Hard to believe as it may be, it's time again for our second annual holiday show. As has become tradition, we're rolling out the 1980 Village People epic, Can't Stop the Music! It's pretty stunning that out of all the films we've shown, this has become the signature title of Fantasmo (even more unbelievable given the fact that Rob and I are obsessed with horror films). However, once you've seen it you'll know why it can't be stopped! From the moment Steve Guttenberg roller skates out into the streets of New York the game is afoot, and the film has announced in no uncertain terms what you the audience member are in for . . . pure, cheesy bliss! Indeed with infectious musical numbers aplenty, including show stoppers like Y.M.C.A and Milkshake, it's really no surprise at all that it's gotten under the skin of your Team Fantasmo and so many Superfans. And lest you think all cheesy musicals from the early 80's are created equal, look no further than The Apple to understand that we pay homage to CSTM out of sincere admiration, not sarcastic mockery (okay maybe there's just a little of that . . . after all it does feature Steve Guttenberg : )
And speaking of Steve Guttenberg, if you have yet to experience CSTM, you will not find a more insane performance in a major studio release. Guttenberg looks like he's about to burst a blood vessel in his forehead every time he delivers a line. I don't know if he's just excited to be there or what, but watch for this next time you see the film (which had better be Friday, December 7)! It's like he's yelling at all the other characters every time he speaks! Thank goodness he mellowed by the time he turned in the iconic performance as Mahoney in Police Academy. But enough about Monsieur Guttenberg . . .
In addition to CSTM, we will also be screening the 1978 musical Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This is one I hadn't seen until a few years ago, but I must tell you it's right up there with CSTM. I remember the movie coming out when I was a kid, and the ensuing publicity blitz (particularly for the soundtrack). What I couldn't grasp at the time was why The Beatles were nowhere to be found (instead replaced by Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees). Having seen the film now I can understand why they had no involvement! It tries to mimic the lighthearted nature of classic Beatles films such as Help! and A Hard Day's Night, but doesn't quite make the grade.
The film follows the exploits of Billy Shears (Frampton), grandson of the late Sgt. Pepper, and his Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Bee Gees). All is rosy in their hometown of Heartland, U.S.A. until an evil record producer (Donald Pleasence) attempts to sign them to a contract (which will ultimately corrupt them) and steal their magical instruments. Luckily the mayor of Heartland (George Burns) and Billy's girlfriend Strawberry Fields are working to bring the group and instruments back home where they belong. Oh, and this tale is all told without a trace of dialog (except for a few introductory words and narration from Burns), which really is just asking for it. Oh, and you have performances from diverse talents ranging from Alice Cooper to Steve Martin (I kid you not). On the crazy meter this one's a home run, but how did they ever think it would fly?
I'll tell you how. The film was produced by Robert Stigwood, an uber producer of the late 70's, who churned out a stream of monster hits including: Jesus Christ Superstar, Tommy, Saturday Night Fever, and Grease. Coming off that stream, Sgt. Pepper really made some sense (particularly the inclusion of The Bee Gees who were huge at the time). Unfortunately the movie is all over the map, features wildly uneven performances, and most importantly lacks The Beatles. Seriously, if you are making a movie out of one of the most famous albums of all time, you really need to have the artists responsible on board. Although I admittedly enjoy the interpretations by the various artists in the film, you just know Beatles fans are not going to embrace this sort of thing . . . and everyone else is just going to be scratching their head. Of course the film was a huge financial failure, and Stigwood's stock continued to fall during the 80's with unsuccessful sequels to earlier blockbusters (e.g. Grease 2, Staying Alive). Note: Despite his fall from grace, Stigwood also produced a couple of more winners in the 80's with Galipoli and The Fan (which featured a great early performance from Michael Biehn).
All that being said, this one has magical cult film written all over it. It may have managed to alienate purists and mainstream audiences, but it is so over-the-top that it has earned a loyal following since its disastrous theatrical run. The songs of course are catchy, and the bizarre performances and odd casting choices are truly inspired, making this a one-of-a-kind experience. I was hooked from the first viewing and have seen it numerous times since (much like CSTM). There's some kind of special allure with the musicals from the late 70's/early 80's, because I typically can't stand more than a few minutes of most others. Note: For another great 80's musical rarity check out The Pirate Movie with Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins!
While Sgt. Pepper may have its flaws, it serves as a potent reminder that films today just don't have the same unpredictability as they did in the 70's and 80's. Back then you could wander into a multiplex and see something unique (albeit odd), that defied expectations. Today mainstream cinema is largely homogenized and boring, with films carefully constructed to appeal to the largest number of moviegoers. Sure the film was a financial failure, but it surely deserves credit for going out on a limb . . . and producers like Stigwood should be admired for taking risks with such unusual projects, even if they didn't always pay off.
So here's your chance to see both of these unappreciated classics on the big screen, in all their sonic glory. Here's the rundown:
When: Friday, December 7
Where: Chesapeake Central Library
8:00 - Can't Stop the Music - Rated PG
10:30 - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Rated PG
Make sure to be there promptly - once the music begins it cannot be stopped . . . don't even try!