Moment by Moment (1978) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Robert Stigwood was probably the hottest producer on the planet in 1978. He was fresh off back-to-back blockbuster successes with Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Saturday Night Fever was the #3 film at the 1977 box office, behind only the two space epics, Star Wars and Close Encounters. Grease did even better, rising to the very top of the 1978 box office list in the USA, and also taking the #1 spot world-wide.
For his next project, Stigwood wanted to stick with his main man, ol' Barbarino himself, John Travolta, who had danced and sung his way to the top of the A-list in both of Stigwood's major hits, thus earning an Oscar nomination and making himself the hottest draw in Hollywood. He was still playing Barbarino on "Welcome Back, Kotter" in 1978 as well, so he was in the rare and enviable position as the master of two media.
Stigwood and Travolta - they were magic, they had the Midas touch, they could do no wrong.
Until this turkey came along.
Realizing Travolta's popularity with female audiences, Stigwood conceived of using his white-hot star in a classic chick-flick, a May-December romance between a bored middle-aged housewife and the sexy young man who would put a spring back in her step. For his female lead Stigwood wanted Lily Tomlin, whose smash one-woman show was the hottest ticket on Broadway. Between Travolta's fans and Tomlin's, Stigwood hoped to rule the entertainment world.
There were two problems. Problem one was Lily herself. Although Tomlin had picked up some good notices for her work in Nashville, she was no dramatic actress, and was certainly not the classic romantic lead, given her monotonous robotic voice, her one-and-only non-comedic facial expression (a dazed, "deer in the headlights" stare), and her own personal sexual preferences. That brings us to problem two: Lily wouldn't play with the boys unless she could bring along her creative partner, who also happened to be her life partner, Jane Wagner. Wagner had worked with Tomlin on their many characteristically bittersweet comedy sketches, but was ill-prepared to take on the role of screenwriter for a "ladies picture" in the tradition of Doug Sirk. Indeed, she was ill-prepared to write any kind of feature-length film involving a cohesive storyline. Some of the writing in this film just makes no sense at all.
Not even the slightest thought was put into the exposition used in this script. One of the most important characters remains entirely offscreen! Although Travolta talks constantly to Tomlin about his friend Greg and the friend's legal problems, and even mourns the friend's subsequent death, ol' Greg is never seen. We do, however, get a quick glimpse at Greg's probable killer, a big-time hoodlum known as (I'm not making this up) Mr. Main Event. The esteemed Mr. Event is played by that hard-faced guy who played the lieutenant on the Rockford Files. The Greg character is only one of many red herrings and dead-ends in the film. (Don't miss the recurring Perry Como theme.) The film is essentially a two character sketch that has been padded out by various sub-plots and digressions, none of which have any bearing on the Tomlin-Travolta relationship, none of which provide any form of cinematic pleasure, many of which take place entirely off-camera.
As for the dialogue ... well, you can see a good example at the very top of this page. The highlight of the verbal badinage revolves around the fact that Travolta's character is named "Strip," and Tomlin keeps intoning, "Oh, Strip" over and over in the same uninflected half-mumble, as if it were her mantra. Don't ever get hornswaggled into playing a drinking game while watching this film. If you had to drink every time Tomlin said "Oh, Strip," you would surely die of alcohol poisoning.
The problems with Tomlin's stiff face and inexpressive voice were exacerbated by the fact that the entire film basically consists of sex scenes and many forms of sexual foreplay, verbal and otherwise, ranging from flirting to hot-tubbing in the altogether. Whatever Tomlin's merits as a romantic lead might be, Kathleen Turner she ain't. Tomlin might not have done an especially good job at this with a female co-star, but she was a dead fish opposite Travolta. From Travolta's point of view, the entire sex angle would have been uncomfortable enough if he had merely been making love to just any lesbian in front of her real lover, with the lover in turn, as the director, encouraging him to make it look real. It went beyond creepy and into Greek tragedy material in light of the fact that the lesbian in his arms was almost a dead ringer for his own sister, Ellen Travolta. As Los Angeles magazine reported from the set, "The chemistry between Tomlin and Travolta began to rival that between Menachem Begin and Yassar Arafat." One crew member recalled, "Two weeks into the shooting on location in Malibu there was nobody on the set that didn't know we were in the middle of a turkey. It was like being on the voyage of the damned."
How bad is it? Check out the soundtrack:
You know you're in trouble when the romantic highlight of your film is Dan Hill's notoriously sappy ballad "Sometimes When We Touch." By the way, the film's title has nothing to do with the storyline. The movie was, in essence, named after the soundtrack's recurring song, which was (one presumes) a hopeful break-out hit.
The film turned out to be an utter disaster and an embarrassment to all concerned.
Well, except maybe Dan Hill. I imagine he would be hard to embarrass.
It was released as a Christmas picture in 1978, and was greeted by critical derision and audience guffaws. It soon disappeared and has been buried ever since. In all these years it has never come to video tape, laser disc, or DVD. Bad movie lovers should not despair, however, because there is still hope. The Wikipedia article says, "A high-definition video master, suitable for a DVD and/or HD-DVD release, exists and has been broadcast on Universal HD."
Travolta had one more hit (Urban Cowboy) in 1980, and received some respectable reviews in Brian de Palma's Blow-Out in 1981, but his next partnership with Stigwood in 1983 proved to be another megabomb, Staying Alive, the ill-advised sequel to Saturday Night Fever. That second failure signaled the Hollywood community that the Stigwood/Travolta team had obviously lost its magic. After Staying Alive, Travolta descended far from the A-list and would not be in demand again for a decade, until Pulp Fiction earned him a second Oscar nomination in 1994. The period that began with Staying Alive and ended with Pulp Fiction produced eight of the eleven Travolta films with an IMDb rating below five, but not his three worst. Moment by Moment has the second-lowest rating, and would be the worst effort on the filmography of just about any major star, but Travolta is not just anyone. More than two decades later, he managed to make a film which is considered even worse! In fact, it is currently ranked as the 36th worst of all time.
Travolta had his problems between 1983 and 1994, but he survived Staying Alive and Moment by Moment better than Stigwood. The one-time high-flyin' impresario would not have another IMDb credit of any kind for the next thirteen years. Hollywood has a short memory for successes, but a long one for failures.
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