Three notes: One, I watched Saturday Night Fever on Saturday, December 22nd, in celebration of the apocalypse that never came the day before. Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. Two, this is my last film review for the year of 2012, but there are equally important posts appearing during the remainder of the year, including five blogger interviews. Three, Happy Christmas Eve (that is, if you recognize the holiday).
Bottom Line: It’s a disease that reaches both the soul and the tappin’ feet, but neither the brain nor the heart.
Directed by: John Badham
Tony Manero: John Travolta
Also Starring: Denny Dillon, Donna Pescow, Karen Lynn Gorney, Paul Pape, Sam J. Coppola
“Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive,
Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’,
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive…”
–“Stayin’ Alive” by Bee Gees
Believe it or not, disco music is still around and very popular today. It’s only evolved into a genre known as dubstep, in which almost any computer can generate offbeat, albeit energizing instrumentals. With an appreciation for this modern generation of dance rhythms, Saturday Night Fever is highly enjoyable, almost definitive of its own title. Back in the 1970s, the soundtrack was manna from heaven to younger audiences. It remains one of the most prestigious recordings ever compiled for a film, due to irresistible hits such as the Bee Gees’s “Stayin’ Alive”, KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes”, the Trammps’s “Disco Inferno”, and several others. The selections are paralleled by a very scarce number of soundtracks, such as those from American Graffiti and the later-appearing Dirty Dancing. But beyond the musical palette, the film itself is near shallow fun. Placed beside such spectacles as American Graffiti and Dirty Dancing, films with equal appreciation for style and substance, Saturday Night Fever disappears into obscurity.
Our story begins with a New Yorker named Tony Manero (John Travolta). He’s nearly twenty years old, but he’s still searching for a future, living life as if tomorrow never was, never is, and never will be. He lives with his parents, as a result of never considering college. During the weekdays, Tony works at a paint store, and ends the day with his wild, proudly Italian posse. On Saturday nights, he visits “2001 Odyssey,” a club highlighted by dancing and disco music. It’s his dream, as it’s the only place where he is considered a king, let alone admired. During his spare time, Tony uses this to get somewhere in his life, considering it his only shot. He dances, dances, dances, even if it cuts into his job as a paint salesman; he escalates, escalates, escalates.
Saturday Night Fever is a surprisingly mixed bag. That last paragraph was especially hard to write, in a sense that it can be narrowed down to one basic, clichéd premise: an immature, careless fellow uses his one talent as a means of reaching the top. Sure, this represents life in a way all films should. I know people like Tony who take life into the most whimsical hands, sometimes even making that frighteningly obvious. I do not say that the plot and characters are unrealistic, but rather that they are overused. Try to think of a single film with a similar premise, and every last instance begins to stampede in like bison. I could give Saturday Night Fever points for its cinematography. Heavy on bird’s eye shots, points of view, cross-cutting, extreme close-ups, and whip panning, the film is filled with style atypical for even a music video. It does add very much to the irresistible fun, but it doesn’t make up for half-baked substance. If you find style, in other words, notably superior to story when it comes to what to watch, there isn’t much a doubt that Saturday Night Fever is your idea of an unforgettable masterpiece.