Saturday Night Fever
Release year: 1977
Director: John Badham
Screenwriter: Nick Cohn, Norman Wexler
Starring: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Donna Pescow, Bruce Ornstein, Julie Bovasso
Ratings: 1 Oscar nomination: Best Actor (John Travolta)
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #7, week 30 2014
Nineteen-year-old Tony (John Travolta) from Brooklyn works at a paint store and constantly fights with parents who are disappointed with him, never able to compete with his brother who is a priest. Money is tight and Tony lives for saturday night when he is king of the dance floor at the local disco, disco being the only thing he is really good at. When he meets Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), who is equally talented, he sees an opportunity to win the club’s dance competition and talks her into being his dance partner.
Travolta walks down the street to the sounds of the Bee Gee’s with a bounce in his steps only he can pull off, the trousers are tight and not a hair is out of place. At first look, this appears and sounds to be a simple dance movie, when in fact it is a deeper movie than the title gives away. Throughout the movie we follow an excellent John Travolta, in a part perhaps only he could make work, as Tony, the hapless youngster strolling through live without more care than how many days it is until saturday. But as reality comes knocking and lives around him start to crumple and change, frustration over his situation starts building up inside him. Never making his parents proud, but always listening to their praise over his brother, the only place he truly comes to live and shines is on the dancefloor. But when he is there, he truly shines. With a dancefloor blinking in different colours and brave camera work, Travolta grinds his hips to disco music looking utterly cool and in control. But after a moments break with cheerful music, Badham brings us back to grim reality, making changes in Tony’s life that leaves him confused and lost. Travolta is strongly supported by Karen Lynn Gorney, the girl who is a bit higher class than Tony and his friends and therefore less easy than the women at the disco who throws themselves at his feet, something that intrigues him and earns his respect. Donna Pescow is simply fantastic as the poor Annette so desperately in love with Tony that she lets go of her selfrespect bit by bit.
The soundtrack of the movie was so popular it could almost be a character in itself. In fact it was the best selling album in history until beaten by Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 1983. The Bee Gees who participated in creating the album struck luck with it. How Deep is Your Love, Stayin’ Alive, and Night Fever who were all written for this movie, became some of their biggest hits. They didn’t get involved until post production, so it is not their songs Travolta was dancing to. They were added later with the actors recording their lines in a vocal booth.
The movie landed at the right moment, hitting the height of the disco era that ended just a couple of years later. Today the soundtrack is full of disco classics to be enjoyed, but the movie tackles subjects still very current today.
The original title for the movie was Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night after the title of the New York Magazine article that inspired it. It was shortened to Saturday Night, but when The Bee Gees submitted the song Night Fever to the soundtrack, it was thought to embody the film’s spirit so much that director John Badham added the word Fever to the song’s titel, ending up with the name by which we know the movie today.
Picture copyright: UIP