Saturday, June 23, 2012

For the record, that grindhouse "Our Feature Presentation" clip is just as awesome when run backwards

It was a pretty good night for midnight flicks in Los Angeles; Joseph Kahn's Detention was screening over at the Cinefamily, and if I had to bet money on it, I'd bet on that flick popping up in a big-screen setting again eventually, so I didn't go to that one. Meanwhile, the Nuart was going to show Beavis and Butthead Do America, which would've been a hoot to watch again but then I realized that movie is almost 16 years old and I was frozen with a sudden awareness of my age and mortality, so needing to calm down, I picked up a joint at a nearby dispensary and went to the New Beverly to catch the discotheque comedy Thank God It's Friday, because that movie was made in 1978 and I hadn't been born yet. Besides, I remember catching it on cable back in '94 and kinda liking, despite Leonard Maltin having given it a BOMB rating in that book of his. 

I must be in a real betting mood, because here I go again with this shit and I'm only on the first sentence of the second paragraph – anyway, I'd wager that of the three midnight movies that night, ours was the least attended. I'd say about 20-30 people made like sparse attendees and created much open space between rows and seats, which was kinda disappointing, because this was being sold as a tribute to one of the film's stars, the late Ms. Donna Summer, she of the orgasmic "Love to Love You Baby" song, among others (not to mention her riveting performance as Aunt Oona from Altoona in "Family Matters"). Damn, I thought we were over the whole hating-on-Disco thing, but I guess not. Me, I always dug that music -- I like all music, really -- and have a passing shade of fascination with that culture. I mean, you had these people dressed up in outfits of such beautiful ugliness, getting down and doing their thing. Then of course, there was the banging and the drugs and the unknowingly (or unwilling-to-know) excessive habits that came with them. Because if it feels good, why not?  

Anyway, the crowd was few, but spirited; I saw Clu Gulager and his son John up front, which I thought was kinda sweet, father and son going to get their disco cinema on. At least I think it was John, because I was kinda gone around that time from the cheeba, so maybe it was just a lookalike trying to move in on John's position. While waiting, people were digging the 70's disco tunes playing over the sound system as well as during the film proper, when they occasionally made their digging audible. Summer, of course, got applause upon her first appearance in the credits. Some people applauded Neil Bogart's name in the credits, as well.

Aside from Summer and an appearance by The Commodores (I wonder if these guys know anyone from East St. Louis), the cast is an impressive line-up of mostly Nobodies who eventually became Somebodies, or at least Kindabodies; actors like Debra Winger as some klutz who never met a drink she couldn't accidentally knock over or a table she couldn't sit on and bring down, that chick from the group Berlin as some under-21'er who came to the disco with her friend to enter a dance contest for KISS tickets (which I assume the winner will then sell/exchange for tickets to the Bee Gees), and my man, muthafuckin' Jeff Goldblum, playing a smooth motherfucker who goes through chicks like I go through tissues when thinking about chicks -- all day, everyday. 

So like I kinda mentioned earlier, this is a disco flick from the late 70's, and it's like the Magnolia of disco movies (or Short Cuts, if you want to be that way), because we're cutting between various men and women as they all go their respective ways at some Los Angeles disco owned by Goldblum's character, and like Magnolia (or Short Cuts), some major biblical/earthshaking event happens near the end and the characters are all connected somehow. In the case of this flick, it's a dance contest/Commodores performance that proves so fuckin' hardcore, it causes a huge structural crack in the wall of the disco. They didn't raise the roof, but the insurance people are still somehow gonna find a way to slither out of paying for it, that's for sure.

The disco D.J. is named Bobby Speed, and I think he got his last name from taking too much of that shit. He's so goddamn tense and worried, no wonder he's so skinny. He's even more freaked out because he's scheduled to go live on his radio show with The Commodores, only they haven't shown up and their instruments are being brought separately by an undependable associate (or "nigga" as Speed sensitively refers to him during a phone call) named Floyd, who has a habit of getting lost and getting pulled over by the police. I guess I can excuse Speed's dickish behavior due to his nerves about this important night, but that doesn't excuse the harsh way he keeps turning down Donna Summer's character. All she wants is for Speed to listen to her demo but this motherfucker will just slam that fuckin' record to the floor like he was trying to swat a fly with it. 

Treating women like shit is kind of the name of the game for half of these motherfuckers here; you have Speed getting all aggro on Summer, Goldblum loving and leaving the ladies, you have some short fat guy who is an absolute cunt to a tall woman with the bad luck of getting hooked up with him on a blind date, and just all the guys in general, with their polyester wear and horrible pick-up lines (made even more horrible when you realize that some of these lines probably worked). If they're not prowling on women like a bunch of coked-up drunk too-tight clotheshorses, it's because they're too busy pretending to be women, like the Transvestite in the men's room of this particular disco. By the way, was that a big thing in the 70's, crossdressing? I notice a lot more of it in movies of that period, or maybe I'm just secretly hope-projecting. 

The movie begins with the Columbia logo chick getting her groove on to the title song, before morphing into a star that turns into a neon blue melon slice, and then the characters are introduced in a long-ago Los Angeles I'd love to visit but something tells me never really existed except only in the movies. Or maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better, by thinking Of course there was probably undriveable horrible traffic back then and crime was probably even worse and people were probably more open about their prejudices towards the Brown, so don't fall into that Good Ol Days bullshit.

There's a character here by the name of Marv Gomez (played by Pesto the Pigeon himself, Chick Vennera) -- and of all the boogie shoe-wearing folk here, I think he's the only person I can kind of relate to, and not just because we share the same ethnic demerit; he talks about how the only thing that matters is Dancing and everything else is bullshit. Replace "Dancing" with "movies, substance abuse, and getting fatter", and that's kinda my worldview too. He calls himself a "leatherman", because he felt his life was shit until he found the freedom denied his boxed-in soul in the form of leather clothes, because back then, you had to have the right material object in order to be content and shit. 

Gomez later hooks up some goofy white boy with a leather coat, before displaying the exuberance of a Free Spirit by dancing all over the disco parking lot, specifically the cars themselves. So happy and careless is he, that stomping his leather disco boots all over these poor dancers' automobiles is nothing but a justified means to an end -- the end being joie de vivre, acquired by the means of dented hoods, scuffed-up windshields, and caved-in ragtops. Who cares about those people and their cars and the money they're gonna have to spend to fix Gomez's bullshit -- it's DANCING! 

In the film, his dance is met with applause from the onlookers (and the audience at the New Bev), but in real life, he'd probably be met with an angry patron from the club who just caught the sight of his '76 Fiat 124 Spider getting the Fred Astaire treatment. "Hey Pancho! What the fuck are you doing to my car!" Fiat Man would say -- cursing himself for leaving the familiar club scene back in Orange County for this Hollywood bullshit -- before threatening bodily harm to the Chicano (because that's what they called them back then). Eventually, Fiat Man would start beating up the Dancer-Not-Fighter, and then -- WHOOP WHOOP -- the cops would show up, give Fiat Man a stern warning while carting Gomez off to the nearest jail cell, where a fancy leatherman like him would then get fucked with by the brothas inside. "You's a pretty looking spic, ain't ya?" the head Negro would coo, and then they would all rush him. Gomez would use all his remaining energy to unleash a defensive dance-based kick, which unfortunately would cause one of the assailants to fall against the bars the wrong way, breaking his neck. Now Gomez is facing 25-to-life in prison, meaning his illegitimate son won't be able to see him until he's old enough to hate/forget him, the lesson here being: Get Permission Before Dancing On A Motherfucker's Car. 

So while I kinda identify with Gomez -- dancing on cars aside -- my favorite character was probably the nurse (or whatever the fuck she was) by day, spacey disco hippie by night named Jackie. She was cute with all that fake shit on her head and face, and she didn't care for identities other than the one she assigned you, which is very welcome for an anonymous coward like me. Best of all, she's a walking medicine cabinet, carrying with her so many beautiful colors of pills. This chick carries with her all kinds of drugs except for the most obvious one in this setting; of course, I'm talking about that fine Colombian coffee. 

The movie is pretty drug-friendly in that people are happily tokin' that reefer or popping pills, and yet I never caught a single motherfucker doing a single fuckin' line. (Or maybe I did, but I'm pretty sure that was amyl I saw that dude sniffing on.) Are rails not allowed in TGIF? I thought Cocaine and Disco had a kind of symbiotic relationship in the 70's, but you wouldn't know it from this film. Really, who made the decision not to include that shit? I bet it was some studio exec, telling screenwriter (and future producer) Armyan Bernstein and director Robert Klane (creator of the Weekend at Bernie's diptych) to cut out all the coke references because it's in bad taste or something, right before offering them each a bump. 

Another executive decision was probably made to include a well-to-do square couple into the film, in order for the "regular" people in the audience to kinda have someone to pull for. These two have just come from an anniversary dinner and decide to make a stop at the disco because the wife was kinda being a nag about it. The husband just wants to go home because he has that terrible well-paying accountant job of his tomorrow morning, but thankfully, he goes along (despite being a whine about the $5 cover charge and $2.50 drinks), allowing the events of the film to complete his character arc of cutting loose a little more in life, while his wife is taught by the film not to be so dim the next time some smooth Jeff Goldblum motherfucker steps up to her, acting like she's the love of his life. That dude's a slut, lady, don't get mixed up with them sluts. 

Really, man. Goldblum is getting all up in these chicks' guts, but I dug how unapologetic he was when confronted by his past conquests all throughout. He never plays the defensive, he just makes them feel more loved or makes them feel like shit, or in some masterly cases, both at the same time. This is a man who rolls through life with a Scorpion/Frog mentality and even if you think he gets off relatively lightly in this flick, keep in mind that this dude is probably gonna fuck around too much without a jimmy hat and eventually catch a date with that omnisexual mistress of death herself, Lady HIV, and once she's got you, you're in a relationship with that bitch whether you like it or not, and it's only a matter of time before her asshole rage-head boyfriend AIDS shows up, and that short-tempered motherfucker is always packing heat and he never misses 'cause his aim is true.

Come to think of it, going by what history has taught us, I'm sure similar fates will befall some of the other characters: only a matter of time before my spacey druggy dream chick Jackie is found dead in the women's restroom of some half-empty nightclub in a bad part of town, keeled over on the toilet, eyes milky white, a stream of saliva frozen between her vomit-crusted mouth and the piss-puddled floor; Bobby Speed will eventually drop dead of apoplexy over yet another band not showing up on time for a gig, my man needed to invest in some downers but instead worked himself into an exploded heart; the Transvestite in the men's room is going to hook up with a dude too drunk to notice until it's too late, and once that cock is exposed, so too will the poor unfortunate crossdresser's carotid artery; Floyd will be pulled over on the way to dropping off band instruments on yet another last-minute run, and when he reaches for the drumsticks in his pocket -- BLAM BLAM BLAM -- the nervous rookie cop will have emptied all six .38 caliber bullets into Floyd's shiny jacket. "Thank God for the stinger" says the rookie cop's experienced partner, as he shoves a small .22 caliber compact piece (a Saturday Night Special, funnily enough) into the dead man's hands, forcing his fingers to squeeze off a few rounds out into the dark. Floyd's family will never believe the official report, but what can they do, fight the police? You can't. You can only hope that your luck is better and Fate doesn't have a hard-on for you in this cold, cruel world. 

Thank God It's Friday is a fun film that left me with happy thoughts. The humor's pretty lame and so are the dramatics, but the music is groovy and the actors really make the most of what they've been given. It's also, for the most part, pretty innocuous and by 1970's standards, it's pretty P.C. as far as the way dudes like Gomez and Floyd are handled. That was interesting. I don't even know how to call a movie Good or Bad anymore, I just know if I dug watching it or not, and I dug watching this one. It was entertaining. Maybe it's just one of those time capsule flicks that didn't do much for anyone at the time and is ultimately harmless fluff, but it improves with each passing year from the simple virtue of giving us a taste of that particular place and period (albeit a very safe & sanitized Hollywood version of it). The audience seemed to dig it as well, applauding once again during the credits (giving Summer and my man Goldblum the most clapping) and everyone stuck around for the entire end credits roll to take in Summer's signature "Last Dance" song. 

I know it's too soon, being that it's a film from 1978, but I'm going to spoil something I had a serious issue with. Those two under-21'ers eventually get friendly with Gomez the Leatherman, and want to use him for the dance contest because he's just that fucking good. Problem is, he already has a dance partner. So what do they do? They trick the dance partner into locking herself in a staff only stairwell, and hook up with the now partnerless Gomez. In the end, they win the dance contest, which comes with the KISS tickets and the money. Now, the last we see of the dance partner, she's hooking up with this other dude in the stairwell and they're both having a good time. Fine. Except only we in the audience knows about this, the two girls don't know and apparently don't care about her. They're too busy counting their money and headed over to some other club's 1:00 dance competition. If they even bother to have a passing thought about her, all they'll know is that they fucked her out of possibly winning some tickets and cash. And then they'll move on and continue having a good time. Holy shit, these broads are more than ready for the 1980's.