#191) Saturday Night Fever (1977)
OR “Misogyny: The Motion Picture”
Directed by John Badham
Written by Norman Wexler. Based on the story “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn.
Class of 2010
The Plot: Young hothead Brooklynite Tony Manero (John Travolta) lives with his dysfunctional family and works a dead-end job. He spends his weeks waiting for Saturday, when he goes to the local discotheque and is the undisputed king of the dance floor. One Saturday he sees an impressive dancer named Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) and eventually convinces her to be his dance partner in an upcoming dance contest. They clash instantly and constantly, but Tony keeps at it because Stephanie represents what he wants, a life better than his current one and a chance out of Brooklyn.
Why It Matters: The NFR highlights Travolta and the Bee Gees, and states that the “crossover between music and movies set the pace for many films to follow.”
But Does It Really?: I saw this movie for the first time a few years back, and hated it. Watching it again…I still don’t care for it. There’s some good work going on here, but the film’s characters (especially their attitudes towards women) are repulsive and indefensible. I completely understand that this film is capturing a specific time for a specific subculture, so I guess I just hate this specific subculture. Ultimately this film is about a young man coming into his own and trying to leave this life behind, but they layer on the more reprehensible aspects of his life real thick. I guess you just had to be there. Regardless, there’s a well-crafted film under all of this crap, and the historical impact alone is worthy of recognition. The film warrants inclusion on this list, but as I’ve said before, Disco (and everything it stands for) Sucks.
Shout Outs: Tony has posters of “Rocky” and “Enter the Dragon” in his room, goes to a club called “2001 Odyssey”, walks past a marquee advertising “Network”, and makes a “Dog Day Afternoon” reference in his underwear, the kind of tribute the prisoners of Attica had in mind when they rioted.
Everybody Gets One: Almost everyone, most notably the Brothers Gibb, legendary producer/manager Robert Stigwood, actor Donna Pescow, and director John Badham. Fun Fact: John’s brother Mary was Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
Wow, That’s Dated: Everything. From the aesthetics to the attitudes, everything about this movie is America’s unfortunate disco phase.
Title Song: We get a title song so good they changed the title of the movie.
Seriously, Oscars?: “Saturday Night Fever” received one nomination: Best Actor for breakout star John Travolta. He was a new face with a movie the older Academy members didn’t get, so he lost to veteran Richard Dreyfuss’ more endearing work in “The Goodbye Girl”. But the major controversy that year was that none of the Bee Gees’ music made the cut for Best Song or Best Score. But hey, “You Light Up My Life”, am I right? The Best Song winner the following year – the disco hit “Last Dance” – probably got some help from this oversight.
- The opening credits are an excellent set-up to Tony and his world. Take note, “Baby Driver”.
- “You can’t fuck the future.” Wait until they see “The Terminator”.
- It’s difficult watching John Travolta criticize someone’s religious beliefs.
- But seriously, am I supposed to like these guys? The only thing they haven’t done yet is punch an orphan.
- Can you imagine a world where one of the other Sweathogs made it big? Two-time Oscar nominee “Boom-Boom” Washington? Epstein butchering Idina Menzel’s name? Horshack as Robert Shapiro?
- Wow, the Even Stevens mom can dance!
- Current score: NFR films with Gloria Swanson: 1, NFR films with Fran Drescher: 2.
- Damn it Tony stop being so endearing. Your complexity is making me confused, Travolta!
- Laurence Olivier did Polaroid commercials? Man the ‘70s were weird.
- That is a really fast centrifuge Tony and Stephanie have going. Any faster and they’ll time travel…and fuck the future!
- After their rehearsal, Tony and Stephanie walk down Brooklyn’s landmark “ADR Boulevard”.
- What’s that sound I hear? Why it’s Modest Mussorgsky rolling over in his grave.
- And then they start attacking David Bowie. This movie goes too far! To add insult to injury, Stephanie pronounces his last name as “Boo-ie”.
- This film almost does a precursor to the “Manhattan” shot.
- Would you like a healthy sprinkling of homophobia and racism to go with your misogyny? Say when…
- As much as I don’t care for this film, the dance sequences are pretty great. The contest in particular is wonderfully choreographed; they actually managed to make disco dancing look graceful. Where is Lester Wilson’s honorary Oscar for choreography? If it’s good enough for “Oliver!” it’s good enough for this film.
- And then the boys take Annette for a car ride. Aaaaaaand fuck this movie.
- Disco was waning by 1977, but this film brought it back even bigger than before.
- John Travolta: Act I
- A sequel that removes everything you liked about the first one and replaces it with two Stallones and something called “Satan’s Alley”.
- Oh god, I forgot there was a stage version. And I guess it’s still touring. Why won’t you die?
- Everyone has spoofed this film’s iconic disco scenes, but we’ll stick with “Airplane!” for now.
- “The Barry Gibb Talk Show”
- This is the reason “Welcome Back, Kotter” jumped the shark.
- The 2004 documentary “Get Down Tonight” features Karen Gorney recreating her climactic dance scene with “Dance Fever” host (and this film’s uncredited dance instructor) Deney Terrio.
- Something called “Saturday Night Glee-ver”
- And of course, “Flashbeagle”!
Listen to This: The prime example of a soundtrack being more popular than its film, the Bee Gees’ “disco masterpiece” was added to the National Recording Registry in 2012. Check out this essay by special guest poster David N. Meyer.