Monday, May 31, 2010

Thank God It's Friday (Robert Klane, 1978)

Despite the fact that "God" and "Friday" are both wonky concepts designed to keep people enslaved by dates and things they cannot see, I am sincerely thankful that they're both employed in title of Thank God It's Friday (a.k.a. Gottseidank, es ist Freitag and Dieu merci, c'est vendredi), the gold-encrusted leather thong of pulsating disco movies. Other films with similar themes have tried to present 1970s dance culture in a responsible manner, but this Armyan Berstein (Cross My Heart) scripted, Robert Klane (Weekend at Bernie's II) directed masterpiece–and Academy Award winner–is one of the few chunks of cinematic amusement to accurately articulate the shimmering splendour that is Disco. Seizing on the genre's meaty hindquarters like a grief stricken piranha, the film attacks the viewer with accelerated sense of urgency. No wonder, it's got sixteen or so characters to introduce in a frightfully short amount of time. It successfully does this by utilizing a quick succession of scenes that show a handful of the participants away from the nightclub comfort zones we see them languishing in for the rest of the movie.

The reason we see the underage pairing of Frannie (Valerie Landsburg) and Jeannie (Berlin's Terri Nunn) giddily hoping onto a school bus in their lacrosse gear and a dental hygienist named Jackie (the delightful Mews Small) manically smiling as she puts on her favourite red wig is to properly convey their anticipation for the upcoming night of disco-fueled resplendency. It's important that the audience witness their pre-clubbing rituals, as it builds up our own level of expectancy for what it is about to transpire.

During my clubbing days the music was bland and the drinks were overpriced, but I wouldn't trade my brief existence as a nightclub flunky for the world. The feeling of communal oneness and the endless parade of sexily attired bodies writhing and heaving in a feverish frenzy are what I remember most from those days, and Thank God It's Friday manages to replicate the sensation of being a dancefloor junkie with a gratifying aplomb.

Of course, the clubs I went to weren't as large as the club depicted in this film. (This joint has a freaking jewelry boutique!) And the clientele weren't as varied. (I rarely ever saw anyone over the age of twenty-five.) However, the pressures that come with being unwittingly forced to participate in complex mating rituals and the sense of loneliness you sometimes feel even though you're surrounded by hoards of people was perfectly captured during the film's spry running time.

Episodic in nature, the plot, like in real life, is virtually non-existent. Instead, the film focuses on a smattering characters and their respective goals for evening. Most involve human companionship: Ken (John Friedrich) and Carl (Paul Jabara) want to get moisture on their penises, while Maddy (Robin Manken) and Jennifer (Debra Winger) want to get penises on their moisture. Well, actually, Ken and Jennifer are a little less forthright about their thirst for refried genitalia. But the desire for the things that fall under the hard and wet umbrella is clearly there.

Out of this particular grouping of club-goers, I found Debra Winger to be a bit of an annoying rag soaked in a gigantic vat of drag (her clumsiness wasn't endearing, either); and I thought John Friedrich (The Wanderers) was merely adequate as a dull nonentity named Ken. On the other hand, I did like disco composer Paul Jabara's performance as the occasionally bespectacled Carl, an excitable fella with a purse full of jaunty mannerisms who spends most of the evening locked in a stairwell. (I was a fan of his the moment he put on a dab of lip-gloss before entering the club.) I also respected the straightforward attitude of Robin Manken's Maddy. It's always refreshing to see female characters whose lustful temperament is on the same seedy footing as her male counterparts.

Uttering the expression, "You bet your sweet ass you're sorry," whenever someone would accidentally brush up against his lumpy frame– which happens a lot in crowded nightclubs, Gus (Chuck Sacci) is a short, surly garbage truck driver who isn't pleased with the tallness of his computer dating match, a sixth grade grammar school teacher named Shirley (Hilary Beane from the Forbidden Zone and Xanadu). He spends the majority of movie acting like an asshole, and, as you would expect, Gus's wretched behaviour slowly overwhelms Shirley's psyche. Pushed to the limit, the statuesque educator does what most of us would have done had we come in contact with such a vile specimen (never has a properly landed right hook been so satisfying).

The owner of the Zoo disco is Tony (Jeff Goldblum), a suave, narcissistic Lothario who, on the behest of Bobby Speed (the club's DJ played by Ray Vitte), attempts to romance Sue (Andrea Howard), an attractive woman celebrating her fifth wedding anniversary with her husband Dave (Mark Lonow). Brimming with grace and intelligence, you wouldn't think that Tony's sleazy charm would have much of a chance of working on a classy gal like Sue. However, the fact that her husband is one of the biggest schmucks the disco world has ever seen has given Tony just the right amount of wiggle room he needs to snatch the stylishly short-haired beauty out from under his cloying grasp.

Most captivating in terms of conventional trajectory were the vignettes that centered around Valerie Landsburg's Frannie and Terri Nunn's Jeannie effort to sneak into the Zoo club after being denied entry during their first attempt (their fake Idaho driver's licenses didn't pass mustard). The idiosyncratic Frannie is unconvinced that her prowess as a high school dance champion will transfer over to the unruly world of a grown up disco. Encouraged by her friend Jeannie, Frannie must overcome her self-doubt (and the chunkiness of her shoes) if she stands a chance of winning the big dance contest.

Helping out almost everyone he comes in contact with, Marv Gomez, "The Leatherman" (Chick Vennera) encapsulates the all-inclusive flavour of the fleeting era with his succinct mantra: "Dancing! Everything else is bullshit!" He also explains his unique philosophy using other words and phrases, but I found the declarative nature of his raison d'etre to be profoundly moving.

Obviously created with the intention of irritating the audience, I fell instantly in love with Jackie, the pill-popping, proto-raver played by Mews Small (credited here as "Marya"). Even though the dental hygeinist by day, disco free spirit by night has to share the same clubspace with a soul crushing yuppie jackass, I thought Jackie maintained her dignity quite effectively. Her vivid red wig (one side was wavy as a concourse of cotton candy cascading off a prostitute's pockmarked ass, while the other was crimped beyond the realm of reality) basking in the blinding ferocity of the club's arsenal of strobe lights, her unorthodox posture (which invited plenty of looks of derision) and overall glossy sheen subdued the violent thoughts I was repeatedly having toward some of the more trying characters.

A veiled excuse to fill the air with the constant throb of disco beats from the Casablanca Records catalogue, Thank God It's Friday's main musical plot involves disco queen Donna Summer repeatedly trying to get Bobby Speed to her demo (she plays a struggling singer named Nicole Sims) and the mysterious whereabouts of Floyd (Otis Day), the dude in charge of getting The Commodores' equipment to the Zoo.

The film's finest music moment comes when see Jeff Goldblum entering the club while "From Here to Eternity" by Giorgio Moroder oozes melodiously in the background. We can still hear Giorgio's synths in the background as Jeff's character scolds the club's elevator operator for not wearing his giant gorilla head; the bar and waitress staff wear zebra print tank-tops, the elevator operators dress as, you guessed it, gorillas.

Sadly, like this smattering of typed words, the film looses its momentum by the time The Commodores arrive at the club. In addition, the idea that an L.A. nightclub would close at midnight is ridiculous. Sure, the film was starting overstay its welcome, but what kind of club shuts its doors so early? A baffling tidbit in an otherwise enjoyable movie.



  1. Spooky coincidence, as I just watched this again last FRIIIIIIIIDAAAAAAAAY, and while it definitely does crap out at the end ("Hey, all right, Donna Summer finally got to sing and...wait, *that* was the dance contest?") this movie would get a solid thumbs up even if the only good thing in it was Marv Gomez. There should be a Thank Marv It's Saturday where the Leatherman goes into the desert of Los Angeles to spread his gospel! Also, best thing about the dvd is you can watch the whole film dubbed into Portuguese.

  2. This movie is totally worth it for the insane soundtrack, a completely misguided Motown effort with some Casablanca thrown in. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the Diana Ross "I Feel Love" rip-off "Lovin' Livin' Givin'" -- a song I think she's been trying to forget ever since.

    And I love that you kindly call this one "episodic in nature" -- it's episodic kind of in the way "The Price Is Right" is...which is to say no episode is actually related save for the tacky sets.

    Great work as always!

  3. Phew! Loved the write-up, as usual, Yum. I've had this movie in my sights for some time - definitely going to check it out sooner rather than later now. Incidentally... I've got the film depicted on the right side of your banner coming to me from Netflix shortly. Looking forward to it!

  4. Midnight? Dude, even the clubs in our podunk Southern city stay open to 2:00AM.

    My memory of this movie is extremely fuzzy, but it was one of the first films I saw on cable. Remember the boxes that looked like this?

    I'm getting a Simon Grim vibe from the current Jeopardy! champion. And he got the Former Names of Colonial Countries (or whatever that category was called)! Therefore, I like him. (German South-West Africa! I was waiting for Nyasaland. :))

  5. db: Yeah, the dance contest was a real letdown.

    Marv Gomez is the messiah.

    Portuguese, eh?

    (Note to self: Buy the TGIF DVD.)

    Tower Farm: Thanks, Billy

    I don't think I've heard this "Lovin' Livin' Givin'" you speak of. I must rectify this at once.

    Tom Stoup: Thanks a bunch.

    Right side of my banner? Oooh, you mean Daisies! That's one crazy flick.

    Karim Amir: I literally cringe every time I get to the part when Valerie Landsburg says that it's just after midnight.

    Now 2:00AM sounds more like it. I mean, how does Jeff Goldblum expect to turn a profit by closing two hours before last call?

    I remember those things. The buttons were fun to push (for a little while anyway).

    A humble garbage man vibe? Oh, you mean the Guiana-Guyana guy.

    Namibia, baby!

  6. And let us not forget that castmember Robin Menken would go on to write that beloved fantasy of a generation, TEEN WITCH (which, I noticed, you do not have a review written for yet).

  7. She wrote that? Cool. I did not know that. My opinion of Robin Menken has gone up about eight whole pegs.

    Oh, and, booya! Teen Witch. :)

    (I have a link to a kinda movie review archive located at the bottom of my blog's sidebar.)

  8. Just watched this a couple times. I looked for it for years after seeing once on HBO when I was about 13. Loved Marv Gomez! I almost put TGIF in my 50 Greatest Movies I'm doing this year. Great review.