Friday, September 11, 2015

Saturday Night Fever (1977) Review:

As infrequently as some oldies tunes happen to pop up on the radio, there was a time when that's all it was believe it or not. During the 1970s, the wave of disco joints multiplied by the day. Besides the 1960s and 1970s promoting peace and love, it also became a time where dancing was the "in" thing to do. Everybody was doing it. It was a craze that took a nation by storm where all people wanted to do was party and dance. For movies, the 1970s were also a time of many successes that have created quite an impact on today's culture and society. One of the most widely popular films to be remembered from that era was Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). However for movies that capitalized on the dance wave at the time, the best known and respected film to represent such a time was this film. It does have some components that could've been left out or fixed but mostly it is an entertaining film of its time.

Hard to believe that's John Travolta
Written by Norman Wexler (Serpico (1973)) and directed by John Badham (in his first feature film), the story is about a late teen named Tony Manero (John Travolta) who lives in a world where the only thing that matters to him is the weekend. He's a nice kid at heart and works hard but just wants live his life in the present. During the day he works at a paint shop, later he hangs with his immature goof ball friends, gets badgered by an old flame named Annette (Donna Pescow) and then has the same dinner every night with his family of high expectations. What Manero looks forward to on the weekend are the disco dances. While attending a party one night he comes across a dancer who catches his eye named Stefanie (Karen Lynn Gorney). It's at that moment Manero wants her to be his dance partner for a competition. For all the prior subplots going on around Manero, they do serve the purpose of character development but they also fall to the wayside over time.

The reoccurring moral of the script is the power of choice. Everyone has a choice to be or do what he or she wants in life. Manero's family wants him to become a priest like his brother Frank (Martin Shakar). Annette gets told numerous times by Tony that she has to decide on whether she's going to act like a woman or a prostitute. Tony is also challenged on his beliefs by Stefanie and when his boss tells him to stop spending his money frivolously on the weekend. Stefanie even gets some of her own medicine thrown back at her. Tony friends are a gradual eye opener as well. Every single supporting/main character has a specific role to play when it comes to character development and it is handled properly. The problem is once the change in character occurs, the supporting threads and their respective characters disappear and aren't concluded in the most direct of ways. The only other component to the writing is some of the slang dialog used. Yes, the 1970s were a much different time. However, this still does not excuse the fact of using various racial slurs.

Other than this every other aspect to the film is enjoyable. The acting is competently performed. It is a bit jarring to see the difference in years when it comes to how much John Travolta changed. Also voice-actor Paul Pape has a role as one of Tony's goof ball friends. The acting and writing also effectively capture the mood and attitude of the era. As stated before, disco was a craze at the time and many people hopped on the bandwagon just because everybody was doing it. Plus with all the issues surrounding Tony, going to the disco was also a good representation of how disco was an escapist activity for a lot of people. For the people who took part, it was a moment in time where people would forget about their troubles and just enjoy the night. The cinematography shot by Ralf D. Bode fit well with the scenes too. Bode was able to acquire a number of odd angles and establishing shots that in some ways felt like the camera was prepping the audience just as much as the scene was.

"Everybody dance!"
The choreography handled by Lester Wilson was crafted nicely as well. A year before, Wilson worked on Sparkle (1976) which proved to be a success and it didn't change here. Wilson's ability to get the entire cast to work in synchronized motion is impressive. That and all the dance moves that Travolta and Gorney perform are well staged. It's unimaginable how much practice went into making sure those dance numbers were done the right way in one shot. That takes patience. The music for this film is practically scoreless with only a few tunes composed by David Shire. The rest was handled by English pop group The Bee Gees (Barry, Maurice & Robin Gibb). The movie itself would probably not be as memorable or popular if it weren't for the numerous songs heard throughout the background. Songs like "Stayin' Alive", "Night Fever", "How Deep Is Your Love" and "More Than a Woman" are just some of the songs that'll stick in the viewers mind. It's also interesting to watch the dancing with these songs because of the viewers’ knowledge of music, how sensual the emotions are in the performances.

Unfortunately for its time it suffers from racial slurs that are still not excusable and its subplots are well written until they aren't needed anymore leading to indirect conclusions. These flaws are thankfully made up for with the abundance of character development, appropriate acting, memorable music tunes and well-staged dance choreography. It is a time capsule that defined the 1970s.

Points Earned --> 7:10

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