Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Dance Party: Young Men's Christian Association

Alan Carr was a film and stage impresario who excelled at party planning and anything flamboyant.  He began in PR, and helmed the ad campaign which turned a starless low-budget film in 1977 into a cultural phenomenon.  That film was Saturday Night Fever, and it brought disco into the mainstream.  Carr next produced (and wrote) the screen adaptation of Grease, providing one of the biggest smashes in the history of musical film.  Meanwhile, everyone was scrambling to capitalize on the disco craze, Carr included, and he came up with the gigantic flop from which this week's Dance Party is plucked.
Disco was one of those musical styles which wore out its welcome with the public in record time, so by the time Can't Stop the Music arrived in theaters, there was already a public backlash against it.
That's not to say the film is any good, it would be a real stinker, even without that backlash.  Carr placed up-and-coming nerd Steve Guttenberg at the center of his film, and enlisted Valerie Perrine as the female lead.  Perrine already had an Oscar nomination on her resume (for Lenny), but had failed to achieve anything remotely resembling that earlier success.  In supporting roles, Carr used established, but fading, stars such as Tammy Grimes, Barbara Rush, and June Havoc.  Even Mrs. Sammy Davis, Jr. showed up.  These all seem unusual choices for a disco film, wouldn't you think?  But Carr went further, and cast this guy in the romantic leading role:

Today is Bruce Jenner's birthday, and from the pictures I've seen of him lately, he bears only a passing resemblance to the human statue he was in the 70s. Extensive cosmetic surgery will do that, I guess.  I believe he is somehow related to the skanky Kardashian clan, but as reality television makes my skin crawl, I can't tell you exactly how. 

In the late 70s, though, Jenner was legitimately known as the greatest athlete on earth.  The whole planet had watched his gold medal performance in the decathlon during the '76 Olympics, and he was very photogenic.  Sadly, he possessed the charisma of limp lettuce, and the acting talent to match.  After testing for the leading role in Superman, and of course losing it, he landed in Can't Stop the Music.  He's hilariously bad, and it is his only appearance in a feature film to date. Even more, he landed in one of the campiest, most pseudo-homoerotic outfits ever seen onscreen:

Can't Stop the Music has no gay characters or plotlines, but has one of the gayest sensibilities of any "straight" film ever made.  Carr surrounded his stars with members of the Village People, the gay-centric club group which was responsible for several disco hits.  Their songs included lyrics which winked at their gay fans while leaving an impression with middle America that the group was lousy with machismo. The Village People tunes were peppy and eminently danceable, and they provided the musical inspiration

 (such as it was) for Can't Stop the Music.

And who did producer Allan Carr place at the helm of this hodgepodge?  This film auteur:

Though she had legitimate musical theatre performance credentials in her early career, Nancy Walker was an unlikely choice to direct an anthem to disco.  She had directed some episodic sitcoms, when she was playing Rhoda's mother, but had never been in charge of a feature film.  The result she delivered was a colossal mess of a movie.  Can't Stop the Music was so atrociously received, it encouraged publicist John J.B. Wilson to inaugurate a new set of awards, The Golden Raspberry, to commemorate the worst films of the year.  The presentation has been held annually the night before the Academy Awards, for the past 30 years.  These days, stars actually
show up to accept the dishonor.  In 1981, the very first Razzie as the Worst Film of the Year went to Can't Stop the Music.

Our Dance Party clip was placed in the film as security, as it was already the Village People's most well-established hit (it still is).  It is a fair representation of the entire movie, filled with the flamboyant excess which Allan Carr loved.  By placing sexpot Valerie Perrine at its center, he seemed to think that it would mask the overt homo-eroticism of the number.  Instead, it's an over-the-top, hilariously rendered, display of beefcake.