ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

JER'S TURN: ALL THAT IS: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

HAPPY 2012 TO ONE AND ALL! WELCOME TO CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT’S ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY! BOTH JOHNNY CHAZZ AND I (JER) WANT TO THANK YOU FOR CHECKING IN THROUGHOUT 2011. THIS YEAR WE WILL CONTINUE TO FOCUS ON VARIOUS CINEMATIC TOPICS WITH OUR INDIVIDUAL VIEWS. ON THE SAME NOTE: WE WILL BE PEARING DOWN OUR BLOG ENTRIES TO BI- WEEKLY SUBMISSIONS. DATES WILL ALWAYS BE POSTED TO INFORM WHEN YOU CAN EXPECT THE NEXT ENTRY… SO PLEASE CHECK- IN WITH US OFTEN AND WE WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS! THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN AND NOW… ONTO THE BLOG TOPIC OF THE WEEK!
JER: Campy… Dated… Corny…”That disco flick with John Travolta”… these are but just a few words and phrases that have described one of the greatest phenomenons (aside from STAR WARS, of course) to come out of the 1970’s. This week’s subject: 1977’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

PROLOGUE: To the common viewer, the film has only represented the ‘disco era’ of the mid to late 1970’s backed by the multi- platinum selling Bee-Gees’ double album soundtrack and the iconic white suit worn by Travolta while he posed with his right arm extended upright pointing his index finger skyward. I, for one, have always seen it a little differently right from the very beginning. There was a sense of representation about not only what it was like to be a youth growing up in the 70’s: an era defined by music, drugs, alcohol, the residue of Vietnam and freedom of expression in sexual, political and other means available… it also allowed the audience to experience what it was like to keep- up appearances amongst your peers (peer pressure), the ‘act’ of being cool and life on the streets of Brooklyn and the dream to escape to the upper- crust world of Manhattan for New Yorkers.
Check out the original 1977 trailer for SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

Another way of looking at it… the film can also be reviewed based upon two factors the story has to offer: 1) revealing the point of view of a young Italian- American male carrying the stigma of the ‘macho’ representation of a man based on his culture (drinking, having sex and not claiming responsibilities for ones’ actions) and 2) the realization: recognition of the accountability on ones’ shoulders to eventually leave the teenage world behind and enter into the rite of adulthood. When does that time come for each of us and when do we feel we can take ownership of our lives?

STUDIO 54
ORGINS: New York City- Mid 1970’s: Disco was quickly becoming the alternate ‘fun’ music coming out to appose the post- punk music scene and the acid/ metal rock music of the late 60’s- early 70’s. The change brought forth an entirely new formation of living that not only represented what was being heard in the clubs and on the radio but literally designing a lifestyle and way of life all in its own. The clothing of choice consisted of polyester and double- knit suits… hot pants and platform shoes, satin dresses and shirts, spandex, gold chains and medallions including zodiac signs and Italian horns were adorned on both the streets and on the dance floor. It was the age of Studio 54: the dance club of all dance clubs located on 54th street in Manhattan. 54 became the place that you had to be seen in, hob- knobbing amongst celebrates and musicians of the day… that’s if you could get through the very restrictive velvet ropes! ‘Recreational’ drugs were part of ‘heightening’ the experience of the music and the single scene to a whole new level. Marijuana, cocaine and heroin were the most preferred. A good mixed drink or your favorite booze ‘on the rocks’ was also very hip for the times as well as the freedom to smoke cigarettes anyplace you preferred.

From all of this, influences were moving into various parts of America and quickly mentoring globally as well. Television ‘jived’ its way through dialog and humor with shows like “All In The Family” and “Good Times.” Films were taking bolder steps in screenplay writing and acting stances. Watergate was the hot topic on the political sidelines and the times were slowly changing the media as well. This brings us up to speed to where we need to start. Our story didn’t begin in the mind of a screenwriter or a studio looking to cash in on the latest craze… it began as a publication. In 1975, the New York magazine published an article entitled “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” focusing on the lifestyle of the teenager/ young adult’s weekly routine of working for the weekend and spending their week’s salary for the usual Friday/ Saturday night fun. The story was put to script and within a two year period, it jumped from article to the silver screen.

Tony (John Travolta) is gonna go steppin'!
STORYLINE: Nineteen year old Tony Manero (John Travolta) is a native Brooklyn who works at a local paint store throughout the week and goes out to the discothèque on Saturday nights. His earned wages are not saved up for a new car or an apartment to live on his own, but rather spent on new clothes, platform shoes and such. His vanity is revealed early on as he is watching himself in the mirror while blow drying his hair and moving his hips as he dresses… already projecting the moves and look on the dance floor and more importantly, how the chicks are going to see him. He wears a table cloth at the dinner table to insure that not a drop of spaghetti sauce stains his new digs.

Manero lives at home with his parents, a younger sister and his grandmother… a middle- class family built on constant bickering and fighting. While he makes the conscious choice to stay, he must endure the praises of his older brother, Frank Jr., who went on to become a priest… a prestigious honor for any Catholic- Italian family. Although content with his slight- slacker ways, he is a loser… stuck in a dead- end job without any signs of improving his life by way of furthering his education, experiencing independence, setting career goals or taking any kind of responsibility. The one thing he knows how to do extremely well and that he enjoys doing is dancing on Saturday nights.

Tony and the boys AKA "The Faces"
When he enters into his favorite hot spot, 2001 Odyssey, guys want to be him and girls want to be with him. Along with his four close friends, they call themselves “the faces”, representing yet another egotistical view point of how they see themselves. The hair is perfect, a cigarette carelessly hanging off the corner side of the mouth as an even- paced strut leads them to their ‘reserved’ table to admire (or critique) whoever is on the dance floor. Being that dancing is the one true passion of Tony’s, he signs up for a dance contest that will be taking place in a matter of weeks. The motivation and importance immediately goes to work as a way of possibly feeding his already disproportioned ego and to maybe prove something to his family, his friends and himself.

Annette (Donna Pescow) waits for Tony
 Annette (Donna Pescow), a local barfly who briefly ‘went out’ with Tony, tries to talk him into being his dance partner. Alas, poor Annette’s intentions are ulterior as the request is only pulled to allow time alone with him; however, he sees it as a strictly professional partnership that would not include any funny business. Her happiness is only short- lived as Tony decides to dump Annette and move on to an even better dancer he saw at the club and again at the dance studio, Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney).

Tony and Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney)
 At first, Stephanie comes across as someone slightly more sophisticated than Tony…possibly a few years old. Quickly, it is understood that she is from the same streets and has been continually mentored into a more high- end way of living, talking and the kind of employment she deserves. Drawbacks fall out of her demeanor by way of her Brooklyn drawl creeping out in her pronunciations when speaking and switching from coffee to drinking tea with lemon because that what office women drink. An eventual move to Manhattan might be what she thinks (or what she is being told) is the next step up the ladder, but she still carries the residue of the old neighborhood no matter what. 

Tony may finally start to see the big picture through Stephanie’s eyes as he his world slowly comes crumbling around him. His friends aren’t really his friends after all, but rather just a group of losers who leach off of his presence on the dance floor and get them laid just by default. His older brother, the patriarch of the Manero’s, decides to walk away from the priesthood while leaving his family questioning Tony as to what he may have said to influence Frank’s decision to leave the church. The final straw comes from a one- two punch of events concerning his alleged friends and their careless attitudes towards everything. For once, we finally see Tony take charge by abandoning them and walking to the nearest subway. The late night trip allows him solace and the chance to access his life more carefully then he has ever imagined himself doing. His destination lands him in Manhattan as he arrives at Stephanie’s new doorstep at a very early Sunday morning. The arrival could be looked upon as washing off the scum of events that occurred the night before on Saturday (like leaving behind the scummed life he had led) and starting over like the dawn of a brand new day (thus the beginning of a whole new life and finally accepting his responsibilities).

The Bee- Gees

Yvonne Elliman
THE SOUNDTRACK: The songs not only played an important factor throughout the film, for both the heightening of emotional and dancing sequences of the film, but undoubtedly reflected the high influence it had on a generation of would- be disco- clubbers and hipsters. For 1977, the soundtrack was available in both a vinyl and 8- track cartridge listening format… the two- disc edition set was my preference at the age of 9. The album stayed on the Billboard charts for 120 weeks and was a certified 15x Platinum best seller (15 million copies). Australia’s trio of brothers; Robin, Maurice and Barry Gibb, were better known as The Bee- Gees and contributed writing seven of the songs and singing six of them. Up and coming singing sensation Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR) would sing the seventh entitled “If I Can’t Have You”. In addition to The Bee-Gees version, the R&B group Tavares sang a second version of “More Than A Woman” having both appear in the film as well as in the album. Other well- known groups contributed hits to the album as well including Kool and the Gang’s “Open Sesame,” K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” and The Trampps’ very popular hit “Disco Inferno.” A very bold edition came from Walter Murphy who presented a controversial spin on Ludwig Von Beethoven’s classically composed “Fifth of Beethoven” by rerecorded it with a disco beat. TRIVIA: Oddly enough, the songs written by The Bee-Gees were never intended to be a part of any soundtrack but intended to be their next album. When producers heard the new direction into disco the group was heading towards, it was requested that the music become the main focal point of the soundtrack and film to which they agreed upon… the rest was history!
The Bee Gees with Andy Gibb on "You Should Be Dancin'"

THE AFTERMATH: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER was drawing in such success from its theatrical run and the highly- ranked album sales, that it prompted Paramount Pictures to release a more ‘audience friendly’ version of the film by offering a PG rated edition of its original R rated release. This version pared down on the stronger language, nudity and drug use and shaped the plot and storyline towards the direction of dancing and dysfunctional lifestyle of Tony and his friends. I was nine years old back in 1977 and had a mature view of film appreciation even then. My mother saw that and granted my request to view the R rated version at that age as she somewhat reluctantly purchased tickets for a viewing. This would, no doubt, be my first ever ‘restricted’ film I had ever seen and viewed it with strong enthusiasm!

Yet another reflection of its success prompted Paramount Pictures to pair up the film with its other John Travolta hit GREASE as a double- feature run in 1978 as well. This decision proved to be highly lucrative for the studio.

Travolta was about 23 years old at the time of the film’s release on December 18, 1977. Although new to films, he had already created a ‘heartthrob’ image of himself from his television appearances as Vinnie Barbarino in “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Travolta garnered himself a Best Actor nomination for SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER… he lost to Richard Dreyfuss for THE GOODBYE GIRL. Keeping his family close by, his sister Ann, is the gal who sells Tony his pizza slice in the beginning of the film. His mother Helen is the lady he sells the marked- up can of paint to. To prepare for the role, Travolta lost 20 pounds by running daily and dancing for about three hours a day. He worked closely with dance instructor Deney Terrio, who went un-credited. Terrio was best known as television host for the very popular “Dance Fever” (1979- 1985).

Like any good film, studios felt that it could catch lightning in the bottle twice by making a sequel. Directed by Sylvester Stallone, STAYING ALIVE (1983) continued the story of Tony Manero with Travolta reprising his iconic role. Living on his own and disowning his loser friends, Tony has a new life as a dancer trying to make it into Broadway! His strut is still intact and shades of his past comes back throughout the story, but the film builds on his struggles to not only stay independent but to be successful in the one thing he always was good at: dancing. Released on July 15, 1983 the film grossed a modest 64 million dollars but didn’t make the impact that the original film made. The Bee- Gee’s were asked to supply a few songs to the soundtrack, but it was actually Sly’s brother Frank Stallone that provided the radio- hit song “Far From Over."
Frank Stallone's video for "Far From Over"


An inspired musical of the same name premiered in the West End on May 5, 1998 at the London Palladium. It went to Broadway in 1999 and played at the Minskoff Theatre for 501 performances. It is this writer’s critique that the show inflated all of the stereotypical disco references and tried its hardest to find a legit audience to by into it. It didn’t… the musical became more of a cult hit overseas and has produced many revivals since.
The 'gweedos' of JERSEY SHORE
INFLUNECES TODAY: In a world that has taken on the ‘new flavor’ of how cool it is to be an Italian- American, or to proudly take the slang term ‘gweedo’ as if someone was paying you a compliment, has only become more famous due to the capitalization of reality television with the over-rated “Jersey Shore” leading the pack. A short lived reality television series entitled “My Big Frigging Wedding” offered a number of Italian couples preparing for their wedding day… all of which follow a certain stereotypical behavior and attitude while mugging and fist- pumping for the cameras. Another underground favorite was VH1’s “Tool Academy” that presented guys with an all- muscles/ macho- brainless view of themselves and looking upon their girlfriends as either play objects or possessions.

EPILOUGE: In short, I have often times brought up SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER in previous blogs either as an example of modern storytelling, capturing the era of the 70’s with justification or simply because it is one of my most favorite films. I had once said that this is a sad and depressing film if the soundtrack was removed and stripped away from the focused dancing sequences. In essence, it is the examination of egotistic and bigot behaviors from a bunch of Italiano pretty boys that pop pills, drink too much and seek out meaningless sex that stemmed from high school- like acts that should have been outgrown about two or three ago. The act of invincibility, realistic issues and plain stupidity of youth is closely regarded as subject matters throughout the film: Bobby C (Barry Miller) contemplates marrying his girlfriend because he got her pregnant while struggling with the morality of his Catholic upbringing, Annette (Donna Pescow) pursuits Tony to have sex with her, Tony’s brother Frank Jr. (Martin Shakar) talks about leaving the priesthood due to a lack in faith, Tony’s father is unemployed and cannot find work… amidst other topics requiring reflection.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: The 1977 release of “Saturday Night Fever” was a hit indeed. The timing was right considering that the late 1970’s was truly the disco era, and the film was highly entertaining. We might look at a film such as “Star Wars” as being another “hit” that year along the same lines of entertaining audiences.

The seventies (1970's) however provided ample films that could be referred to as real phenomenons however. The likes of “Chinatown”, “Taxi Driver”, “The Godfather”, “Jaws”, “Annie Hall”, “The Conversation”, “A Clockwork Orange” and even the foreign influences with “Cries and Whispers” and “Day for Night”. Thus, is it a stretch that “Saturday Night Fever” could be considered a phenomenal film? Safely said: yes.

The film was without question a unique concept with a tremendous style and soundtrack to accompany. To add, this was the film that made John Travolta (as Tony Manero) a household name, and better yet – a true star in Hollywood. The cinematography as well as the dance sequences are quite impressive and they combine to make for an entertaining and fun movie to re-visit from time to time.

On the other hand, let’s not carry this too far. “Saturday Night Fever” has a nice little story-line and offers excellent eye-candy throughout the film. However, the message is not exactly “deep” to use a generic term here. It is a dance movie dealing with a young man with raging hormones (just look at the ridiculous line: “You gotta decide if you are going to be a nice girl or a ____”) living in the seventies – and that really is the essence at the film’s core.

If we are to take this film at face value, then perhaps it offers us 7 to 8 picture points and that score works just fine for some. However, if we really want more from this film and hope to get to the deeper meaning and the true message(s) being delivered, we fall short and must score the film in a lower range. The plot is thin – that is the truth in all actuality. The performances are marginal to average and the dance sequences combined with the cinematography are all that really save the movie from falling even lower on tally board.

The rape scene has always bothered me as well. It is not the violence or the inherency of the act itself per se, yet it is the fact that the film never really addresses the repercussions of what has occurred on screen. Did it never happen? Are we to just brush it off and say farewell and good tidings to the young girl? The reaction, the journey, the scarring and the end result are what the audience need to experience in this girl’s eyes – and the film completely ignores it. The film, at this level naturally becomes bland, thin and careless which immediately discards the audience at the basic level. The scene is insulting.

Director JOHN BADHAM
 The film’s director, John Badham, does utilize the dance scenes and the soundtrack as an effective character however. This is what saves the film entirely and is the primary value of the film which stands the test of time. The emotional triggers on an audience with this disco and funky soundtrack are really what maintain interest and create a film that some consider both iconic and a classic.

Is there a sub-plot in this film? Is Tony’s priest-brother that sub-plot? If so, I guess we found our sub plot. What we remember in this film is the music and the dancing – not the plot or the story-line….let’s face it – that is the harsh truth. The film reminds us of an era – an era of disco and carefree behavior in a sense. The Bee Gees are really what immediately come to mind when the topic of “Saturday Night Fever” rises to the limelight of your discussion circle. Is this what I was supposed to get out of the film? I imagine so.

Did we talk about the music already? Oh yes, we did. Moving along-

Where am I? Oh, um.....“Saturday Night Fever” is entertaining and fun – and it was a real platform for both the musical artists on the soundtrack as well as for John Travolta. A classic? For some, perhaps. For this critic? Not even close and yet so far, far away (had to use it. Carole King).

Nope - this is not what we can define as a movie classic by any means. It is, at the very root a film full of “fluff” and “fun”. Grab some milk duds, turn out the lights and listen to “More than a Woman” yet again, and again. It's fun I guess - and the music is pretty good.... (current brain cell loss: 325,204,588)

Ok. What else is on?

Overall Grading (Picture Points) for the Film:
Narrative and Plot: 4/10 (generous here)
Acting: 6/10 (this was generous, but I feel like I have to be kind...)
Cinematography and Editing: 7.5/10
Soundtrack: 9/10 (great soundtrack, but it gets real old....)
Artistic Value: 4/10 (it was either 0 or 4...I chose 4 by flipping a coin)


*** CHAZZ'S PICTURE POINTS: 5.5/10

JER: JC, I will agree with you that there are better films released throughout the 70’s including THE GODFATHER, TAXI DRIVER and even ANNIE HALL. I am not stating that SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is the absolute definitive film of that decade. What I am trying to state is how this film has never been looked upon as anything other than a send- off on the disco scene…and from the looks of it, you would agree with them. I believe the film has layers that few recognize. It has been lowered to a level of campy fun; it has been made fun of and joked about for years since. The point missed is the true drama beyond the music and dancing.
Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" to clips from the film

The subplot you are searching for lies within the choices Tony makes about his life throughout the story. There is a constant ‘flip of the coin’ of decisions that lean for the better or worst that takes him down various avenues and paths that lead to his ultimate choice made in the end. It might be fair to say that story suffers from certain holes in the story: What happens to Brother Frank? I will also include your raised concerned about Annette and the controversial rape that occurred. I believe that such topics were and still continue to be very difficult to deal with on the screen and Tony almost closes that moment when he looks back at her with disgust and states, “Well, I guess you are a _ _ _ _.” A crude remark indeed considering what has just happened to her, but by her own instigations and willfulness to excess in pills and alcohol and quickly flirting with Tony’s friends to get over Manero may have been the results developed by her own doing. It is hard to analyze the choices made by director John Badham and why it is closed- up so quickly… maybe it was an editor’s view or even Paramount Pictures who decided to pear- down on the sequence… who knows.

The fact of the matter is this: It is an R- rated film for good reason. I do not like the PG version whatsoever. The plot gets too watered down and it does become a film focused on music and dance and lags on the harsh plots and dramatic aspects it was designed to illustrate.
What are your thoughts on SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER? How do you see this film? What kind of an impact has been made and what impressions have it left behind on you? All comments are welcomed and replied back! Check back with us on Wednesday January 25th when JOHNNY CHAZZ brings up the next topic of discussion for 2012!

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2 comments:

  1. I can remember watching Saturday Night fever in the movie theaters when I was growing up. I actually went to see it 3 times in the same weekend. I know there are a lot of movies that are considered to be better than this was, but I did enjoy it at the time it was released. Enjoying the blog very much!
    Kassie from Tucson, Arizona)

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  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us Kassie. I was young when I saw it but it made quite the impact for its time!!! Glad you are enjoying the blog as well! We aim to please!!!

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