|Six Movies That Helped Kill Disco
by Nathan Rabin
June 28th, 2006
1. Can't Stop The Music (1980)
Studly Bruce Jenner! Sexy Valerie Perrine! The Village People! A young Steve Guttenberg! No, that isn't the
lineup for a Bob Hope Christmas special from the waning days of the Carter administration, it's the cast of Can't
Stop The Music, a mind-boggling boondoggle that's misguided even by the incredibly lenient standards of the
disco musical. At the heart of the infamous flop lies a peculiar paradox. Can't Stop The Music tries to
heterosexualize The Village People in the most screamingly homosexual manner possible. The script never
alludes to The Village People's (ahem) alternative lifestyles, but the cast, songs, costumes, production numbers,
sets, special effects, and sensibility couldn't possibly be gayer. Music somewhat hilariously thinks it's passing as
Norman Rockwell when it's actually more Tom Of Finland.
A heavily fictionalized biopic about The Village People's founding, the film focuses on aspiring songwriter/DJ
Guttenberg and his efforts to make it big in the music business with the help of uptight businessman Jenner,
ex-supermodel Perrine, and an all-singing, all-dancing contingent of mostly mustachioed macho men. It's hard to
know where to begin in documenting the film's multiple layers of miscalculation. Hiring geriatric actress/novice
filmmaker Nancy Walker as a director, though she's best known for her paper-towel commercials, probably didn't
help. And it's hard to overstate the ineptitude of a Village People vehicle in which the fuzzily drawn Village
People barely qualify as minor supporting characters. Then again, maybe the filmmakers were understandably
worried that the disco-dancing dress-up enthusiasts would be blown offscreen by Jenner and Guttenberg's
2. The Apple (1980)
Calling 1980's The Apple the single craziest
androgynous-showbiz-musical-futuristic-science-fiction-fantasy-disco-dystopian-biblical-allegory ever made only
taps the surface of its mind-boggling, all-consuming weirdness. Suffice to say that the movie begins as a
Worldvision Song Contest-based morality tale about the perils of show-business temptation set in 1994, and
ends with a messianic figure leading his flock to a distant paradise in outer space. Like so many of its
so-bad-it's-inconceivable-how-it-can-even-exist brethren in the peculiar disco-killing sub-sub-genre, The Apple
is so relentlessly trippy that it makes recreational drug use redundant.
3. Xanadu (1980)
According to the Internet Movie Database, Olivia Newton-John turned down the lead female role in Can't Stop
The Music to star in Xanadu, which is a little like choosing to be tarred and feathered rather than drawn and
quartered. Also according to the IMDB, Gene Kelly returned to the screen for his final performance (as a
nostalgic musician-turned-businessman who buddies up with whiny, grandiose asshole Michael Beck, who's in
love with glowing supernatural muse Newton-John) because Xanadu was filmed near Kelly's Beverly Hills home.
But even if Xanadu had been filmed entirely in Kelly's rumpus room, with his extended family as its cast and
crew, it wouldn't have been worth his time or energy.
The perpetually grinning Kelly certainly can't be faulted for his almost oppressively adorable performance. He
may have lost a step, but he looks and sounds great, and he seems to be under the influence of a wide variety
of twinkle-enhancing drugs. His still-formidable charisma stands in sharp relief to his co-stars' blandness. In a
star-breaking turn, Newton-John proves it's possible to deliver a low-wattage performance even while playing a
human glow-stick, while Beck's grim work fatally lacks the vulnerability, warmth, and likeability of his best-known
turn as a gang leader in The Warriors.
4. Avenging Disco Godfather (a.k.a. Disco Godfather) (1980)
The films that helped kill disco have a lot in common: oceans of polyester, roller-skating, garish production
numbers, and indiscriminate use of neon, for starters. But above all, they share a remarkably consistent level of
miscalculation. Rudy Ray Moore's timeless cult classic Avenging Disco Godfather, for example, inexplicably
fuses ham-fisted anti-PCP sermonizing with a tardy, ill-fated attempt to hop onboard the fading disco
bandwagon. In a hypnotic performance that consists largely of PRO-Nun-CEE-AY-TING every syllable as slowly,
deliberately, and flamboyantly as possible, Moore stars as a renegade cop turned disco godfather turned
avenging disco godfather after his beloved nephew falls prey to the evils of PCP. Vowing to "attack the wack,"
Moore goes undercover, but ends up with a gas mask full of angel dust in one of the batshit-craziest sequences
in Moore's legendarily batshit-crazy career as one of blaxploitation's unlikeliest and most beloved leading men.
5. Thank God It's Friday (1978)
Roger Corman was famously intent on making a movie called Disco High School, until his young charges Allan
Arkush and Joe Dante convinced him that you couldn't blow up a high school to disco music. The film eventually
came to fruition as Rock 'N' Roll High School instead. Had Corman gotten his wish, Arkush's rock 'n' roll classic
probably would have ended up a lot like Thank God It's Friday: not terrible, necessarily, but cynical instead of
sincere. Friday's filmmakers may have set out to make a disco American Graffiti, but of the sprawling cast, only
Jeff Goldblum's sleazy lothario-on-the-make and Chick Vennera's dancing fool make any kind of an impression.
The film won an Oscar for its original song "Last Dance," but Donna Summer's heavily post-dubbed
performance as an aspiring disco diva (imagine all the research she must have done!) pretty much ensured she
remained a single-threat.
6. Staying Alive (1983)
Considering Saturday Night Fever's iconic success, it was probably inevitable that a sequel would follow. But
was it really such a hot idea to hire Sylvester Stallone to write and direct that follow-up? Sure, Stallone was
somehow able to get the high-powered likes of Frank Stallone to sing on the soundtrack. (Who needs those
damn Gibbs brothers, anyway?) But at what cost? Stallone reconceived John Badham's grim working-class
character study as a disco-dancing Rocky redux, but audiences and critics weren't buying it, and the climactic
Broadway dance sequence makes Showgirls' "Goddess" setpiece look positively tasteful by comparison.
Granted, disco wasn't exactly thriving in 1983, but this limp retread of disco cinema's finest moment helped put
the final nail in its coffin.