Friday, June 24, 2011

Forgotten Movie Songs #20: "Car Wash" from CAR WASH

Michael Schultz's 1976 film Car Wash is one of those lovely, plotless comedies that arrived in the wake of 1973's American Graffiti. Covering one single day at an L.A. outfit, it ambles very ably in and out of a series of workaday pranks and dramas that engulf the title spot's workers. Schultz and his screenwriter, future blockbuster director Joel Schumacher, make everything look rather effortless, but it's the sort of film that can crumble into a mess if it's not controlled correctly. Luckily, the script and the direction hit all the right notes.

It's the creative casting that helps the movie achieve its heights. In its own way, the cast of Car Wash rivals that pure energy that the cast of American Graffiti empowered; there's a juggernaut collection of pro character actors and comedians in this picture, too. Here's a cast photo gallery:

Henry Kingi, Ivan Dixon and Bill Duke as the militant Abdullah.

George Carlin and the great Clarence Muse

Antonio Fargas as the flaming Lindy

Clarence Muse gives a shoeshine to Big Daddy Rich, played by Richard Pryor.

Garrett Morris

Pepe Serna and Ray Vitte

Leonard Jackson and Professor Irwin Corey

Darryl Igus and DeWayne Jessie (aka Otis Day)

A pre-thirtysomething (and pre-nose job) Melanie Mayron

Tim Thomerson in a hilarious one-scene performance as an inebriated lothario

Michael Finnell as the obnoxious skateboarder Calvin

70s character actor mainstay Jack Kehoe

Franklin Ajaye as the slick T.C.

Another great 70s character actor: Sully Boyar as the car wash's owner and manager

A rare film appearance by The Pointer Sisters, as Big Daddy Rich's singing entourage

The film's cast is unbelievably rich. And while cinematographer Frank Stanley's photography is always suitably grimy, it absolutely transports us to this very specific place and time. I love how slyly Schumacher's script fits in social commentary amongst a lot of broad, even slapstick, laughs; in fact, Car Wash delivers some powerful scenes in its final 20 minutes that underline primarily the differences, and levels of understanding, that'll always be present between management and workers. But it never is preachy or pedantic; it's always fair and truthful to each one of its diverse characters. It's really a wonderful, fun, intelligent movie.

And, of course, Norman Whitfield's soundtrack rocks. Whitfield was a house songwriter and producer for Motown, and that quality shines through in his work for Car Wash. I was originally going to put up his sweet ballad "I Wanna Get Next To You" as my entry into the Forgotten Movie Songs sweepstakes, but I think it gets a little lost in the film (even though it's also well-used). Still, I'd be remiss to not mention it.

No, instead, I think I'll choose the movie's masterfully arranged title song, which is given a scene all by itself. Sung by Rose Royce, the song was a #1 hit, but somehow got forgotten by the Oscar nominating committee (they were total squares back then). "Car Wash" is still played on the radio these days, but I think a lot of people have forgotten about the movie from which it sprang, so I'm tubthumbing for it now.   

Ooh ooh
You might not ever get rich
But let me tell ya it's better that diggin' a ditch.
There ain't no tellin' who ya might meet.
A movie star or may be even an Indian Chief.

At the car wash.
Workin' at the car wash, yeah!
Come on and sing it with me
Car wash.
Sing it with the feelin' y'all
Car wash, yeah.

Come summer the work gets kinda hard
This ain't no place to be if ya planned on being a star.
Let me tell you it's always cool
And the boss don't mind sometimes if ya act a fool.

At the car wash (whoa whoa whoa whoa)
Talkin' about the car wash, yeah!
Come on and sing it for me
Car wash.
Car wash yeah!

(Work and work) Well, those cars never seem to stop comin'.
(Work and work) Keep those rags and machines hummin'
(Work and work) my fingers to the bone
(Work) at five I can't wait 'til it's time to go home

Hey, get your car washed today.
Fill up and you don't have to pay.
Come on and give us a play.
Get a wash right away.

Car wash.
Workin' at the car wash, yeah!
Come on and sing it with me
Car wash.
Sing it with feelin' y'all
Car wash, yeah.


Tyra Shortino said...

Aw, the video is no longer available. =( I suddenly want to hear the song again... Anyway, I'll just find a copy in other sites. Thanks for making me remember this! I totally forgot how much I liked this song.

Anonymous said...

One of my Wife's favourite films; we just got a copy on DVD (99 British pence, EBay!) and it's fantastic!. There's no plot, but the acting is real; I am forty-four and remember the Seventies well - at least, the British version...

The soundtrack is Disco - from the days when they played it on the air BEFORE night-time, plus, it stands up; the scene with T.C. and Hippo dancing; when T.C. puts his head on Hippo's chest is just comedy dynamite!. Keep posting; if we forget these treasures the World becomes a shade duller.

Anonymous said...

Great film to take you back to the good old days