Rant Of The Day THIS RANT 09/07/97

Rant Of The Day is where I get to mouth off about whatever I feel like for however long I like. Theoretically, I'll update my whinge/opinion piece every weekday; in practice, maybe not so often.

Can't shake the beat

The success of 1980's Fame set the pattern for a sequence of dance/music movies which was successfully mined by a slew of unoriginal Hollywood producers for the first half of the decade. The most successful of these movies had a number of things in common:

Just as Mary Poppins, The Sound Of Music and Oliver! defined the top ranks of the sixties stage musical on film, these three films define what we might refer to as the first tier of the 80s dance musical. And just as the success of those sixties musicals resulted in a slew of copies, most of which failed to even vaguely emulate the success of the key pics in the genre (think Dr Doolittle, Star! or Paint Your Wagon), so too did the 80s dance musical spin off at least two distinct sub-genres.

The first of these sub-genres was the shamlessly derivative and only mildly successful movie with a plotline where dancing provided the key to success. Into this category would fall such classics as Streets Of Fire (1984), Breakdance (1984), Breakdance II: Electric Boogaloo (1985) and Girls Just Want To Have Fun (1985). Most of these films only produced one hit single and did better on video than at the cinema, but they're still kinda groovy.

The second and lesser-known tier is the hopelessly derivative, straight-to-video, no-soundtrack-let-alone-any-hit-singles film in which dancing provides the key to success but we throw in a "caged heat" element just to broaden the audience. I am in fact only aware of one film that belongs in this category: 1985's key work Can't Shake The Beat, which I picked up brand new on the weekend for the princely sum of five dollars.

Can't Shake The Beat is a film so little known that it doesn't even rate a mention in the highly comprehensive IMDB or All Movie Guide online databases. And it's a movie so awful that it could give the acknowledged classic Getting Lucky (1990) a run for its money. Cliche city, here we come.

The plot goes a little like this: Jessie is a sensation in dancing class, but when she comes home and shoots her dad after he attacks her mother with a belt, she gets sent to a remand centre for five years. The corrupt warden is only interested in crushing the spirit of the girls, while the counsellor wants a more liberal program of self-improvement. In any case, the person really running the prison is Max, who is having a lesbian affair with one of the prison guards in order to ensure a supply of drugs which she then sells to the inmates. Jessie quickly gets on the wrong side of Max and her sidekick Echo , which leads her naturally to align herself with Sam, a spirited young black girl who is the only inmate not cowed by Max. Upping the ugly factor is Peggy, who Jessie and Sam rescue successfully from an attack by Max and Echo (who is having a lesbian affair with Max) in the women's showers (during which Max utters the immortal line "Get me the mop handle"),

Although Sam is also involved in a lesbian affair with another inmate, she's counting the days until she can leave the prison and be reunited with her young son. She inspires Jessie to inspire the rest of the girls to put on a concert that will prove to the world that they're not just hopeless criminals. But Max has other plans . . .

I won't ruin the ending for you, because if you're a connoisseur of bad movies, you really need to see this flick. But I will warn you that the distributors of the film obviously made the incorrect decision that they'd sell more copies by promoting the film's sadistic/lesbian/prison elements than the groovy, funky 'dancing will set me free' plotline. Although the jacket improbably describes the film as "the most exciting prison musical since Jailhouse Rock", most of the wasted promotional effort is devoted to telling us that this movie features "sexual abuse and sadism" (it doesn't), the "blood lust" of the lead character (wrong again) and an "unforgettable women's prison" (I can't even remember what it's called; if it comes to that, I can't even swear 100% that the character names are correct). A final note for trivia buffs: the music for the film was largely written by Rick Nowels, who went on to some measure of success writing and producing songs for Belinda Carlisle, Stevie Nicks, Kim Wilde and the singing French stick, Celine Dion. He doesn't feature Can't Shake The Beat heavily on his resume, although if he's willing to admit working with Celine, how much lower is there to sink?

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