This week for Hit Me With Your Best Shot we’re trying something a little bit different: two bloggers for the price of one! Please welcome back Margaret as we discuss this week’s movie.
Anne Marie: On the April Fool’s Prank scale from “short-sheeting the bed” to “saran wrap over the toilet,” Nathaniel’s assignment of Can’t Stop The Music for Hit Me With Your Best Shot ranks somewhere around “food dye in the shower head:” Messy, colorful, and guaranteed to stick with you for the rest of the day.
Margaret: I may never forgive Nathaniel. This week’s selection features The Village People, Steve Guttenberg on rollerskates, more penis than would ever be allowed in a modern-day PG movie (read: any), and two hours of my life I will never get back. What passes for the movie’s plot cheerfully beats the viewer over the head with so many make-it-big-in-the-city cliches that it’s almost not worth mentioning. (Golly-Gee-Guttenberg just lives for music, and he wants a record deal! His plucky roommate has connections, so all they need is a group of singers! These men off the street sure have decent voices and some serious moves! Phase three: profit! ) Let’s leave plot aside and focus on the gaudy, ludicrous, at times almost motion-sickness-inducing aesthetic of the thing.
Anne Marie: I actually asked my parents if anybody had noticed how very, very gay the Village People were. My mother’s response: “It was the 70’s. And nobody thought the movie was good.”
Margaret: But Anne! Don’t forget! It’s not the 70s anymore, man. To paraphrase the screenplay, It’s the 80s! It’s the 80s! Welcome to the 80s! We’ve left the 70s behind!
Anne Marie: False. There is way too much shag rug and hedonism for this to be an 80s movie.
Margaret: A fair point. It’s positively smothered in glitter, polyester, and improbable rollerskates. You’d think that would set it apart among films of its time, but apparently this came out the same year as Xanadu so maybe everyone was just doing non-stop disco aerobics in 1980.
Anne Marie: Speaking of athletic musical numbers…
Anne Marie: I can’t be the first person to notice that “YMCA” bears a striking resemblance to Jane Russell’s number “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I want to take a closer look at these scenes, not only for their ridiculous camp value, but also for the not-so-subtle censorship flaunting happening front and center. That leads us to…
Anne Marie: In “Y.M.C.A.” and “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love,” both Russell and Valerie Perrine are framed center as the supposed focal point of the scene. However, the majority of the athletic, under-dressed action happens around them, not to or with them. The men are the musclebound eyecandy. This makes Russell and Perrine into de-gaying diffusers of displaced voyeurism: It’s okay to stare because surely you’re just staring at the pretty lady, not the hunks behind her. Actually, “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love” may be the only scene in the entirety of Jane Russell’s career where she’s wearing more than her male costars.
Margaret: That’s certainly true of this movie’s leading lady. Valerie Perrine does the very minimum to beard the musical number (Guys! Wait! This can’t be The Gayest because LOOK AT THIS PRETTY STRAIGHT LADY!) and she does most of it in a tank top and shorts– relatively modest when you consider all the greased-up manflesh on display. In “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love,” Russell is practically begging for the attention of the men around her, while the “Y.M.C.A.” number sees Perrine cheerfully accepting her position as purely decorative. Progress of a kind?
Anne Marie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Can’t Stop The Music share more in common than just over-dressed straight ladies. Both play at brinksmanship with the standards of censorship and good taste of the times.
Margaret: Basically, they were testing just how much synchronized disco-soundtracked homoerotic humping can they could shoehorn into this while still keeping a PG rating. (You know it’s a liberal time when your movie, which features exposed lady-boobs and MORE THAN ONE FREE-DANGLING PENIS, still gets a PG. Was Harvey Weinstein backing them??)
Anne Marie: Both Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Can’t Stop The Music directly or indirectly reference sexual taboos. In the case of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes it’s female promiscuity and (in one number) homosexuality. In Can’t Stop The Music it’s the New York gay subculture. These were ideas that would have most likely shocked morality and good taste at the time. However, both films managed to skirt censors by hiding those references under glittery layers of camp. The more outrageous and ridiculous the tone, the easier it is to dismiss something as a flight of fancy rather than a serious threat to the status quo. This also leaves the back door wide open for double entendre.
Margaret: BACKDOOR WIDE OPEN, EH? FOR DOUBLE ENTENDRE? I see you, Miss Anne. I see you.
Anne Marie: I’m sure I don’t know what you mean…
Margaret: You have to wonder if producer Alan Carr thought he had a hit on his hands. Following the mega-success of Grease, he probably had his pick of projects. For whatever reason, he picked this glitterbomb, which arrived just after the demise of disco and barely recouped a tenth of its 20 million dollar budget. Apparently he personally directed and casted for the YMCA sequence, so I guess he’ll always have that.
Anne Marie: That and the 61st Academy Awards.
Margaret: Disco is dead. Long live disco.