The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision or the EBU.
When we speak of curses in Eurovision, we usually mean being doomed to play in the second slot of the evening. And no matter how long a winless drought has gone on in Eurovision, it has nothing on the 4,500 years that Kim Cattrall’s character Ema “Emmy” Hesire has been cursed in going from body to body to appear to artists in the 1987 romantic comedy Mannequin.
Two weeks ago, we covered the link between Top Gun and Eurovision 1979’s last place performer in Austria’s Christina Simon and writer Peter Wolf in their co-writing Kenny Loggins’s “Playing with the Boys.” This week we have a look at another 1980s movie that is, to be charitable, not as fondly remembered as Top Gun. Mannequin is a romantic comedy, of sorts, that has made a comeback in recent years as a cult movie, but to make up for its relative lack of quality, Mannequin has two independent links to Eurovision.
Mannequin tells the story of down on his luck artist Jonathan Switcher, played by Andrew McCarthy, who gets fired from a mannequin factory because he took a little too long to perfect the features of the mannequin he was working on. Later on, while walking by a department store in Philadelphia’s Center City, he sees his perfect mannequin on display in the window. Walking by the following morning, he saves the life of the department store’s owner, played by Golden Girls’ legend Estelle Getty. She gives Jonathan a job as a stock boy, and working nights, he helps flamboyant window designer Hollywood Montrose, played by Designing Women’s Meschach Taylor. And in moments when he is alone with the mannequin, she comes to life!
Played by Kim Cattrall, Emmy reveals she is a 4,500 Egyptian royal who, upon asking an unnamed Egyptian deity to help her escape an arranged marriage, is cursed to go through time being muses for artists. And Emmy sees potential in Jonathan, and inspires Jonathan to such a degree he takes over the job of creating the store’s window displays. His window displays become the talk of Philadelphia and help boost sales at the store, which is a tall order in a city where the only thing that gets Eagles fans excited is when Energizer releases a new battery. Months go by, Emmy and Jonathan fall in love, there’s some corporate intrigue as a rival department store, with James Spader playing a sniveling weasel, tries to kidnap Emmy based on intel from Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend. Some security guards, headed by Felix, played by Captain Harris of Police Academy fame, G.W. Bailey, get hosed off by Montrose, and somehow the curse is broken and Emmy and Jonathan get married. In the department store window, of course.
Now that was not a fever dream and I have not hit up Edgars Kreilis for some of his “cherry absinthe,” that is the plot for this batty film. The idea came from director and co-writer Michael Gottlieb when he was walking in Manhattan and thought he saw a mannequin moving in a store window. He realized it was probably one of the giant New York rats trying to get a slice of pizza wedged in the mannequin’s clothes moving it, but he got together with Edward Rugoff and somehow convinced producers to put up $7.9 million to film his “mannequin come to life” take on the Pygmalion myth idea in 1986. And they filmed it in Philadelphia, so check out Dan Bell of Dead Mall fame’s video for a detailed look at the real life locations used should you wish to visit the City of Brotherly Love and see where the madness was filmed.
Released in 1987, Mannequin made over $40 million despite getting a critical shellacking. It’s not that Mannequin is an awful film. It does have some highlights. Andrew McCarthy has the right balance of charm and n’er-do-well attitude that made him one of the more interesting Brat Pack actors and that served him in well in darker, edgier fare such as Less Than Zero, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Weekend at Bernie’s. Kim Cattrall is, well, Kim Cattrall and never disappoints with her roles in this, Police Academy, Big Trouble in Little China, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and being the standout Samantha in Sex and the City. The plot is insane, the script is clunky, background characters drop bad lines with the grace of giraffe droppings, but the main reason Mannequin succeeds is because of the two reasons we are here today: Diane Warren and Sylvester Levay.
Indeed, if anyone mentions Mannequin at all, it is usually along the lines of “isn’t that the rubbish film with Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” in it?” And “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” was a smash hit for Starship, who already had two Number 1 Billboard Hot 100 singles in 1985 with Peter Wolf, Dennis Lambert, Martin George Page and Bernie Taupin’s “We Built This City” and Peter Wolf and Ina Wolf’s “Sara.” For their follow-up album “No Protection” and for the lead single off of Mannequin’s soundtrack, Starship hired Diane Warren, Albert Hammond and Richard Hulle to write “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” As we discussed last week, Diane Warren is the legendary American songwriter who co-wrote “It’s My Time” with Andrew Lloyd-Webber for Jade Ewen to perform for the United Kingdom at Eurovision 2009.
Starship were the San Francisco based remnants of 1960s rock outfit Jefferson Airplane (“White Rabbit,” “Somebody to Love”) and Jefferson Starship (“Ride the Tiger”), with vocalists Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas, guitarist Craig Chaquico, bassist Peter Sears and drummer Donny Baldwin. Due to extensive litigation, mostly following on from the acrimonious romantic split of Slick and former bassist and songwriter Paul Kantner, the Jefferson had to be dropped and Starship remained. This is what the late Paul Kanter thought of Starship’s first hit “We Built This City.”
The music video for “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” matches the movie in that vocalist Mickey Thomas is in McCarthy’s role and Grace Slick is the mannequin. Now the thought of a mannequin coming to life as Grace Slick should terrify most people, especially considering she is legendary for her drunken escapades (warning: ESC United editor Matt Friedrichs may not want to read this) and she is generally known as an artist who lives dialed in at 11. But Slick is a music legend who had Number 1 hits across three decades, and anyone who compiles a Top Ten Women in Rock list without her on it deserves to be hosed off Montrose style.
She’s a slightly eccentric legend truth be told, and the video works regardless and continued Slick’s streak of winning singles. And until Cher’s “Believe” in 1999, Slick’s performance in this song at age 47 made her the oldest woman to have ever performed on a Billboard Hot 100 Number 1 single. And to top it off, this song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1988. In a rare case of the Oscars arguably getting it right, the winning song was the legendary duet “(I’ve Had) The Time of my Life” performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes from the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack.
Another Eurovision connection of sorts for “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”: The song’s keyboardist is Walter Afanasieff, who co-wrote “All I Want for Christmas is You” with Mariah Carey and is now the bane of your existence every December. He was also tangentially involved in the Ukraine national selection vote rigging fiasco of 2011 in that the eventual winner Mika Newton wanted to change her entry “Angel” to one that she had co-written with Afanasieff instead.
But though Diane Warren’s contribution is the headline grabbing contribution to Mannequin, the film’s score was written by another famous Eurovision alumnus and a composer of some of disco’s most memorable hits: Sylvester Levay. And given the film’s bonkers plot, composing the score was a tall order, but Levay managed to pull it off the tough job of stressing comedic moments and moments of seriousness when needed. Born in Subotica, Serbia (then Yugoslavia), on May 16, 1945, Levay grew up with and hoovered up American popular music of the 1950s and 1960s as he simultaneously studied classical music arrangement and composition.
Levay moved to Munich, West Germany, in 1972 and immediately struck up a rapport with lyricist Michael Kunze, who also went by the name Stephan Prager. Though both were classically trained, Levay and Kunze wanted a modern pop side project to the musicals they’d been working on, and they threw their hat in the disco ring and created a studio disco project called Silver Convention (Levay’s nickname was Silver). Silver Convention hit the ground running with a minor charting single in “Save Me,” though Levay and Kunze realized they needed a permanent line-up if they were going to tour in support of their singles.
Penny McLean, Ramona Wulf and Linda G. Thompson were recruited as the three permanent faces of Silver Convention, and it would not be long until they struck gold with their Billboard Hot 100 Number 1 single “Fly, Robin, Fly” in November 1975. It has several distinctions, in that it only has six words in the song (the titular fly and Robin and chorus lyrics “up to the sky”) and that Silver Convention were the first ever German artists to hit Number 1 on the charts in the United States. Its stay at Number 1 was also bookended by KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way (I Like it).”
Silver Convention’s next single “Get Up and Boogie” managed to reach Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1976, kept off the Number 1 spot by Paul McCartney’s jab at John Lennon in “Silly Love Songs,” proving that lots of people do indeed want those. Thompson left the group in 1976 and was replaced by Rhonda Heath, and Levay and Kunze decided to embark on an unusual project for a group that had already achieved chart success in the United States and Europe: Eurovision. To be clear, entry for a band of Silver Convention’s caliber into Eurovision was unusual. Sure, you get a Kazka (Number 1 singles in Russia and Ukraine the year before their attempted entry) here and there, but Silver Convention had hit the heights of the world’s top music market and were by no means has-beens. Only Bonnie Tyler and Silver Convention have had a Billboard Hot 100 Number 1 prior to their entry into Eurovision, and Silver Convention’s entry was only a year after their chart topping success. With their expression of interest, Germany sprung early to internally select and put forward Silver Convention and their song “Telegram” for Eurovision 1977. And their springing early allowed Germany to compete in English as the European Broadcasting Union eliminated the “free language” rule from 1973 to 1976 fairly late in the national selection cycle of 1977.
So how come one of the biggest disco names of the time did not crush Eurovision 1977? Vote cannibalization. The equally experienced Belgian trio Dream Express (the three Indonesian sisters Bianca, Stella and Patricia Maaesen), though without American success but with experience competing for the Netherlands in 1970 as Hearts of Soul with “Waterman,” entered “A million in one, two, three” and split the disco vote. Eurovision 1977, held in the United Kingdom, had some notable incidents. It will come as no surprise to United Kingdom based readers of our historical feature articles that the British Broadcasting Union (BBC) had to deal with a technician’s strike that affected Eurovision. To date, this is the only time a strike affected the final of Eurovision, with the original planned date of April 2, 1977, moved to May 7, 1977.
Additionally, Eurovision 1977 dealt with a debuting country that pulled out at the last moment in Tunisia (surprise, they did not want to compete with Israel and had to pull out at the last minute due to political pressure in Tunisia). Eurovision 1977 also had what is considered the first “novelty” song in Schmetterlinge’s dreadful “Boom Boom Boomerang” with the male dancers having face masks and suits on their backs to have a weird back to front effect when the singers turned around from the audience and sang. At least Silver Convention and Dream Express, in 8th and 9th respectively, beat them in 17th, though the novelty single plagues Eurovision to this day. The winner was France’s Marie Myriam with her chanson “L’ouiseau et l’enfant.” in what is considered a historically weak field. It was France’s fifth and last ever victory, and though not one of the most well-remembered Eurovision victors, it does have enough quality to make the argument it was a justifiable victory.
Silver Convention’s career ended fairly quickly after Eurovision 1977, with the singers going on to attempt solo careers of varying degrees of success. But its group founders Levay and Kunze who continued with work in film and theater, with Levay working with Giorgio Moroder on the Flashdance soundtrack, as well as having success working on his own scoring some cult classics of the 1980s, including the following:
Along with Mannequin, Levay also scored the Sylvester Stallone vs. nihilistic psychopaths action vehicle Cobra, Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn military action movie Navy Seals, and Charlie Sheen starring Top Gun spoof Hot Shots! Perhaps a more lasting reference for Gen-Xers and millennials for Silver Convention will be “Get Up and Boogie’s” main riff being used in Bloodhound Gang’s cult hit “Lift Your Head Up High (And Blow Your Brains Out).” Or not, as Silver Convention was not the reason to feel that sentiment after watching Eurovision 1977. Or Mannequin.
Do #YOU think disco have been given a fairer shake at Eurovision 1977? Comment in our forum, on social media, or in our comments below.