Saturday Night Fever (1977)
October 7, 2022 7:41 PM - Subscribe

That other monster hit movie from 1977. Young Tony Manero (John Travolta), from a working class Brooklyn neighborhood, spends his days working a dead end job in hardware store, living for Saturday night when he can hang with the boys and display his gift for dancing at the local discotheque.

Despite his lack of sophistication, Tony senses the world offers more than his neighborhood, family and friends will allow.

Mostly remembered for the music craze it launched, the movie became an iconic cultural moment. Available for screening via several premium/subscription services.
posted by 2N2222 (12 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I watch this movie every few years. I've even had the chance to show it to young audiences who only know of a few dance scenes, and of course, the music. It tends to surprise, and impress.

You really feel for Tony, who seems to be viewed with contempt by virtually everyone his senior. He's ignorant. He's a boor. He's a slob. But he seems not entirely at fault here, being a product from awful parents and acquaintances. Despite his faults, he has an undeniable talent for dance. Which wins him the admiration of many locals and lots of young women.

Somewhat tragically, Tony is also pretty intelligent, in spite of his ignorance. At 19, he's already bored with his life and crew, sees it all going nowhere. "You don't fuck the future. The future fucks you" is the sage wisdom from his boss, that Tony seems to be increasingly aware of. His job provides some income for his family. But his unemployed father remains angry and resentful at his son's meager success. His mother seems to view him as a useless embarrassment. He knows he's going nowhere, knows he could do better, and has no idea what it'll take.

Tony is far from heroic. In fact, he's pretty rapey and seems to have no problem with his equally rapey (or worse) buddies. He has little respect for women in general, and seems to think they're more like alien creatures.

Being desperate to climb the social ladder, he pursues Stephanie, who just seems so sophisticated compared to his regular dance partner Annette, and all the other local girls who fawn all over him. There are some brilliant scenes when Tony realizes that Stephanie isn't the cosmopolitan stepping stone he thinks she is, just as desperate as he to climb out of that dead end Brooklyn circle.

I also quite liked the relationship Tony has with his siblings, the kid sister, and the elder brother, himself feeling he'd been trapped in a life before he could have a say in it. The three of them seem to have genuine affection with each other, perhaps some kind of survivor's kinship dealing with their parents.

The rape scenes are gross and awkward, as fitting as they are. Despite the cultural legacy the movie has, it's far more gritty than many remember (or expect). After some truly tragic moments, the end feels somewhat guardedly uplifting, though not entirely convincing to me. Tony finds redemption in the arms of the woman he tried to rape the night before. But what a price that had to be paid. Mostly by other people.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:28 PM on October 7, 2022 [4 favorites]

I had no idea what this was movie was about, despite it being one of the albums I had as a child ~1980, though I didn't listen to it as much as say S&G's concert in central park.

I'd never seen the movie, until just recently, when I saw the last 10-20 minutes of it or so, and Jesus Christ.. I think overall I'm less inclined to want to see all of it, but it was more truly dramatic than what I was expecting.
posted by fleacircus at 9:47 PM on October 7, 2022

It tends to surprise, and impress.

In addition to the unexpected gravitas, I was surprised by the appearance (albeit brief) of Fran Drescher.
posted by fairmettle at 4:13 AM on October 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Barry Miller's storyline (and acting) will break you. He needs more props!!

Some great stuff in (as mentioned) an overall problematic package.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:03 AM on October 8, 2022

I didn't see this movie until 2000 or so, when I was around 30 years old. I was surprised by how great it is. Yes, it has rape scenes which are disturbing and horrible. But it feels like a real document about real people in a real time and place. That bad attitude towards women really existed and it is portrayed in a very raw way. The characters feel real, the dialog is well written and it's worth a watch.
posted by SoberHighland at 6:49 AM on October 8, 2022

Saturday Night Fever is not one of my favorite movies. It's good. And I respect it for it's place in film history. But it's not a movie I have an itch to watch every now and then. That being said, SNF does have one of my favorite movie scenes.

I love the scene where Bobby is trying to talk to Frank. And Frank is trying to ignore him and have a good time. But then Frank realizes that Bobby is trying to TALK to him, and he goes into Father Frank-mode, giving his whole attention to a soul in distress. Great acting from Barry Miller and Martin Shakar there.
posted by Stuka at 1:33 PM on October 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

I saw this in my American Pop Culture class in high school ten years after it came out and was surprised by how good, and dark, it was; I'd expected it to be like Grease or Welcome Back, Kotter. I should give it a rewatch.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:40 PM on October 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

A few things about this:

- It's not really accurate to say that it launched disco (the "music craze" that I assume you're talking about); at best, it prolonged disco's popularity by a few years.

- The story from New York magazine that the movie is based on, "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night", is complete bullshit. I mean, the 2001 Odyssey disco in Bay Ridge existed, but when writer Nik Cohn went to it to see what the scene was like, a drunk threw up on his leg, and Cohn turned around, got back in the taxi, went home, and wrote about mods that he'd known back in Britain in the 60s, changing names and places.

- This was the late movie critic Gene Siskel's favorite movie; he watched it over twenty times and bought John Travolta's white suit at auction.

- The Sylvester Stallone-directed sequel, Staying Alive, is... well, it sure is a Sylvester Stallone-directed movie. Except for one brief scene set in Bay Ridge, it has nothing to do with the first movie. Tony Manero becomes a Broadway dancer, and Kurtwood Smith plays a choreographer.

As for the movie itself, I don't remember that much about it except for a lot of it taking place in a disco, and some stuff with Annette that I didn't really understand (I was thirteen and, through some combination of my hearing disability and possibly a degree of auditory processing disorder from being on the spectrum, often had difficulty understanding dialogue in movies when in a theater). Probably, some of how I regard the movie was colored by the subsequent anti-disco backlash, culminating in Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park (many previouslies on the blue). There's a good You're Wrong About podcast on DDN and its context in seventies culture.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:17 AM on October 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think about Staying Alive disturbingly often because of one scene where Travolta makes a remark and then turns to the camera and says "inside joke." Can this be real? Can it really have made it to the movie? I saw it in the theater and haven't seen it since. It's probably best that way.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:18 AM on October 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have no memory of that scene, Tcitl, but there is a slightly less explicit breaking-of-the-4th-wall moment where Tony is strutting down the street and bumps into an extra played by the director himself—Sly Stallone—and does an exaggerated double-take, not-quite-but-almost directly into the camera. But I wouldn't put it past this turkey of a movie to have also included a scene similar to the one you described.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:48 PM on October 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

OK I was forced to find what must be it. It's at 13 minutes in, when he asks the guy working the lights if he has any messages. He doesn't look at the camera, he just says it to the room at large. I guess it's supposed to be an inside joke with himself, because he's always asking the guy at the front desk of his SRO if he has any messages? It's not as awful as I remember.

On the other hand, I seem to have blocked the trauma of seeing Finola Hughes' dance numbers.

(Apologies for derailing the Saturday Night Fever discussion, but this was important.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:28 PM on October 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

When it first came out I had to wait until the PG version was released a couple years after the movie first came out. I was already aware of the high points of the movie, so it was a little slow at the time, but I rewatched a number of years back and was surprised at how the movie rolls right along. Not a lot of wasted space here. I'm a little surprised to see that it's actually 2hrs long.
posted by rhizome at 12:47 PM on October 15, 2022

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