5 Things: Turkeys of 1980

Instead of one turkey this year, why not five? I’ve previously written about how 1980 was an especially weird year for pop culture (via its award shows and top ten singles). Although it produced as much great, timeless art as any year (Talking Heads’ Remain In LightThe Empire Strikes BackThe Shining), one senses a general temporary lapse in good taste. If you disagree, well, take a look at the following five clips:

1. Xanadu

I will never argue that Xanadu is a great film, but compared to the other stuff on this list, it’s fairly benign unless you HATE Olivia Newton-John and roller disco and ELO and Gene Kelly (and would you really want to spend time with someone who hates two or more of those things?). It’s rife with contradictions: a futuristic extravaganza somewhat stuck in the ’70s and a commercial flop that produced a hit soundtrack. What sinks it is that it takes itself a little too seriously–the recent Broadway adaptation works much better because it’s gleefully, unapologetically camp.

2. The Jazz Singer

This “very special happening” is the one thing on this list that I haven’t seen. Apparently, film studios back then were desperate to turn pop singers into movie stars, via Bette Midler in The Rose (if you need another example of a flop, there’s Paul Simon in One Trick Pony). In theory, the gloriously hambone Diamond should have made the transition as easily as Midler. Unfortunately, he chose what looks like a real stinker, a preposterous, anachronistic remake no one was asking for with a wooden female lead and a rube of a main character who doesn’t know what palm trees are. Oh well, as with Xanadu, at least the soundtrack was a hit.

3. Pink Lady and Jeff

Long an easy punch line for the inquiry, “What’s the worst television show ever made?”, Pink Lady and Jeff does have an egregiously bad premise: it’s a variety show starring a female Japanese disco duo (each of whom speak precious little English) and an unctuous American comedian sidekick (who sadly talks too much). It’s brought to you by those crazy czars of bad 70s TV, Sid and Marty Krofft, whose Brady Bunch Variety Hour from three years before is actually the Worst Variety Show of All Time. In comparison, this one is almost The Carol Burnett Show, but instead of “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together”, each episode ends with a hot tub party–this one features a pre-senility Hugh Hefner; I’ve seen another with Larry Hagman and Teddy Pendergrass in the tub, whom with Jeff unintentionally resemble the “stars” of our next selection…

4. Can’t Stop The Music

Grease producer Allan Carr’s “musical extravaganza that launched the ’80s” (Carr biography Party Animals is a must-read, BTW) takes the rock-star-into-movie-star approach of The Jazz Singer and lets it run rampant like a bratty child on a sugar high (or an indulgent auteur with unlimited access to cocaine). The Village People were obviously past their prime by 1980, and you can practically taste the flop sweat dripping off this trailer. The whole project’s  inexplicable, really–watch Steve Guttenberg as VP’s svengali, a pre-Kardashian Bruce Jenner with his teeny tiny t-shirt and daisy dukes, special guest stars The Ritchie Family (WTF?), all of it directed by Rosie the Bounty Paper Towel Lady. That Can’t Stop The Music got made when disco was already dead is a testament to Carr’s chutzpah. Still, it’s almost Cabaret compared to…

5. The Apple

The Apple defies any notion of good taste and all logic, for that matter. Like Brian De Palma’s infinitely superior Phantom of the Paradise, it’s a rock-and-roll take on Faust, only this one’s set in the oh-so-futuristic-dystopia of 1994 and contains more sparkly sequins than even the opening credits of Can’t Stop The Music can manage. There simply are no words for how awful and awfully bizarre this film is. You won’t know whether to laugh, cringe or hurl stuff at the screen (like audiences did at a preview screening with copies of the soundtrack album) when viewing any of the musical numbers (thankfully, most of ’em are on YouTube). Instead of the trailer, I’ve singled out perhaps the film’s craziest sequence. “Speed” (or rather, “SPEEEEEEED!”) pushes 1980’s questionable aura to an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink extreme and comes off like an unholy combination of Billy Idol video and Richard Simmons workout. It could be a lost musical number from another infamous motion picture of 1980, Cruising. I have yet to see anything else so fascinatingly bad–from 1980 or any other year.

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