The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Can't Stop the Music (Nancy Walker, 1980): I vividly remember the first few seconds of January 1, 1980. Just nine years old, I had stayed up to watch my first changeover of decades. There on TV, right after the big ball had dropped in Times Square, the host was exultantly proclaiming the first words of the new year: "And now here's a band I know we'll be hearing a lot from in the eighties -- the Village People!" It took me a few years to recognize this as funny.

If the numeric seventies ended with a disco song at midnight, when did "the seventies" as an era come to a close? Mostly over the course of 1979, as an Iranian revolution, a resurgent gas crisis, a couple of San Francisco assassinations, and the massacre at Jonestown forced a sharp swing in the country's mood. Or, perhaps, on Election Day 1980, as Ronald Reagan rode that new spirit into power. But the key moment arguably arrived midway through 1980, when a pseudo-biopic about the Village People -- originally to be titled Discoland, but the producers realized at the last minute that disco's day was waning -- failed spectacularly at the box office, washing away the starring band's popularity in the process. This quintessentially 1970s picture was released in the first year of the subsequent decade, and its characters periodically announce "it's the eighties" when they want to defend their behavior or criticize someone else's. But the real sign that the eighties had begun was the public's unwillingness to watch their movie.

Two decades later, one production number from Can't Stop the Music -- the "Y.M.C.A." sequence -- awaits your rediscovery. It's a deeply hilarious piece of filmmaking, something Busby Berkeley might have directed if he were under the influence of both poppers and mushrooms and was simultaneously engaged in an illicitly carnal act. The rest of the picture is mostly disposable, but there are some unexpected bright points: notably the leatherman character's audition for the group, in which he performs "Oh, Danny Boy." The lyrics seem to take on new meaning when sung by a hairy gay biker wearing S&M gear.

No, this isn't a good movie. But you haven't really lived until you've seen it. And surely it is Steve Guttenberg's finest film.

Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977): "Banditry is freedom, but in a peasant society few can be free. Most are shackled by the double chains of lordship and labour, the one reinforcing the other. For what makes peasants the victims of authority and coercion is not so much their economic vulnerability -- they are indeed as often as not virtually self-sufficient -- as their immobility. Their roots are in the land and the homestead, and there they must stay like trees, or rather like sea-anemones or other sessile aquatic animals which must settle down after a period of youthful mobility....

"However, there are always groups whose social position gives them the necessary freedom of action. The most important of them is the age-group of male youth between puberty and marriage, i.e. before the weight of full family responsibilities has begun to bend men's backs....Nevertheless, there is another category of potential bandits...the men who are unwilling to accept the meek and passive social role of the subject peasant; the stiff-necked and recalcitrant, the individual rebels. They are, in the classic peasant phrase, the 'men who make themselves respected.'...

"These are the men who establish their right to be respected against all comers, including other peasants, by standing up and fighting -- and in so doing automatically usurp the social role of their 'betters' who, as in the classic medieval ranking system, have the monopoly of fighting....They may also become the kind of outlaws about whom men sing ballads: champions, heroes and avengers."

(Eric Hobsbawm,
Bandits, fourth edition, 2000, pp. 34–6, 39–41)

Keep your foot hard on the pedal, son, never mind them brakes
Let it all hang out 'cause we got a run to make
The boys are thirsty in Atlanta
And there's beer in Texarcana
And we'll bring it back no matter what it takes

East bound and down, loaded up and truckin'
We're gonna do what they say can't be done.
We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
I'm east bound, just watch ol' Bandit run.

Ol' Smokey's got them ears on, and he's hot on your trail.
He ain't gonna rest 'til you're in jail
So you got to dodge 'im and you got to duck 'im
You got to keep that diesel truckin'
Just put that hammer down and give it hell

("East Bound and Down," traditional ballad, southern U.S., late twentieth century; popularly attributed to the Bandit's legendary accomplice, known variously as "Cledus Snow," "The Snowman," and "Jerry Reed")

posted by Jesse 5:39 PM
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