THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY 1978 A Movie A day Day 87

1978 was the height of the disco era. In the first three months of the year, the Bee Gees had five top ten songs in the same week. John Travolta was nominated for an Academy Award, and the music was everywhere. Dolores and I were going into our senior year of college and we loved going out, seeing movies, listening to music and eating well. We were not big party people, certainly not in the way people ask today if you party. We went to college parties and enjoyed ourselves but we never learned to dance, I did not drink and neither of us got high. So it is a little strange that we enjoyed this time in the country so much. We listened to Kiss in the car all the time, and went to concerts, but we could not be part of that “Death to Disco” crowd that sometimes came out, because as far as we were concerned it was innocuous fun. Today’s movie came out in that summer and I remember seeing it with my beautiful girlfriend, and we were almost certainly wearing polyester, even if we weren’t going dancing.

This is the movie that earned an Academy Award for disco music. “Last Dance” is a perfectly good disco song, and Donna Summer is always terrific. When we saw her at the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago, she was still great in her voice and the music always gets people up and moving even if they don’t dance. I hate however, that the finest composers of what was labeled “Disco” music, the Brothers Gibb, never received any Oscar mention. Their songs from “Saturday Night Fever” an excellent movie and THE soundtrack of the disco era were ruled ineligible because some elements of the music originated before the contract to do the movie soundtrack was signed. So, three months after the Academy gives it’s award for 1977 to the treacle Debbie Boone song, this movie came out. The next year the music guild in the Academy seemed to be trying to make good by giving an award to Paul Jabara’s song played at the end of the movie. It’s a good thing that most of the guild did not realize he also acted in this film. His role as Carl, the obnoxious near-sighted horn-dog that got locked in the stairwell, almost ruins the movie.

There is really not a plot to the movie, it takes place almost in real time, the hours between 10 pm and 12 am. There are several sets of people that end up at a flashy disco called “The Zoo”, and there are little stories behind each one. There are two teen girls trying to win a dance contest, two working girls out looking to find someone they can stand, an older married couple out on their anniversary, and two average guys looking to hook up. Throw in some wanna be singer subplot, a hot funk band, a sleazy club owner and a wiseguy DJ and you have a movie. I suspect that this was really a chance to sell a soundtrack. RSO records had the biggest selling soundtrack in the world with the “Fever” collection. Neil Bogart, the guy that brought us Kiss with his start-up record company, must have eyed that success and thought to himself, “Casablanca Records” can do that too. I never owned the soundtrack to TGIF, but I’m sure they made a bundle.

It is fun to see Jeff Goldblum and Debra Winger in this movie. Neither was well known at the time, and now both have probably faded from the public eye a bit. Goldblum has always been a favorite around our house because if JAWS is our crack, then Jurassic Park is our catnip. Here he plays the disco owner, who apparently sleeps with half the women in the club. His goal this evening is to score with the straight married woman in order to win a bet. Terri Nunn, who later was the lead singer for Berlin, is one of the teen girls. Donna Summer plays, guess what, an aspiring singer. She is actually very good but of course best when the music starts and she is behind the mike.

The whole vibe of the movie is loose. It simply wants to entertain for a couple of hours and sell some music. There is a nice dance number in the parking lot that looks like it must have been pretty athletic to do. I could have lived without the computer dating couple. There is a fair amount of drug use in the movie, which makes it all the more revealing that this is a 1970’s film. The casual attitudes toward recreational drugs is reflected in a PG rating for the film. I don’t think the rating is wrong, but I do see how the world has changed in some of it’s attitudes. To me the best thing about the movie has always been that the reason the teen girls wanted to win the dance contest, was so they could buy Kiss tickets. Rock and Roll All Night you disco lovers.

THE WILBY CONSPIRACY 1975 A Movie A Day Day 86


This is an interesting movie for a number of historical reasons. The kids growing up today do not live in a world where the majority of the population of South Africa is subjected to harsh and repressive rules imposed by a minority of the population. Apartheid has been gone for almost twenty years now. Nelson Mandela is a revered world figure who served as President of his country after getting out of prison in that same country. Last year the movie Invictus, told the story of South Africa ultimately embracing it’s largely white rugby team in a story of reunification. It was a beautiful ideal, but the movie failed in part because it seemed political and most of the young audience today was not exposed to the brutality that existed in South Africa before they were born. They largely lack a context.

The Wilby Conspiracy, provides a kind of context. It is a fictional action story but it is set in a very realistically portrayed 1970’s South Africa. In those days, a black man needed a pass to be on the streets, the blacks were largely limited to “reservation” style tribal lands to live. The power of the police to detain, imprison and even kill was unchallenged. Civil disobedience, violence, worldwide political pressure, and finally the inability of those in power to stomach what would be required to keep the system, lead to it’s downfall. Wilby is set before the death of activist Steven Bikko, and the revelations that accompanied his death. Sidney Pointier plays a convicted rebel, for whom charges are being dropped after being imprisoned for ten years. His lawyer is a woman that champions reform in South Africa, and she has a boyfriend as she is separated from her husband. The new boyfriend is played by Michael Caine. As the three of them are leaving the prison, police checking passes assault them on the streets and suddenly they find themselves on the run. It turns into a mismatched buddy picture without the humor and instead, surrounded by intrigue and betrayal.

There are many examples of the injustices that people in South Africa suffered illustrated in the movie. The suppression of classes extends to the large Indian community in S.Africa as well. Saeed Jaffry plays an Indian dentist that is involved with the revolutionaries. This same year he co-starred with Michael Caine again in the “Man Who Would Be King”. He is good in both performances, but I have loved the Man Who Would Be King for 35 years and Billy Fish is one of the reasons. His associate in this movie is played by Persis Khambatta, the actress featured in the first Star Trek Movie (She has a shaved head there). She later co-stars with Rutger Hauer in Nighthawks, Hauer is in this movie as the pilot ex-husband of Caine’s girlfriend lawyer. (Got all that?) By the way, Caine and Hauer are also in the cast together in Batman Begins. This movie is it’s own little Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Nicol Williamson, plays the security officer in charge of exploiting the situation to recover lost treasure, or at least that is what it seems.

There are some good lines in the movie and a few solid action scenes. The South African security forces are as villainous as you would expect. Williamson’s second in command is a sadistic racist in a position of power that he enjoys exploiting. After humiliating the lawyer with a physical search by a doctor, he uses the notion of an even deeper search as a motivation to break her. The gleam in his eye as he suggests a more painful repeat of a body cavity search is disgusting. If this movie were made five years later, the retribution he receives would have been visualized in a more satisfying manner. Here it is simply conventional. Williamson also deserved different, but I don’t want to give too much away. I once gave an extemporaneous speech on Apartheid, defending the Afrikaner position. I was looking to be distinct in the round and hoping to move into another elimination round (it did not work). I must say that I can’t disagree with the judges, that it was hard to defend that point of view. I’m sorry I did it, because it really was indefensible. There are double crosses and hidden agendas in the movie throughout it’s run. The action used in the final confrontation is visually interesting, but logically stupid.

I think Art and I saw this movie at the Temple Theater, but it could have been the Alhambra. I’m sure it was a double bill but I can’t remember what the other feature could have been. This movie is largely forgotten, as illustrated by the fact that the only video on line for it is a TV promo. The trailer on the DVD does a good job of selling this as an action picture. That is not a misleading sales pitch, but the movie was more politically charged and that is missing to a large degree. Oh yeah, there is one really big laugh right at the end of the movie. The usual disclaimer appears saying that this is a work of fiction and does not represent true events in South Africa. I can just hear 18 million black South Africans roaring at that line.