Roller Disco, Man!
I watched not one, but TWO roller disco movies this week. The first was Xanadu, starring Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck. The second was Can't Stop the Music, starring Steve Guttenberg and Valerie Perrine. Both movies came out in 1980, and both movies signaled the apocalyptic end of the late 70s roller disco craze.
In case you weren't born yet, or it somehow got by you, "roller disco" was a sub-fad of disco. Participants in this craze donned roller skates for their nights on disco mountain. Roller disco had an even shorter lifespan than regular disco, undoubtedly because disco looked even more ridiculous with roller skates on. There's a Wikipedia article here.
In Can't Stop the Music, Steve Guttenberg stars as an aspiring DJ, and the superfine Valerie Perrine stars as a well-known model in New York. Oh, and the Village People are in it. And oh, BRUCE Jenner (before he was Caitlyn) is also in it. I suppose there's a plot in there somewhere, but the movie's more an excuse for disco, featuring several performances by the Village People.
Can't Stop the Music also won the FIRST Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture. AND it brought Valerie Perrine's career (which was going pretty well beforehand) to a screeching halt. Steve Guttenberg somehow weathered the storm, soldiering on to the likes of Police Academy, Three Men and a Baby, and Cocoon.
Valerie Perrine tells a funny story about Can't Stop the Music here. Apparently Bruce Jenner and herself were rehearsing a scene in front of the camera, when the director yelled at them to be quiet on set. According to Perrine, the director didn't know enough about directing to know which way the camera was pointed, and thought that they were already filming other actors, in another part of the set.
Live and learn I guess. Perrine would later appear in other films, though nothing as high profile as Can't Stop the Music. She played Jack Nicholson's love interest in The Border, which is a movie worth seeking out.
For me the funny thing is that Can't Stop the Music is halfway entertaining, whereas Xanadu is just excruciating. In Xanadu, Olivia Newton-John plays one of the muses (yes, the Greco-Roman ones) that inspires a young painter and his older friend. It's full of weird, embarrassing dance numbers, and some terrifically bad songs. It's no coincidence, I think, that Newton-John's film career took a nosedive afterward. The director, by the way, won the first Golden Raspberry for Worst Director.
At least Newton-John had a few more pop hits to look forward to. What about costar Michael Beck? Has anyone heard from him lately? After Xanadu, he was consigned to a purgatory of TV movies and one-off appearances on TV shows. All for the sin of clapping along to Olivia Newton-John.
Roller disco, man. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Too bad the 80s had to show up and ruin everyone's party. MTV, New Wave, Van Halen - it all brought roller disco to a bitter end. Will we ever regain that state of grace? Will we ever "boogie" on roller skates again?
Beats me, but if you miss it too much you can always rent out an abandoned roller rink, and try to bring it back. It's like the movie says, man, "Can't stop the music!"