Can’t Stop The Music

Unfortunate
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1980
Director: 
Nancy Walker
Starring: 
Village People, Valerie Perrine, Bruce Jenner, Steve Guttenberg
The Setup: 
Purportedly presenting the story of the Village People’s formation
Discussion: 

This film can really kill your buzz. It’s just so leaden. It’s not nearly as hootworthily bad as it should be, and is more often just stare-at-it-in-open-mouthed-disbelief kind of bad. And yet I love it. I’ve owned a copy for like 10 years [I have to, as part of my lifelong tribute to the Village People], and it’s something I want to watch like every 5 years. Which means I’ve only watched it 3 times, sure, but each time it gets slightly better.

This movie was started at the height of the Village People’s success, and released after disco had been completely killed off. It’s amazing in retrospect to think how quickly that happened. The movie cost 20 Million to make and made only 2 Million in the states. The VPs next album after this was Renaissance, their ILL-ADVISED reimagining themselves as a “new romantic” group, which just shows the extent to which things very quickly went wrong.

This movie was directed by NANCY WALKER, who many will remember as Rosie, the haggard diner waitress in the Bounty “quicker picker-upper” commercials of the 70s. HOW this woman ended up in the director’s chair I do not know, an amazement further compounded by the fact that it’s impossible not to imagine this haggard diner waitress suddenly being offered the direction of a film. Oh dear.

Then there’s the movie itself. I think the best way to enjoy this film is as a sort of capsule of one version of New York in the 70s. In the film’s first scene, aspiring DJ and rock star Steve Guttenberg quits his record store job and, to the tune of an appealingly shitty song about “the sound of the city,” roller skates through New York in his short-shorts, gaping in idiotic wonder at this fabulousness of it all. He hangs out with his friend Samantha, the hideous Valerie Perrine, who happens to have Felipe, the Indian, in his FULL regalia, just hanging out in her apartment. The ludicrousness mounts from there, but somehow it never really crosses the line into great or greatly funny. It’s just kind of a dud.

Not that there aren’t highlights. David Hodo [the construction worker] sings an amusingly sleazy song while dancing like a total Nellie. There’s a fun scene in a disco where you get to see a lot of 70s outfits. Marylin Sokol plays Valerie’s pot-smoking best friend, looking like a cross-dressing Tim Curry [I love Marylin as the militant feminist in Foul Play]. The “Magic Night” number is astonishingly cheesy. This movie features Bruce Jenner in a dramatic role, which is cheese factor enough. But somehow the effect just isn’t enough to make it as awesome as it may sound.

Then there’s the Village People. This film is a sad revelation in that it destroys any sense you may have built up that these guys really are the super macho dudes [of course, then why would they be singing these ridiculous songs, but we can fantasize, you know] and reveals them as MAJOR NELLIES. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… just doesn’t appeal to me. You also don’t really get as much of them as you want—or them doing what you want. They alternate between standing around looking cheerfully dazed and clapping in moronic enthusiasm at their latest success. Subversive gay humor is nowhere to be found, nor really is any hint of homosexuality—aside from the guys themselves. And far too much of the film is spent with the misadventures of Valerie, Steve, and Bruce.

The music ranges from bad to terrible. The only classic VP song included is YMCA, and they have a few more songs, none of which make much of an impression. Of course, I never thought many of their actual hits were all that great as songs anyway. There are also a number of tracks by other artists of variable [but mostly low] gifts, and I guess this sums up a lot of the problem with this movie: Keep the focus on the VPs, where it belongs. Far too much is spent on other people.

Nevertheless, there are cute parts, and if you like the Village People, this, you know, has them. I of course have always had a lifelong crush on the late Glenn Hughes [the leatherman], and while disappointed to discover that he’s such a nasal-voiced Nellie, and that he looks considerably less good without his hat on, he does get his own song, and you know, you do get to see him.

Anyway, I’m glad I own it. And I’m glad I only watch it about every five years.

Should you watch it: 

You should definitely see it at least once, especially if you’re into disco, the 70s in general, or the Village People in general. Just be advised that it’s not nearly as fun as it seems like it should be.