Saturday Night Fever (1977, Director’s Cut)

Synopsis:

John Travolta (Grease and Pulp Fiction) plays an Italian-American young man from Brooklyn, New York, who leads an ordinary life during the week, but becomes a sensation as a dancer during the weekends at a local nightclub.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Tonight is the future, and I am planning for it.”

In USA, the 1970s will always be remembered as a period of incredible political and cultural change. Among the many important events that occurred during this troubled decade: Vietnam became the country’s most controversial military venture, the Watergate scandal brought down the Nixon presidency, the Supreme Court made abortion legal and the disco era exploded like no other music phenomenon had done before.

I grew up during this time period, pretty much unaware of the many earth-shaking events that were happening all around me. I should probably say “almost” unaware, because in the ’70s you had to be living on another planet (or galaxy) if you weren’t impacted one way or the other by the “disco fever” that was spreading across the nation.

President Nixon’s antics in the White House went over my head, but like everybody else, I was highly influenced by the disco craze. To those of you that weren’t there, I think that I could pretty much describe the disco sensation in just three words: Saturday Night Fever. Few movies could claim to have captured a cultural phenomenon in its totality as well as this film did — it’s a snapshot of America at a specific time.

Yes, in the ’70s, Hollywood gave us a groundbreaking epic about the criminal underworld (The Godfather). Two trend-setting horror films (Jaws and The Exorcist) also debuted in movie theaters around the same time. We were also convinced that a man could really fly (Superman) and we had our first brush with The Force (Star Wars).

However, no other movie is more representative of what was going on in the ’70s than Saturday Night Fever. From the moment John Travolta  (in a star-making performance) walks down the streets of Brooklyn during the opening scenes (while the Bee Gees’ song “Staying Alive” plays on the soundtrack), you know exactly in which decade the movie takes place. In full bell-bottom, polyester gear, Travolta pretty much summarized what was meant to be a young person in that era.

As I was watching this movie again for the first time in many years, I realized that I had forgotten how good this movie really is. Putting its legendary status aside, Saturday Night Fever remains one of the best films about young people ever made. The struggle for independence, the bouts with self-esteem, and the desire to make something special out of one’s life are issues that still plague anyone on the brink of adulthood.

Written by Norman Wexler and directed by John Badham (Smokey and the Bandit), Saturday Night Fever has a timeless quality that remains provocative and endearing. Despite the constant foul language and raunchy shenanigans (especially the longer cut), this is essentially an old-fashioned coming-of-age tale, ignited by the force of the Bee Gees’ soundtrack and Travolta’s Oscar-nominated performance.

In hindsight, it’s easy to dismiss the obvious clichés of the story, however, the impact the film had on the 1977’s audiences and its current place in American pop culture is indisputable. As the main character tries to conquer the dance floor, a valid metaphor about the elusive nature of the American Dream is created.

It’s also a gutsy movie. Travolta’s Tony Manero is a narcissist, narrow-minded, chauvinistic and kinda racist heel, who constantly says and does the wrong thing. At the end, Tony realizes the error of his ways, but, he doesn’t really know how to do better and the last scene in the movie leaves the door open to endless possibilities.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Unfairly dismissed today by some as a relic of its time, Saturday Night Fever says something worth remembering about the struggle to assert our own set of values and dreams, amid a seemingly reluctant and rigid world. The movie makes some valid points about the tricky nature of success in America, while vividly capturing a pivotal time period in the American culture. If you are 40 years old or younger, you might want to take my praise of the film with a grain of salt — it’s possible that nostalgia has clouded my objectiveness a little. Color, 122 minutes, Rated R.

Followed by Staying Alive (1983)

7 responses to “Saturday Night Fever (1977, Director’s Cut)

  1. I finally sat down and watched this a few weeks back. Wasn’t crazy about it, but I did enjoy. The music is what made it for me, though.

    Great review, man!

    Liked by 1 person

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