Thursday, 18 April 2013

Rewind: Rhinestone (1984)

Looks like we're not in Max's Kansas City any more, Toto!
Rhinestone (1984, Bob Clark)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Dolly Parton, Ron Leibman, Richard Farnsworth, Tim Thomerson

Trailers: The Jewel of the Nile, Unfaithfully Yours, Phar Lap, Bachelor Party

Cherrypick: "I'm tighter than a gnat's nose stretched over a rainbow!"

'I've been walking these streets so long,
Singin' the same old song,
I know every crack on these dirty sidewalks of Broadway…'
                                  Rhinestone Cowboy (Words and Music Larry Weiss)

The unholy congregation of major motion pictures based on popular music hits is a bizarre but neighborly one in which Country music is - as Ex-Rent Hell has so consistently, fervently and vainly maintained – quite definitely king. You won't find too many studio releases based on Delta Blues murder ballads (dark and difficult) or Rock standards (too dumb and full of cum) or Disco anthems (frothy and city-fied), but the amiable universality of anecdotal heartbreak and boozy reminiscence that flows through Country music like the conjoined river of life that rolls through Anytown USA is just right. 

Country & Western music is as timeless and sweet the view from America's back porch. It might not be a wholly New World invention like Jazz, the Western or drive-by bodybaggings, but it has nevertheless been distilled down into the very essence of heartland values.
Either that or it's a twangy shorthand for the shackles of conformity, poverty, institutionalised ignorance and alcoholic self-negation that are the true qualifiers of the human condition - the ones that Hollywood so repeatedly and enthusiastically loves to ram down our pie-holes. And if they're slathered in jaunty tunes, shitkicking moonshinery and the odd car chase, then so much the better!
Yee, and indeed, Har!

Despite this, most C&W movies are rather forgettable affairs. The 1978 film adaptation of Tom T. Hall's #1 single Harper Valley PTA didn't trouble too many years’ best lists, while Arthur Penn's 1969 reworking of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant has not dated at all well. And although Sam Peckinpah's mighty, lunatic tilt at CW McCall's 1976 novelty hit Convoy remains a dubious thrill to this day, it is, if we're splitting hairs - and this being Ex-Rent Hell we most assuredly are - more of a trucker anthem or rebel yell rather than true C&W.

Not so 1984's Rhinestone, based on the majestic happy-sad 1975 chart-topper by Country royalty Glen Campbell, and transmuted into a kooky inversion of The Wizard of Oz that sees Stallone's lunkheaded New York-Italian cabbie whisked from the Emerald City by blowsy Country chanteuse Dolly Parton and dumped in a Tennessee hog farm to be deprogrammed by the down home gumption of her extended family of gunning sideshow hayseeds so she can win a bet that she can turn anyone into a C&W star in just two weeks*.

Looks like we're not in Max's Kansas City any more, Toto!
"Be gentle - I may be a little rusty..."

Adapted by the erstwhile Rocky Balboa alongside future Field of Dreams director Phil Alden Robinson, and with the Backwoods Barbie dishing out the folksy wisdom-bombs/weirdo barnyard aphorisms in between the sassy bar-room stompers, it's hard to imagine a more perfect storm of pure-blood rags-to-riches Americana. And yet the film failed to find an audience, lost a pile of cash, was nominated for raft of unwanted awards and is seen now, when it is seen - it's almost impossible to get hold of a copy - as a bad joke.

True, Stallone staggers distractedly through the film as if he's trying not to spill a glass of water he's carrying in the pocket of his nut-smuggling royal blue denims, while Dolly – herself dealing with balance issues on a much grander scale and in a region of far greater gravitational instability - seems unsure whether she's in a rambunctious comedy or a disease-of-the-week tearjerker, but they make for charming enough company. And the dialogue might flit around the dial from crass sex-puns to schoolboy innuendo but very occasionally tunes into a crackling bandwidth of amiable wit. A shame then that, cinematically, the film is one big missed opportunity, with none of the cracked glitz of post-Disco comedown New York or the pastoral balm of the Tennessee boonies getting much of a look in.

Back in 1969 Easy Rider claimed to be the story a man who went looking for America, but couldn't find it anywhere, while, in his song America, Paul Simon was stranded - empty and aching and not knowing why - on the New Jersey turnpike, watching the cars making similar pilgrimages into the dying light of that very same year. 

In 1984 Rhinestone found America. But nobody wanted to know.

*Oddly, this - apart from the line-dancing - is also the basic plot outline for Sly's ‘95 sci-fi actioner Judge Dredd.

Previously published in Little White Lies #40

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