Here’s the thing: I like me some cheesy movies.
Not all cheesy movies, mind you. We’ve all got our own preferred brands of cheese, after all, and some occasions call for one sort and not another — I mean, Stilton’s cool sometimes, but there might still come a day when you’d rather have Brie, right?
One of my favorite subcategories of cheesy cinema is the musical. Let’s be clear, though — while all musicals are to some degree curdled and aged, there’s a pretty clear distinction between the high-end gourmet sorts and the straight-up Velveeta, and the series of posts I’m about to write is all Kraft-y and up to no Gouda.
No, I will not beg your forgiveness for that last sentence. If you can’t handle that level of punishment, you can’t handle these films, friend. Your cinematic and musical lactose intolerance will render them undigestible. It takes a strong system to bear these things, and the kind of taste that savors the absurd and suspends not only disbelief but also sound judgment in favor of an elegantly staged but otherwise inexplicable production number. These films require you to understand what it means for a role to be brilliantly miscast in a way that transcends the story itself. They demand a deep commitment to their utter wrongness.
Sometimes, every now and then, they also have some pretty damn good music in them.
Over the next several posts, I’m going to explore four of my favorites, mostly from the heyday of films of the kind:
Part 1: Xanadu (1980)
Part 2: Rock & Rule (1983)
Part 3: Streets of Fire (1984)
Part 4: Absolute Beginners (1986)
These are not films anyone would (or could) make anymore, I suspect. The aesthetic of the early and middle 80s, even in films that aim to recapture it, is not something readily reproducible out of its original context. It belongs to the original video styles of early MTV, and it has a kind of cockeyed earnestness that just doesn’t play well anymore. We’re too hip for it now.
We don’t often tell stories about rock and roll saving the world anymore (no matter how much Bill & Ted might have wanted us to). But maybe we can remember why we used to do it, if we try. And maybe, just maybe, we can digest it.