves from that part of themselves they should be celebrating.
      I respect your opinion and actually see your point, and I am pleased this piece inspired you to want to engage in sharing your thoughts on the matter.
      Kinda kooky that THIS film would engender any serious conversation whatsoever! Thanks!

  18. For whatever it's worth: In the summer of 1983, at the height of the AIDS crisis and corporate Reagan-era/MTV-infused Hollywood, I took a personal meeting with him at his home to discuss remaking Ira Levin's "Compulsion" about the Leopold and Loeb Chicago murder case of the 1920's. He was completely enthusiastic about doing it, and he was willing to commission an A-list screenwriter, director, and cast that would openly deal with their closeted sado-masochistic homosexual relationship and their Jewish ethnicity as both Hitchcock's "Rope" and the 1959 Orson Welles/Dean Stockwell/Bradford Dillman adaptation did not/could not at the time. He was sincere, ambitious, and articulate about it. He also seemed to want to be seen as something other than what he had come to represent. (He was, as a matter of record, instrumental in getting " The Deer Hunter" released in 1978, when it had major interference from the executive suites)

    It was Paramount executives who said no to the project, and killed it immediately. Was he trying in some way, to make amends for CSTM? Who knows...but either way, it's sad for me to think back on the intensity of his desire to do it, in those waning days of his late 1970's-era power in Hollywood.

  19. Ken, you wrote "I can't imagine how this film must have appeared to a youngster.."

    I saw this in a theater when it was released and I remember thinking "This movie has a lot of gay subtext in it, I wonder if the studio people making it realize that?"

    I imagined the VP had managed to smuggle a barge load of secret gay stuff into the movie under the unwitting noses of the studio. Did I mention I was very young?

    I just discovered your blog after YT suggested the Xanadu documentary. I stayed up way too late reading the entries for some of my favorite films and there are still more to read and now I'm dipping my toe in with this first comment. I just wanted to say thank you. I know good writing takes time and the sustained effort here over the years is amazing.

    1. Hi Max Q
      First off, I want to welcome you to the asylum! I'm pleased that you came across this blog and that XANADU was the catalyst.
      Thank you for providing the youthful-perspective to the whole "Who DIDN'T know this was gayer than a Easter bonnet?" issue with CSTM being marketed as straight family fun. I have to think back hard and long, but there was a time I was so young I'd watch Paul Lynde on TV in "Bewitched" and other sitcoms and the thought of his being gay never once crossed my mind. He was just a silly comic like Jerry Lewis. So, yes, I can believe that a kid could look at this and think the gay subtext was not a part of the original package.
      I appreciate your electing to share some of your film experience here, just as I'm flattered by your kind words about the blog and my writing. I hope you continue to find favorite films among some of my blog entries here, and I hope you feel free to comment again in the future.
      Much obliged, Max!

  20. Great article.

    I am from Melbourne and at around 12 years of age during school holidays I was travelling with my dad who was a sales representative, that week in a regional area outside Melbourne. On a whim he dropped me a cinema and I could see whatever was playing. The options were Xanadu and Can't Stop the Music. I picked the latter and was so surprised to see all this homoerotic stuff in the film. Short shorts, tight jeans, Bruce Jenner having his trousers whipped off... Did the filmmakers realise? I wondered. Maybe it got in there by accident. I also wondered if anyone else in the audience noticed this stuff, or just me?

    I quite enjoyed the film. My fave parts were the depictions of New York City. It seemed a super cool fun place. I recall liking the tracks Can't Stop the Music and Magic Night a lot. Milkshake I also liked, but not as much as the other tracks. I liked the characters played by Valerie Perrine and Paul Sand.

    Clips from the movies were often shown on TV music video shows at the time. It was a well known film here.

    As a film fan I later got the book The Hollywood Hall of Shame. I was surprised to read that Can't Stop the Music was a big flop everywhere except Australia. Yeah, we never had a 'disco sucks' movement. I used to read Mad Magazine. Its references to 'disco sucks' really confused me. Here we all spent the 1980s going to discos. They were the place to be, even if they were soon renamed nightspot then nightclub and added tracks like Male Stripper, Boom boom let's go back to my room, and Blue Monday, to the play lists.

    Australia had and has a big camp sensibility. Among the most popular TV soaps of the 1970s were Number 96, and The Box. These were huge hits. By 1980 they had ended - by then we were watching women's prison drama Prisoner. ABBA were huge here (and filmed the ABBA movie in Australia).

    I did turn out to be gay. I had been surprised as a teenager in a TV screening of Can't Stop the Music to discover that the Village People themselves sounded and acted gay. Seeing the film again as an adult, it doesn't really seem all that gay even though you think it would. My tastes lean toward the Glenn Hughes, David Hodo looks, but what you see of them is so stylised and glittery it always just looks like a Las Vegas show even with the tight jeans and acres of hairy chest on display. And all the group members have such bland personas when not performing the musical numbers while it is the heterosexual characters who do all the obvious lusting, so overall the film is more glittery than gay.

    By the way Kenny Everett's shows were on regular repeats runs on early evening Australian TV through the 1980s so we got to see the Hot Gossip dancers all the time. Kenny Everett was quite a camp-acting guy who played funny characters (often women) in comedy skits but it's, OK... because he was actually married, and all the 'naughty bits' in his shows were aggressively sexy women in lingerie and fetish gear.

    A few weeks ago I bought Can't Stop the Music in a three-DVDs-for-$10 at the local newsagent. I find the film entertaining and pretty well made. (The simple sitcom-like story is the weakest part.) Yeah, Magic Night is still my fave part of the film. And now I have a better appreciation for how funny Tammy Grimes was.

    1. Hello 967424
      I absolutely love your detailed memories of seeing this movie. I knew someone living in Australia who gave me some perspective as to how differently CSTM was received there. I understand there is a TV channel that plays it every New Year's Eve?
      Anyhow, I think your being 12 was perhaps a great age to enjoy the film for what it was. You could listen to the music and see the dancing and only occasionally have you mind wander as to "Why are there so many guys in this movie and only a handful of women?"
      Having never been to Australia, it's hard to align the conflicting images we get here: part of it depicts Aussie culture as very macho and conservative, the other is like Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

      The point you make about the film seeming not so gay now that you are older, has become something The Village People rely on and --in a desperate effort to keep their "brand" mainstream for all those County Fairs they appear at --hypocritically feed into. Just recently I read that the guy who wrote YMCA threatens to sue any publication that infers the song has any homosexual subtext.
      Upon hearing this my eyes rolled around in my head so far, I looked like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

      It's such sell-out opportunism that permeates CSTM for me: make money off of what is clearly a band crated by, for, and about gay culture; take gay money and become popular with their support; abandon and disavow said gay following once embraced by the mainstream.

      What's enjoyable about reading your comment is the reflective evolution you express...the film appearing different to you as you grow older. Your perceptions are refreshingly clear-eyed (the band members ARE a bland bunch) and amusing (I like that Tammy Grimes stands out as a favorite).
      I recently acquired the film on Blu-ray, and I must say, it looks even better than it did when I saw it in the theater. Since you enjoy this movie so much, you might like the documentary "The Fabulous Allan Carr" it contains some fun behind the scenes info on the making of it.
      Thank you for your amazing autobiographical comment contribution. It's a perfect addition and I appreciate your time and your reading this post. Cheers!

    2. Thanks for your reply :-)

      A thing I noticed watching CSTM in 2020 was that while Samantha rounds-up the construction worker/model David Hodo, cowboy Randy Jones, Indian/go-go dancer Felipe Rose, it's her black pal Alicia (Altovise Davis) who brings in the two black guys: new lead singer/cop Ray Simpson and GI Alex Briley.

      Alicia was apparently written in at the request of original lead singer Victor Willis to be played by his wife Phylicia Rashad, as Willis wanted to assert his heterosexuality. When Willis left the group (and the film) Rashad was out too, but Alicia stayed. It is Victor Willis who today refutes the idea YMCA is in any way gay.

      CSTM does at times try to be clever too. Lulu, lusting after Felipe, declares "I'll make up for all the indignities they suffered in Roots."

      Producer Allan Carr was successful in publicity and promotions which led to him producing Grease. When that was a hit CSTM and Grease 2 followed. To me Grease is fun but not perfect. Some of its big dance numbers seem a bit haphazard while other elements seem inspired, have an authentic energy, and are entertaining in spite of themselves. CSTM and Grease 2 have more a kid-in-a-candy-store feel. Like the makers were more assured - and had more money - so self-indulgently put in all the shiny things they wished had been in Grease (see Grease 2's over-produced luau). The later films are bigger, glossier, more precisely staged, but seem contrived and lack the raw energy of Grease.

      It doesn't help that the Village People members are non-actors with bland personas and are effectively walk-on characters in their own film. A homoerotic moment that stood out to me was Steve Guttenberg helping to whip off Bruce Jenner's trousers when he spills lasagne - until Valerie Perrine takes over. When the romance between Perrine and Jenner takes centre stage it makes for a pretty non-gay film. Like the old Queer Eye makeover show the gay guys can be "charming and kind of funny" early on but when the heterosexual couple arrives it's a case of stand down and hands off.

      While I recall songs Can't Stop the Music and Magic Night were shown on Australian TV music video shows and were hits, I wouldn't really call CSTM a popular cult classic. While it had some success here, after 1980 the Village People were out of fashion and new wave/pop acts like KISS, Blondie, Kim Wilde, Human League, Culture Club came in. Village People album Renaissance got some mainstream attention, but the switch to Adam Ant-style costumes and make-up was seen as a calculated cash grab. CSTM might be repeated (late) on TV on New Year's Eve/Day but I've only ever read about that online. It's not like the film is in the national consciousness. I think Australia's attitude to CSTM in 1980 was we didn't hate it, didn't take it too seriously, were happy to see it, then forgot it.

      Australia had CSTM-type gaudy musical film Starstruck (1982) which was quite successful. It also has a camp number in it:

      The singer of this song Terry is a TV talent show host who has the main character tone down the flashier parts of her act. She develops a crush on him before learning he is gay.

      Starstruck encapsulates extreme stereotypes of Australia. The main setting is a central Sydney working class pub with a Harbour Bridge mosaic and water views. The drinkers are rugged worker types. The film mixes retro and New Wave styles. The hit song from the film was Body and Soul replete with cockatoo and Luna Park iconography on Terry's vest. The reality of life in Australia fell somewhere in the middle of these contrasting elements.

      A later musical in this mode, which had the biggest impact, was Strictly Ballroom (1992).

      The Fabulous Allan Carr sounds great. Also intriguing is the supposed clash between Valerie Perrine and Nancy Walker who of course acted in and directed a few episodes of one of my favourite US sitcoms the Mary Tyler Moore show.

  21. Hello Ken...Love your reviews! I always look for them on IMDB. Straight guy here but the YMCA part of CSTM is jaw dropping fun and the gayest 3 minutes of my life!! Lived on disco biscuits then and still love the music now.

    1. Thank you very much! From what I've learned since posting this, sexuality has no bearing on the appreciation of camp, gay-sensibility tackiness, and the ability to enjoy this film on any one of its numerous, equally loony levels.
      As silly as it all is, I think the YMCA number is very difficult not to like. As you say, it's jaw dropping fun.
      So pleased you found this site and enjoy some of my posts. I thank you for reading this and being so kind in your comments.

  22. I've laughed out loud at a lot of your observations, but referring to the Village People's oeuvre as "Romper Room marching music" might be the funniest (and funniest to visualize) yet.

    Interestingly, the year after giving "the single worse performance in the history of celluloid" Guttenberg was cast as Olympic goalie Jim Craig in the highly rated TV movie MIRACLE ON ICE (that rare example of a Hollywood star being vastly less charismatic and good-looking than the real life guy he was playing) and followed that up with a key role in Barry Levinson's all-time classic DINER. He's actually pretty good in that one, as the Baltimore schmuck who won't marry his fiancé until she passes a football quiz. ("How's she doing?" his mother asks mid-exam. "It could go either way...").

    The moral of the story is that some careers will survive an atomic bomb and others won't. There's no other explanation for it.

    1. I'm glad you got a laugh here and there reading this.
      And while I never really followed Guttenberg's post-CSTM career, it is somewhat surprising how he did manage to emerge from this disaster unscathed.
      I remember enjoying seeing him killed in "The Boys from Brazil" and while I intentionally avoided DINER, I have a faint memory of liking him (or being less annoyed by him) in THE BEDROOM WINDOW.
      I met Guttenberg a couple of times when he used the studio where I worked to practice his DANCING WITH THE STARS routines. He struck me as a very nice fellow, one blessed or cursed with that unquestioning confidence a lot of mediocre white straight males seem to have that allows them do better than their limited gifts should ever permit. He's been very VERY lucky and I think he's appeared in enough cult favorites to seal his future among the few as a well-remembered actor.
      Thanks for commenting, Kip!

  23. I join you AND Arlene Phillips' mother as those who love the "Milkshake" number! Haha! In fact, when I first saw "Can't Stop the Music" on TV YEARS ago, I only caught the tail end from the "Milkshake" number on to the end, so I'm sure I have an extra fondness for it because of the random way I saw it.

    Another high point for me is the Ritchie Family's "Give Me a Break." It's really only there for Casablanca cross-promotion but those ladies work it in those fabulous Norma Kamali creations!

    (Village People's "Y.M.C.A." was one of the first 45 singles I remember playing so, again, I'll always have a special place for the group.)

    David Hodo told me that the group's original costumes for the "Milkshake' number were baggier and not at all form-fitting. He got Allan Carr to change that. (That story might have been in the Allan Carr book., as well.)

    Paul Sand does a great job with the little that's available to him. (He also makes the most of his screen time in "The Main Event.")

    Thanks for shining a light on this, Ken!

    1. Hello, Christian
      Arlene Phillips' MOM likes the "Milkshake" number? Ha! I love that you know that. My partner is in your camp in really enjoying the Ritchie Family appearance. I think theirs is the only song on the soundtrack he likes.

      You seem to know so much about Casablanca Records and the making of this movie. It's also so great that you were born long after the disco era, but you have your heart in the '70s. I'm glad to have the opportunity to more or less officially welcome you to the blog and to thank you for your compliments, interest, and contagious enthusiasm for film. Thank you!

  24. My pleasure! And your blog is such a treasure! I just love your perspective and the way you pick up on details that help connect the dots. Oh, my comment about Arlene's mom was in reference to your quip in one of the comments above from 2013 ("...maybe just me and Arlene Phillips' mother") but maybe one day I'll ask her for real if her mother liked "Milkshake" ... I mean what's not to like?!?