Staying Alive... Does "Saturday Night Fever" warrant another look?

As noted in these pages recently, there’s been a rush of excellent rock ‘n’ roll documentaries of late. I have recently seen (and commented on) Keith Richards’ Under The Influence and Wes Orhsoski’s film Don’t You Wish We Were Dead, about legendary punks The Damned. I picked up Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders earlier in the year and also cannot recommend that one highly enough. There’s some incredible footage there about Keith’s more fragile doppelganger.

Which leads me, very circuitously, to a recent post on WBUR/Boston’s website that reexamines Saturday Night Fever in a way I’ve never conceived. If you were a rock’n’roller or punk rock fan in the late Seventies, disco was your mortal enemy. The fashion, the people, the scene and, most of all, the music just rubbed the wrong way. I saw the movie and don’t recall whether I liked it or not. I’d like to think I hated it, but history teaches us that perhaps apathy is even worse than hatred.

Sean Burn’s post casts the film in a new light; it’s certainly not a perspective I’d considered, but reading the piece definitely spun my head a bit and has intrigued me enough to give it another look.  I do recall the grit and misogyny, but chalked that up to “1970’s New York,” but Burn’s brings to light the original script on the collision between “the predominately black and gay disco craze” and the “Italian-American tough guys in the working-class Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn.” That much tougher, heavily edited script would paint a grim picture that Hollywood would ultimately scrub into a hit film and the soundtrack a musical phenomenon. However, enough of the grit would remain and the film would spiral “ into one shocking scene after another, complete with a suicide and a gang rape.” Not the way you remember it either, huh?

I highly recommend Burn’s article; if nothing else, it warrants another look into yet another unique, and ironically now legendary, moment in music — and film — history. I‘ve never fully bought the “Bee Gees are geniuses” rhetoric and doubt I’ll be rushing out to buy the soundtrack album. Likewise, John Travolta always seemed a lightweight to me, unable to shed the Vinnie Barbarino boob he played on Welcome Back, Kotter. But did I somehow miss all of what film critic Gene Siskel, who reportedly went to see the movie at least 17 times and paid an exorbitant amount of money to buy Travolta’s famous white suit at a charity auction, knew all along?



#WBUR #SaturdayNightFever #disco #SeanBruns #GeneSiskel




II saw it when I was a kid and remember the music and dancing. I saw it as an adult and was blown away at the bleakness. I love the gritty location shots of 70s Brooklyn and NYC. It never tries to make disco into high art. Disco isn't shown as decadent - it's flashy but empty. The whole scene is dirty and the characters are trapped. Some look up to others as better but we see them all as various degrees of pathetic. Tony is the leader of the half-wits. Everything in their lives is violent or vacant. Sex, religion, family are all shallow dead ends. Tony tells his boss "Oh f_ck the future!" His boss says "No, Tony! You can't f_ck the future. The future f_cks you! It catches up with you and it f_cks you" and everyone in Tony's world IS f_cked. He actually believes disco is his ticket to success. His life's ambition is nothing more than a short lived fad. Whether or not it was the movies intention, time has made the whole thing more than just an amusing time capsule it's now a tragic comedy. Even it's happy ending is open ended enough to imagine inevitable failure. As a piece of nihilistic art, it's much more punk than it's soundtrack would have you believe.