|The following piece was written as a response to the Onion A. V. Club article, ‘Six
Movies That Helped Kill Disco’. It is taken from the book SPACE AGE ASH TRAY.
|DISCO MOVIES: the last (space age) picture show
By Don Fields
In an article in the Onion’s AV Club, the writer, Nathan Rabin, offered a small list of motion pictures that,
according to its title, “helped kill disco”. Now, for those of you who are familiar with this particular pop culture
topic, you can easily guess what films were mentioned.
From bottom to top of the heap goes as follows: Staying Alive, Thank God It’s Friday, Avenging Disco Godfather,
Xanadu, The Apple and numbero uno from hell-o, Can’t Stop The Music.
Sure, these usual suspects did their share of putting the earth into disco’s grave, but this is far from what the
writer was suggesting. The full picture of disco’s decline was the traditional eternal loop where the mainstream
discovers a sub-culture, nurturing it for the masses, support for the sudden acceptance, saturate the landscape
to meet all over reactive expectations, squeezing out the last dollar just before the consumer burn out and finally
barring it and dance on its grave loudly demanding like a New York cop that this sub-culture is dead and that we
should keep move along just so the mainstream doesn’t get embarrassed with it and what they done.
As it turned out, disco wasn’t dead. It moved to Europe, morphed along with the evolution of dance music and has
come back to these shores in little compilation CD’s and box sets from Rhino Records.
These movies were nothing more than a result of the disco frenzy that happened just before or so soon after the
burn out cusp. However, this doesn’t make them innocent either, specially the fact that there hasn’t been a
successful “disco” movie after Saturday Night Fever and there wasn’t a successful musical for years since
Grease. That damned Travolta bastard, it was HIS fault all along…but I digress…
Along side those avenging compilations, there’s been a slow invasion of these same disco flicks DVD reissues
that causes an utopian opportunity for the nostalgia addicts, filler for critics & pop culture writers and bad cocaine
flashbacks to those who barely survived it. Just ask the former Village People lead singer for his opinion between
My personal association to this list is close yet oddly distant. I have seen all of these flicks, except the ‘Disco
Godfather’, and, outside of Xanadu, I don’t have a full memory of them. I’ve seen them in bits and pieces thanks
to various run-ins on late night TV. Hell, I felt too geekish and nervous to even listen to the music in the first place
as I used to think this music came from porn films, which explains why I listened to this stuff alone or on
I only saw Staying Alive once during the hollowed days of the Z Channel and I knew it was going to stink up the
cable box when I saw Sly Stalone’s writer & director credits. Hell, just star in it ya ox and get it over with! The Bee
Gees were in the soundtrack, but it was Sly’s brother, Frank, who took the spotlight and dragged the whole
project into a level of hell that was never imagined before. Sure, it had no disco as it was made in 1983, but it
wasn’t necessary. The suspects listed here more than filled that hellish space.
I don’t remember much about ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ other than the publicity when it was first released in the
theaters and record stores and two years later for its TV debut at 11:35 pm on CBS’s Late Night Movie. I knew
Jeff Goldblum was in there somewhere, the plot was your typical night at the disco (minus the Studio 54 sized
mountains of sex & drugs) and I was looking for Donna Summer as I still had a crush on her.
I haven’t seen Disco Godfather, as I’m not much on black-exploitation and Rudy Ray Moore films. Just to show
you, though, that even in African American circles, they, too, can be bowled over by the disco mirrored ball.
Xanadu?! Not surprised. I’m all too close to this particular thanks to years of repetitive viewing and maintaining a
mega web site (Xanadu Preservation Society) for any objective stance like making the argument that Xanadu
wasn’t really a disco flick, even though it was planned as such until Roller Boogie was announced and the
producers ditched the “D” word. However, all of those skates, loud flashy clothes, flashy cheap SFX and the
general flashiness all blows this argument up into little flashy pieces.
In defense though, the music had a much broader musical mixture of big band, 70’s musical version of the 80’s
rock (provided by The Tubes) and danceable pop music (mainly provided by ELO). Unfortunately, the ‘pop music’
around the time of the movie was 90% disco, so it was difficult for the movie to distance itself from the mirrored
Olivia Newton-John wasn’t much of a “disco artist” in the first place either. She has a very good flexible voice, but
it can’t muster the range and muscle needed to belt ‘em out like Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor. The closest
she ever got to “disco” was the leading track of her 1979 LP, Totally Hot, ‘Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting’. In this
5-minute recording, Olivia sings with reasonable passion of a neglected affair until three and a half minutes in
where she pushes her luck by getting her wordless vamping funk on. When she sang low during this duration, it
sound like she’s trying to lick the back of her throat and when she reaches for the high ones, it comes off
sounding like Mariah Carry on a oxygen binge.
Okay okay, Andrea ‘More More More’ True didn’t have much of what you call a vocal range for this material
either, but, unlike dear sweet Olivia, Ms. True was a porn star. Thus she gets an e-ticket to pass this test.
At this point, I begin to differ with the writer. The Apple, the euro-trash disco mayhem brought to you by the
makers of those early Chuck Norris movies, should have topped this turkey list with flying rotten colors!! As noted
before, my first run-in with the Apple was an all-too-brief-enough stop of channel surfing where I saw a number
dressed in aluminum foil while a song’s chorus of “AHHHH-AHHHH-AHHHH-AHHHH’s that was ripped off from
the R&B hit, ‘Stranded In The Jungle’, blazing away on, once again, that dumping ground called the CBS Late
I finally saw it in full twenty years later as part of a double bill with Xanadu at the New Beverly Theatre in LA. After
going through the paces with this umpteenth viewing of the X movie, I strapped into for this ride to disco hell! All
the urban legends I’ve heard surrounding this monster became true and whatever that turned out NOT be
became thoroughly believable!
What made this experience even worse was I finally found out WHY it was called ‘The Apple’ and this is were the
bottom had fallen out. The title is, of all things in the jungle we call artistic licenses, a biblical reference!! The
basic plot had the heroes dealing with the temptation in form of a recording contract, which, in a fantasy
sequence that looked like porn directed by Jimmy Swaggert with too much smoke and not enough nudity,
represented by an apple from the story of Adam & Eve.
…and who would be the snake, you might ask? Taking a cue from another musical movie disaster ‘Sgt. Pepper’
(all Beatle covers, no disco, hence not included here) and Xanadu, it was the head record executive! Since
subtlety wasn’t in the script, you’ll know right away his is the bad guy, thanks to his menacing head and face
structure and his hair and beard was trimmed by Satan himself. It should also be noted that, possibly for
budgetary reasons, the bad guy is occasionally seen with only one horn on his fore head.
After 90 minutes of euro-bondage musical numbers that would make the Pussycat Dolls salivate, our hero and
heroine find a garden of Eden and, just before the evil executive is about to cart them off to some sort of a
American Idol concentration camp, God arrives in a limo from the sky and saves the day (if not the viewer from
further conceptual abuse). You might think the ending is a little out of the left field, but remember the
aggressiveness knows no bounds here, be it from those leather outfits, all that screaming for choruses, the
occasional noisy German new-age ballads and, ut!, those darn biblical reference.
Unlike that TV showing I suffered through, this painful experience was shared equally with everybody in that New
Beverly Theatre, where we defended ourselves from its reckless pretentiousness by laughing at it and also
turning the screening into a MST3K audition. Yup, there ain’t nothing like distance and passage of time to turn
bad movies like this into a whoopee cushion.
After surviving The Apple, ‘Can’t Stop The Music’ seems like tap water next to the toxic shot of sour apple whiskey
I had to ingest. Admittedly, the Village People angle does add (or subtract) serious points making ‘Music’ high on
You also got Bruce Jenner trying to act, Valerie Perrine trying to swallow her sexy pride and Rhoda Morgenstern’
s mother trying to direct. And where does that leave the Village People? Filling space between bad dialog and
basically performing as if they where the final act on the sinking Titanic.
After reading this scribe, I found myself with a temptation of ordering The Apple and TGIF. Maybe it was the
impulse of wanting to get closer, maybe becoming more appreciative, to those old relics of dem old days where
our culture was living large with bind gusto, damn the circumstances before the conservative apocalypse of the
80s. Maybe I need to remind myself why I avoided these titles in the first place, but, truth be told, my self-
conscious is melting away with time and the realization that trash was trash, but, unlike today’s variety, it’s honest
trash. You get what you pay for and don’t forget your helmet and kneecaps when you trip over yourself on the
…. plus, that semi-photoshoped sexy photo of Donna Summer on the DVD cover is getting in my head.
© Don Fields