Monday, June 11, 2007

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

1 comment:

  1. For a film that helped make disco even more popular than it was, Saturday Night Fever is often remembered as a dance movie. After having sat down and watched it for the first time, I have to say dancing is the least interesting part of this film, and there's actually a fairly compelling storyline beyond the discotheque.

    John Travolta plays Tony Manero, a Bay Ridge native who lives a dead end life. He works in a hardware store, is stuck at home with his bickering family, and has friends that are more interested in driving around looking for fights than doing anything with their lives. He doesn't like the women that like him, and the one woman he likes doesn't care about him. Manero's only passion in life is dancing at the club, but even with that, he realizes that it's not something that can last, and he has no idea how he can emulate that euphoria elsewhere.

    The film is surprisingly dark. There are few, if any, characters that come out of this movie on a positive note. Most are battle damaged by the lives they've led and the environments they've been forced to survive. Every choice seems to lead to problems, and there remains nothing but regret and tough times ahead.

    Of course, the film is about one man's adventures with disco, regardless of the fleshed-out backstory. The dancing is pretty stupid, to be honest. A lot of those disco-specific moves are just really dumb, and I'm not sure how it can be called dancing. Not all 70s dancing was bad, that's not what I'm getting at. I'm just saying Manero is far from the king.

    The music, however, is snazzy. The Bee Gees sound a bit ridiculous vocally, but otherwise they laid down some smooth disco beats. Besides the famous Bee Gees tracks, however, there are many other popular disco songs on the soundtrack. The Saturday Night Fever album is one of those rare breeds that perfectly captures a movement and an era.

    As for the acting, I really can't complain. The characters are a bit stereotypical as far as Brooklyn/Italians go, but overall, it works. Travolta works well as a troubled character in this film, and is far more interesting that his role in the following year's Grease.

    The on location shots of Brooklyn et al are really amazing, too. On a personal level, I love old movies that show a lot of contemporary detail, because although it might date the film, it takes me back to a time I either don't remember all that well or was not even around to see. Furthermore, when it comes to this film, my family was living there are the time, so it's cool to see. In any event, there's more than just pretty scenery, there are some great shots and cuts, too. There is one scene where Manero and his dance partner are going into a coffee shop, and the camera shoots them from the outside of the glass. So we hear their conversation as we watch them from the sidewalk, and between them and the audience is a reflection of the outside street. It's a beautiful shot.

    I was very impressed with Saturday Night Fever, and I think it stands as a legitimate artistic piece even though it was meant to capitalize on a fad. There's nothing wrong with a bit of commercialism if the product is strong. Writer Norman Wexler gets kudos for not just sticking in some bland characters with good dance moves, but for actually making real people an audience can associate with. It's not perfect, but it is solid.

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