Long before disaster films became fashionable, the Village People were making their own. Can’t Stop The Music, the film (very) loosely based on the early days of the Village People, has been universally slammed and called everything from the worst musical in history to the last nail in the disco coffin and it’s all true. It’s a shocker. But with a 23-year buffer it’s bloody funny and appealing in a high-camp way, and that’s why it’s been included in this year’s Mardi Gras film festival program.

Felipe Rose, the man who has worn the Village People head-dress for the past 25 years, says he can’t do an interview without getting asked about Can’t Stop The Music.

I’m asked about the film constantly, all the time. But we were just babies when it was made. I was like 21 or 22, he says, adding he would still make it if he had 1980 all over again.

If I could go back I would make a different kind of a film. If I knew back then that I had more control to make it what it should have been, a musical, I would have. But hey, a friend of mine made me a copy and he cut out all the other stuff and just kept the musical scenes -“ it’s pretty cool.

One of the non-Village People stars of Can’t Stop The Music is Steve Guttenberg, star of the equally fabulous Police Academy films. Felipe sees Steve around, he says.

He’s a mayor now in California. He’s the mayor of Pacific Palisades. So I’ll see him when I’m out there -“ I spoke to him about a month ago.

Felipe and the other Village People are performing in Sydney for the 27th time in March, soon after the Mardi Gras, but not soon enough for them to be in town for the Mardi Gras party. Felipe says there’s something about the Sydney vibe that works for him and the others.

I love it. It’s like we automatically fall into sync with everybody. What goes on at the dinner parties and the drinking and the partying and the holidays, just the rhythm of Sydney, you know. [When we did the Mardi Gras], while I was being interviewed on television, this huge float goes right by with Can’t Stop The Music on it and they have interviewers who are drag queens, and one was saying [affects drag queen voice], -˜Ladies and gentlemen, how does an icon become an icon? By having its own float!’ and I said, -˜Oh my god’.

I danced on the street and then I jumped on the dykes on bikes. They took me all the way downtown -“ one of them said -˜get on’, and I did. At 11 o’clock in the morning the group performed the last closing number, and they were heading off, and I just continued on with the partying, up to Beresford Alley and to all of the clubs, way into the afternoon and into the next day -“ in costume. People were looking at me like -˜you’re crazy!’ and I was like -˜you go to bed!’

Rose has worked for the past 25 years (a life sentence, he says) with two of the other Village People -“ Alex Briley, the original Army dude, and David Hodo, the construction worker. He says the five characters (including the cop and the leatherman) are not based, as many people think, on 1970s gay stereotypes. Rather, the characters came out of costumes the members were already into -“ Glenn Hughes was a biker, the cowboy was from the south, Felipe himself would run around Greenwich Village in feathered head-dresses and moccasins. He also disputes the idea that the group has always had a big gay fan base.

I think maybe we have one now, more so than we ever did. But not in the beginning. Oh no -“ it’s only been in the last 10 years. No, [the gay community] thought that the group was like, selling out and this and that. We don’t take a political stance on anything, on any ground. We’re a party band, and that’s really what we are, and we keep it clean, and we keep it like that. And if there are people out there that have a problem with it, then that’s their problem and not mine.

 
Can’t Stop The Music, the Village People film, will be shown as part of Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras film festival on Friday 14 February at 9:15pm, at Oxford Street’s Palace Academy Twin cinema.

 

The Village People are playing four shows in March 2003. They’ll be at Penrith Panthers on Wednesday 5 March (bookings 1800 061 991) and Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL from Friday 7 to Sunday 9 March (bookings 9559 0000).

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