Let’s talk a little about the disco era: Shallow & superficial; polyester & pompadour. If you’re old enough, you may remember how polarizing the music was. We went from The Beatles & the Fillmore East & the moon landing & 2001 to Donna Summer & Studio 54 & Three Mile Island & The Wiz. Let’s see if I can remember how the chant from the commercial rock world went: ‘DISCO SUCKS! DISCO SUCKS!’ Some of you may know that I’m a Grateful Dead guy. We never went for that chant, if for no other reason, the band’s integration of that sound into their shows at the time. Beginning in ’76 with their disco re-arrangement of their cover of Dancin’ in the Streets; then their disco epic, Shakedown Street; and finally, Feel Like a Stranger, a song about hooking up with someone who “keeps firing glances across the” disco, just like Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) does to Tony Manero (John Travolta) in Saturday Night Fever. I remember listening to a bootleg cassette of Grateful Dead 3/14/81 – Hartford Civic Center which opened with Stranger on our way to the Grand Canyon with my girlfriend (now wife) Cindy, my brother Mike & our buddy Carl. Those 2 guys were insane. They decided to go out to the top of a hoodoo 50 yards from the Canyon ridge on a path less than 6” wide at points. Not me. I’m afraid of heights. Well, not the height so much as the falling off & landing [fade out] 7000’ below. SPLAT! Like Wile E. Coyote! All the way out there they were shouting, first Mike, “‘Paulie, look at me! Look at me, Cindy!’. ‘It’s too dangerous!’, she cried! Then Carl, ‘Look at me! Look! Paulie! Cindy!’. ‘I’m not kidding! Get back here! It’s a long way down there’. When they got there, they each shouted, ‘I’m all right.’, ‘I’m all right.’ And they were. Crazy-ass hippies, but ALL…RIGHT!
As I said, in John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever, Tony first sees Stephanie in the disco. He’s a 19 year old from Brooklyn, and such a great dancer that he’s a local celebrity. He never went to college & works in a paint store. Travolta’s extraordinary performance was honored with his 1st of 2 Best Actor Oscar nominations in 1978 at the 50th Academy Awards. Stephanie is also a great dancer, more classically trained, older, somewhat more erudite & living in Manhattan. Tony is the leader of his group of boys scoring chicks at the local disco & having sex with them in the back seat of his friend Bobby’s car (Barry Miller). But he wants more out of life. Donna Pescow is great as Annette, who has a major unreciprocated crush on Tony. Helen & Ann Travolta, John’s mom & sister, appear in the film as Lady in paint store and Pizza Girl, respectively.
Directors often homage one another in their films: Spielberg tributes Coppola’s ‘Rumble Fish’ in ‘Schindler’s List’; Woody Allen’s ‘Play It Again, Sam’ is an homage Michael Curtiz’s ‘Casablanca’ ; and Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ centers around Georges Méliès’ 1902 short, ‘A Trip to the Moon’. Those 3 great directors all appear in Jan Harlan’s fantastic documentary, ‘Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures’. I recently taught a couple of courses on Kubrick for UConn Waterbury’s OLLI Program. If you study him, you’ll notice his incredible range of influence. For instance, 2001 Odyssey is the name of disco in Saturday Night Fever. In 1977, directors were already tributing Stanley! But Badham doesn’t stop there. There are posters of Rocky, Serpico and Enter the Dragon; Tony impersonates Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon; and Stephanie talks about Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo & Juliet. [Look at watch] It’s getting late. Watch the trailer below then Hustle to the 2001 Odyssey & John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever. Or maybe just stream it on Netflix 🙂 4 Stars! [Travolta pose].