Can't Stop the Music

Can't Stop the Music is a 1980 American musical comedy film directed by Nancy Walker. Written by Allan Carr and Bronté Woodard, the film is a pseudo-biography of disco's Village People that bears only a vague resemblance to the actual story of the group's formation. It was produced by Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment (formerly EMI Films), and distributed by independent distributor Associated Film Distribution (AFD). The film was released after disco's peak and was subsequently a box office flop, winning two of the first ever Razzie Awards for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay.[4]

Can't Stop the Music
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNancy Walker
Produced by
Written by
Music byJacques Morali
CinematographyBill Butler
Edited byJohn F. Burnett
Distributed byAssociated Film Distribution
Release date
  • June 20, 1980 (1980-06-20)
Running time
124 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million or $13.5 million[3]
Box office$2 million


Songwriter Jack Morell—a reference to Village People creator Jacques Morali—gets a break DJing at local disco Saddle Tramps. His roommate, Samantha "Sam" Simpson, is a supermodel newly retired at the peak of her success. She sees the response to a song that he wrote for her ("Samantha") and agrees to use her connections to get him a record deal. Her connection is her ex-boyfriend Steve Waits, president of Marrakech Records—a reference to Village People record label Casablanca Records—who is more interested in rekindling their romantic relationship than in Jack's music (and more interested in taking business calls than in wooing Samantha), but agrees to listen to a demo.

Sam decides that Jack's vocals are not adequate, so she recruits neighbor and Saddle Tramps waiter/go-go boy Felipe Rose (the Indian), fellow model David "Scar" Hodo (the construction worker, who daydreams of stardom in the solo number "I Love You to Death"), and finds Randy Jones (the cowboy) on the streets of Greenwich Village, offering dinner in return for their participation. Meanwhile, Sam's former agent, Sydney Channing, orders Girl Friday Lulu Brecht to attend, hoping to lure back the star. Ron White, a lawyer from St. Louis, is mugged by an elderly woman on his way to deliver a cake that Sam's sister sent and arrives disconcerted. Brecht gives Jack drugs, which unnerves him when her friend Alicia Edwards brings singing cop Ray Simpson (the policeman), but Jack records the quartet on "Magic Night". Ron, pawed all night by the man-hungry Brecht, is overwhelmed by the culture shock of it all and leaves.

The next day, Sam runs into Ron, who apologizes, proffers the excuse that he is a Gemini and follows her home. Spilling leftover lasagna on himself, Sam and Jack help him remove his trousers before Jack leaves and Sam and Ron spend the night. Newly interested in helping, Ron offers his Wall Street office to hold auditions. There, Glenn M. Hughes (the leatherman), climbs atop a piano for a rendition of "Danny Boy", and he and Alex Briley (the G.I.) join the group, now a sextet. They get their name from an offhand remark by Ron's socialite mother Norma. Ron's boss, Richard Montgomery, overwhelmed by the carnival atmosphere, insists that the firm not represent the group, and Ron quits.

Ron's new idea for rehearsal space is the YMCA (the ensuing production number "YMCA" features its athletic denizens in various states of undress; the film is one of the few non-R-rated offerings to feature full-frontal male nudity). The group cuts a demo ("Liberation") for Marrakech, but Steve sees limited appeal and Sam refuses his paltry contract. Reluctant to use her savings, they decide to self-finance by throwing a pay-party.

To bankroll the party, Sam acquiesces to Channing's plea to return for a TV advertising campaign for milk, on the condition that the Village People are featured. The lavish number "Milkshake" begins as Sam pours milk for six little boys in the archetypal costumes with the promise that they will grow up to be the Village People. The advertisers want nothing to do with such a concept, and refuse to broadcast the spot. Norma then steps in to invite the group to debut at her charity fundraiser in San Francisco. Sam lures Steve by promising a romantic weekend, but Ron is taken aback by the inference that she would go through with the seduction, and Sam ends their romantic relationship. On his private jet, Steve prepares for a tryst, but rather Jack and his former chorine mother Helen arrive to negotiate a contract. Initially reluctant, Helen wins over Steve with her kreplach, and before long they are negotiating the T-shirt merchandising for the Japanese market.

In the dressing room before the show, Ron, relieved to learn that Sam did not travel with Steve, proposes to her. At one point, Montgomery appears, seeking to rehire Ron as a junior partner representing the group. Following a set by The Ritchie Family ("Give Me a Break"), the Village People make a triumphant debut ("Can't Stop the Music").




Originally titled Discoland... Where the Music Never Ends[5], Can't Stop the Music was a fictionalised account of the formation of the Village People.[6] Allan Carr announced the film in June of 1979, describing it as "Singing in the Rain for the disco crowd" and stating that the film would star the Village People, Valerie Perrine, Tammy Grimes, Chita Rivera, Barbara Rush, Pat Ast and Bruce Jenner. It was to be the first in a three picture slate from Carr, the others including Chicago and The Josephine Baker Story starring Diana Ross. Filming was to start on August 20 of that year[7] and was financed by British company EMI, then under the aegis of Barry Spikings. When asked why EMI were making a film about disco so long after Saturday Night Fever, Spikings said, "I hope it is different. The film breaks new ground."[8]

The film's director, Nancy Walker, a theater, film, and television star since the 1940s, had been nominated for two Tonys, four Golden Globes,[9] and eight Emmys.[10] Walker had guest starred as Rhoda's mother Ida Morgenstern in several episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and continued that role in its spin-off Rhoda. After establishing the character, Walker directed some episodes of both series, along with episodes of other situation comedy series. Can't Stop the Music was her lone effort at film direction, as after it, Walker turned her attention back to acting in television.


The film's supporting cast includes two two-time Tony Award winners, Tammy Grimes and Russell Nype, June Havoc (sister of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee), Altovise Davis (wife of Sammy Davis, Jr.), character actor Jack Weston, and Emmy-winner Leigh Taylor-Young. Chita Rivera and Pat Ast were initially cast but dropped out of the film's production.[3]

Can't Stop the Music was Bruce Jenner's film debut after becoming famous for three world record-setting performances in the Decathlon, and a Gold medal win at the 1976 Olympic Games. Jenner's record stood from 1975 until shortly before this film's 1980 release. Jenner did not appear in another film until Adam Sandler's Jack and Jill (2011), which, like Can't Stop the Music, won the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture. Carr said, "Jenner is going to be the Robert Redford of the 80s, and this film will do for Valerie what Carnal Knowledge did for Ann-Margret."[3]

The Village People auditionees depicted in the film included Blackie Lawless (a member of the glam-punk group New York Dolls and heavy metal group W.A.S.P.) and James Marcel (who would later find greater success with the name James Wilder). Background dancers included Perri Lister, girlfriend of Billy Idol and mother to his son, and Peter Tramm, who would go on to appear in dozens of music videos and double for Kevin Bacon in Footloose.

Ray Simpson's role was originally intended for Victor Willis, the original lead singer of the Village People who quit the group during pre-production of this film.[11] Wanting to assert his heterosexuality amongst the gay-themed group, Willis had insisted his then-wife, Phylicia Ayers-Allen, be written into the film as his girlfriend.[11] When he quit the group, Ayers-Allen was fired and replaced by Altovise Davis.[11][12]

"This movie's a revolution," said Carr. "I mean this movie is launching whole new careers and we need new stars today. Warren and Ryan and Redford - these people are way over 40."[13]

Carr had attempted to cast Grease star Olivia Newton-John in this film as Samantha, but after discussions between her producer, John Farrar, and Morali over who would write Newton-John's numbers, Newton-John instead signed on to play the lead in Xanadu.[11] "It wasn't only money," said Carr, "it was creative control and other demands."[3]


The schedule of the film was 11 weeks: eight in Los Angeles, two in New York and one in San Francisco. A proposed week of filming on Fire Island was scrapped due to fear of the weather.[3] Producer Allan Carr was coming off a massive worldwide hit with the pop musical Grease when shooting took place between May and July 1979 at the height of the disco craze. Carr took a hands-on role with the production, and personally directed and cast the male athlete extras for the "YMCA" musical sequence.[11]

Shooting took place at MGM Studios in Culver City, California, with location shooting in New York City and San Francisco. Location shooting in New York was somewhat complicated by adjacent protests by gay activists over the William Friedkin film Cruising (starring Al Pacino), which was filming on location nearby.[11] The two productions were mistaken for each other more than once, with protestors disrupting the Can't Stop the Music location shoots when they had intended to halt production of Cruising.[11] A few weeks prior to release, Jenner and Perrine hosted a TV special, Allan Carr's Magic Night, to promote the film.

Tensions between Walker and Valerie Perrine rose on the set to the point that Walker would not be present for scenes featuring Perrine, leaving director of cinematography Bill Butler to direct in her place.[11] Additionally, Perrine was reportedly unhappy that a dance number in which she danced was cut from the film.[14]

Carr said he decided to change the title during filming because, as the music score included older ballads and Broadway numbers, it would be inaccurate to call it Discoland.[3] During filming, sales for the Village People albums started to decline and disco became increasingly unfashionable. "They'll still be hot," said Carr of the Village People. "If not I will resurrect them."[3] Two of the band's three biggest hits, "In the Navy" and "Macho Man," do not appear in the film, though Perrine wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Macho Woman" as she jogs through the men's locker room at the YMCA. Another reference to one of the band's songs, "San Francisco (You've Got Me)," appears in the opening credits, as Jack passes a group of three women with the words "San Francisco" printed on their T-shirts.

The band's silver and white costumes in the "Milkshake" sequence and red costumes in the finale sequences were designed by Tony- and Oscar-winning[15] designer Theoni V. Aldredge.


  1. "The Sound of the City" - David London
  2. "Samantha" - David London
  3. "I Love You to Death" - Village People
  4. "Sophistication" - The Ritchie Family
  5. "Give Me a Break" - The Ritchie Family
  6. "Liberation" - Village People
  7. "Magic Night" - Village People
  8. "Y.M.C.A." - Village People
  9. "Milkshake" - Village People
  10. "Can't Stop the Music" - Village People

Jack's song "Samantha" is credited in the film as being sung by David London, a pseudonym for rock singer Dennis "Fergie" Frederiksen, who was the lead singer for several popular rock bands during the 1980s. London/Frederiksen also sings a second song on the soundtrack, "The Sound of the City".[16]

While the film's soundtrack album contains the 10 songs from the film, the incidental score by Morali and Belolo was released on LP only in Australia.[17] One of the songs in the film's background score is the instrumental backing track of "Like an Eagle," a hit song by another Casablanca Records artist, Dennis Parker.[18]


By the time of the film's release during the summer of 1980, the disco genre had not only peaked in the United States but also was experiencing a backlash there. As a result, the film received scathing reviews from critics and performed poorly at the box office. At a cost estimated at $20 million, the film was a colossal failure financially, bringing in only a tenth of that in gross revenue,[19] and is considered one of the reasons for the downfall of AFD. "Our timing was wrong, and in this business, timing is everything," wrote Lew Grade, who invested in the movie.[20] The soundtrack album was better received, and while it reached only #49 in the U.S. (the first Village People album not to go Gold), it reached #9 in the UK and #1 in Australia. The film itself also performed well in Australia, where the world premiere preview was shown at the Paramount Theatre, Sydney on June 1, 1980, with the after party held at Maxy's. The BBC bought the film for two showings for $3.5 million, which caused much controversy at the time,[21] while ABC in America paid $6 million.[22]

Carr's next film, Grease 2, brought in more than twice as much on its opening weekend as this film grossed in its entire run. Even though it was considered a failure, Grease 2 nearly made back its investment in its U.S. gross alone.[23]

Since its initial failure, the film has gained something of a cult status as a camp film. Released on DVD in 2002, the film has been screened at gay film festivals, including the 2008 London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and is an annual New Year's tradition on Australian television.[24]

Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream sold a flavor called "Can't Stop the Nuts" as part of the promotion of the film.[11]

Critical response

Can't Stop the Music has received very negative reviews from critics. It currently holds an 7% "rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 14 reviews, with an average rating of 2.41/10.[25] The New York Times gave the film a scathing review, calling it "thoroughly homogenized."[26] Variety magazine felt likewise, writing "The Village People, along with ex-Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner, have a long way to go in the acting stakes."[27] Nell Minow of Yahoo! Movies called the film "an absolute trainwreck of a movie", but that it had "some hilariously campy moments."[28] Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert selected the film as one of their "dogs of the year" in a 1980 episode of Sneak Previews.[29]

Can't Stop the Music was the first winner of the Worst Picture Golden Raspberry Award, for it was a double feature of this and Xanadu that inspired John J. B. Wilson to start the Razzies.[30] The film is listed in Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of "The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made".[31]

Awards and nominations

Award Subject Nominee Result
Young Artist Awards Best Family Music Album Nominated
Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Picture Won
Worst Actor Bruce Jenner Nominated
Worst Actress Valerie Perrine Nominated
Worst Supporting Actress Marilyn Sokol Nominated
Worst Director Nancy Walker Nominated
Worst Screenplay Bronte Woodard and Allan Carr Won
Worst Original Song Jacques Morali for "(You) Can't Stop the Music" Nominated
Stinkers Bad Movie Awards Worst Picture* Nominated
Worst Screenplay Nominated
Worst Sense of Direction Nancy Walker Nominated
Worst Actor Steve Guttenberg Won
Worst Supporting Actor Bruce Jenner Won
Worst Song "Milkshake" by Village People Nominated
  • Note: the film was nominated for Worst Picture both back in the original 1980 ballot (which only used Worst Picture) and in the expanded ballot released in 2006 (which used all the other categories seen here). Both times, it lost to Popeye.

Home media

Can't Stop the Music was released on Warner Home Video Region 1 DVD on April 16, 2002. Shout Factory is set to release this film on Blu-ray on June 11, 2019.

See also

Other films released during the late 1970s disco and jukebox musical craze


  1. Jenner is now known as Caitlyn following gender transition in 2015.[1]


  1. Bissinger, Buzz (June 1, 2015). "Introducing Caitlyn Jenner". Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  2. "CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC (A)". British Board of Film Classification. June 5, 1980. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
  3. 'We're Not Making A Gimmick Movie' By SHAUN CONSIDINE. New York Times 2 Sep 1979: D13.
  4. Germain, David (Associated Press) (February 26, 2005). "25 Years of Razzing Hollywood's Stinkers". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel Company. p. 7D.
  6. THE PEOPLE'S MOVIE MOVES THE VILLAGE Taylor, Clarke. Los Angeles Times 9 Sep 1979: l29.
  7. FILM CLIPS: Hollywood's Party Champion Defends His Crown SCHREGER, CHARLES. Los Angeles Times 11 June 1979: e10.
  8. The man who came to film The Guardian 18 July 1979: 10.
  9. "Nancy Walker". Artist Biography. Barnes and Noble. Retrieved May 9, 2009.
  10. "Nancy Walker Biography". Nancy Walker Biography. A&E Television Networks/ 2007. Archived from the original on June 10, 2011. Retrieved May 9, 2009.
  11. Hofler, Robert (2010). Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr New York: Da Capo Press. Pg. 105–118
  12. NOTES ON PEOPLE Robert, Albin Krebs and. New York Times19 Aug 1981: C.24.
  13. Carr wants to put the tinsel back into Tinseltown Sally Ogle Davis. The Globe and Mail 21 June 1980: E.7.
  14. home q&a: valerie perrine hers is a peaceful life, filled with animals, plants and projects home q&a home q&a Peck, Stacey. Los Angeles Times 30 Nov 1980: s70.
  15. "Theoni V. Aldredge". Full Biography. The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2009.
  16. "Fergie Frederiksen Discography". Fergie Frederiksen Discography. Official Toto Website. December 5, 2005. Retrieved May 9, 2009.
  19. "Can't Stop the Music (1980) - Box office / business". IMDb. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  20. Lew Grade, Still Dancing: My Story, William Collins & Sons 1987 p 252
  21. HESTON TO SHOOT UP FOR HOLMES: MOVIE NEWS Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times 27 Nov 1980: h1.
  22. Dying at the box office? Who cares? Fishbein, Ed. The Globe and Mail 10 Jan 1981: E.3.
  23. "Grease 2 (1982) - Box office / business". IMDb. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  24. "Your NYE TV Survival Guide". TV Tonight. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  25. "Can't Stop the Music". January 1, 1980. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  26. Movie Review - Can't Stop the Music - 'CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC' -
  27. Variety Staff. "Can't Stop the Music - Variety". Variety. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  28. "Can't Stop the Music - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  29. "Siskel & Ebert org - Worst of 1980". Archived from the original on January 8, 2018. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  30. Germain, David (Associated Press) (February 26, 2005). "25 Years of Razzing Hollywood's Stinkers". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel Company. p. 7D.
  31. Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-0-446-69334-9.
New award Razzie Award for Worst Picture
1st Golden Raspberry Awards
Succeeded by
Mommie Dearest
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