Retrospective: Worst Picture/Best Picture Series – Can’t Stop the Music and Ordinary People (1980)
Welcome to a new Awardswatch series, Worst Picture/Best Picture from the mind of Jeff Beachnau. In 1929, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences had their first awards, giving statues to the best films of the year. Since then, every year a sole film is awarded the Best Picture. In 1981, publicist John J. B. Wilson held the first Golden Raspberry Awards, honoring the worst films of the year. Since then, every year a film (sometimes two) is awarded the Worst Picture. His task is to watch the Oscar winning Best Picture and Razzie winning Worst Picture of each year, and compare the films. First at bat is 1980 with Nancy Walker’s Razzie-winning musical Can’t Stop the Music and Robert Redford’s Oscar-winning drama Ordinary People.
“There are Two Kinds of People”
“Can’t Stop the Music is the last great effort by six awesome guys to make disco the safest music on the Planet.” – pirate1_power, IMDb
Triumphantly quitting his job, Jack Morell (Steve Guttenberg, in his breakthrough role) exits his former place of business declaring “My time is now!” As “Song of the City” plays we catch a glimpse of not one, not two, but three Guttenbergs roller-skating around New York City. Everything seems to be looking up for him (and a mysterious construction worker seems to be looking up at him). So begins the inspirational musical epic Can’t Stop the Music starring the legendary musical group The Village People.
Rolling home, we are introduced to Jack’s roommate Samantha (Cannes Best Actress winner Valerie Perrine), a recently retired fashion model. As Jack tells Sam his surefire successful DJing, producing, and songwriting scheme, their neighbor Felipe enters the scene. Dressed in authentic Native American tribal clothing, Felipe could almost be described as the Jack and Sam’s spirit guide, always showing up and following the friends around wherever they go. We always know when Felipe is around because of the subtle close-ups of his Indian butt.
At the Saddletramps club where Jack gets the chance to show off his DJ talent, Sam gets to show off her dancing skills. While Sam is indeed talented moving about in hers short skirt, she is out-shined and out-glittered by her dancing companions in their shorter shorts and fabulous attire. But the real star of the night is Jack making the magical music for the partying patrons. Everyone is getting down to “Samantha” in more ways than one. Though it was only hinted at the start of the film that Jack could succeed, now it is obvious, this man will make it.
Due to the rocking night, the next day Sam takes to recruiting people for Jack’s future band. Along with Felipe the Indian, they manage to gather a few other normal pedestrians including Randy the Cowboy and the mysterious David the Construction Worker. With an eclectic group together, their first night together will be filled with eating, drinking, and dancing. All the while Sam’s former agent Sydney Channing orders his assistant Lulu to check in on the fun festivities.
Before the band’s first dyn-o-mite demo session, we are introduced to the heroic and fit attorney Ron White (Olympic all-star Bruce Jenner). While trying to deliver a cake to Sam from her sister out west, the chivalrous figure is unfortunately attacked and mugged by an elderly old lady on a motorcycle with a gun. Arriving at Sam and Jack’s place with only the clothes on his back and the cake in his hand, he is introduced to the spirited group of singers, dancing the night away. High on life and Lulu’s accessories, Jack provides a sensational evening. However, shortly after arriving to the house and Ron soon leaves, unable to handle the culture shock of these weird friends of Sam’s. Someone like Bruce Jenner could obviously never handle the company of loud, energetic, and wild east coast natives.
Running into Sam the next day, Ron apologizes to her, explaining it was just too much to take in at once. Returning to her home and dropping his pants, he goes to her bedroom and admires its vast orangeness. Seeing all of that orange, it sure makes the viewer yearn for Tropicana Pure Premium. After making love together, Ron agrees to help Sam and Jack with their project.
Holding auditions at Ron’s Wall Street office, the band has to choose from the plethora of singers by seeing their other talents such as body building, stilt walking, and juggling torches. Amidst these skillful people we can only assume are also musicians, a toll collector has to push his way through the crowd to talk to Ron, not to prove his talent, but for help in a case. However, once he sees the grand piano in the attorney’s office, the client proves his talent. Never have I seen a rendition of the Irish ballad “Danny Boy” about a parent’s message to a son headed off to war more beautifully performed then when I see this mustachioed leather-clad toll collector dancing on the top of a piano and drinking soda.
With Ron leading the pack in his classy attire, proving Sam’s point that “the seventies are dead and gone, the eighties are going to be something new and different”, the band strut the streets of New York and head to the only place one needs to go to rejoice and celebrate: the YMCA! In this brilliantly staged and choreographed moment, it is obvious why this segment is so legendary and a classic in cinematic history. Sports throughout, muscular musicians, dancing athletes, this is a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, after the joyous jocks partied down, their audition for Sam’s record producing ex-boyfriend Paul Sand was a disaster. While the vocals were of course top notch, the music excellent, and the lyrics meaningful, when it comes to signing a record deal it’s obvious that choreography is key. I think the band was hanging out with all the boys at the YMCA for a little too long they forgot to practice their dance routine.
But as luck would have it, Mama Sam has connections and with her past modeling career she manages to get the Village People to sing a commercial. In a dramatic campaign for the dairy board, Sam and the gang perform the sensational Milkshake, a sweeping song with champagne wishes and calcium dreams. After the board sees the four minute commercial, they agree to back the Village People and are willing to let Sam and Jack put on a charity concert in San Francisco.
Thanks to Sam’s seductive deception, she gets Paul Sand to sign a contract for the band. Backstage, Sam makes the announcement, and the band rejoice. Congratulating Sam on her accomplishment, Ron makes an announcement as well that he has been hired to represent the band. The two embrace and he proposes to her. As the story comes to a close, the band put on a breathtaking concert. Jack, Sam, Ron, and the Village People all dance onstage with an orchestra of lights and a shower of glitter.