You Can't Fuck The Future, The Future Fucks You: Saturday Night Fever (1977)

The danger of planning a blog marathon is getting behind on posts because you realize that you have all kinds of other life events getting in the way, which means doubling down on viewings and blog posts some days in order to maintain any consistency.  Today is once such day as I earlier scrambled to piece together something on Yankee Doodle Dandy and am now writing about yet another musical, in a far different sense with Saturday Night Fever.  Aside from not being the show tune heavy films of decades earlier, Saturday Night Fever also manages to navigate a space that is distinctly different narratively than most films, far more in line with the films of a year earlier than the escapist cinema of its genre.  Indeed, where it not for the reality that the film does involve a heavy amount of disco dancing, I would be convinced that it was a direct shot-for-shot homage to Rocky, although the movie poster to the film in the main character's room does suggest a knowing borrowing.  I will admit that I was myself a bit presumptive as to what I would be given by way of Saturday Night Fever as it is most certainly attained a reputation for being that one film that heavily uses that one song by The BeeGees, unfortunately, this claim is often intended to be a degrading thing, both dismissing the genius of the Gibbs brothers and their musical while also cornering Saturday Night Fever into a genre box that is illogical and inconvenient.  The acting of John Travolta is one of many things to be fascinated with in this rather overlooked film, even if it does have a noted classic status, not to mention that it does pull from some great music of the time, The BeeGees included.  However, it has some elements about it that at their core may have been purely choices of budget and necessity, but, nonetheless, become indicative of deep considerations on viewership relations within cinema and further inquire as to what it means to be a body on display that is also in the process of objectifying while bizarrely respecting the bodies around themselves.  Saturday Night Fever works because it unconventionally deals with notedly conventional subject.

Saturday Night Fever focuses on the experiences of Tony Manero a man who by the very way he walks can suggest to people that he is a ladies man.  At least, that seems to be what he strives for in his young life, only shooting for the money to buy the latest and greatest in polyester fashions in the hopes that it will afford him the desires of the women and the animosity of the men he encounters at his favorite disco club 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Alongside his motley crew of friends Tony manages to exists as a point of deep female desire, handfuls of women throwing themselves at him in the guise that they enjoy his dancing.  Tony while incredibly flattered by the advances seems rather clear that he is not interested in them, although deceives their hopes by agreeing to serve as their dance partners nonetheless, especially being kind to a young woman whose clearly suffering from some minor mental issues.  Yet, life is also troubling for Tony as he must navigate a home space where his family denigrates him for not being more like his brother, an established priest who the family lovingly refers to as Father Frank Jr. (Martin Shakar).  Tony hoping that by throwing all of his drive and passion into dancing he can somehow come to understand the complexities of the world around him, but when he Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) he manages to find a reason to pursue dancing even more as he immediately becomes infatuated by her ethereal charm and decidedly hard-to-get attitude. Mounting various approaches, he is finally able to convince her to get coffee a task that is juxtaposed with the falling apart of his own family life, particularly when Frank Jr. returns home and finds out that his brother has left the priesthood.  Paired with a variety of other forms of unfortunate news, Tony comes to reconsider his relationship with dancing, only to pour every last bit into a final act with Stephanie, one where they are clearly bested by a competing couple.  When it becomes clear, however, that their winning was predicated upon racial issues and not actual skill, the overly idyllic Tony awakes to the nonsense of his life and moves out of the negative world of his life in the process.

The social realist drama is quite hard to execute without becoming grandstanding or overtly detailed in a way that can be off putting to filmgoers.  I would further argue that this becomes doubly problematic when you make the realist picture within the constraints of a genre picture.  Finally, I would make an argument that it is damn near impossible to keep this a reality when you are creating a diegesis that involves music in a way indicative of a musical wherein the music, at times, manifests itself from beyond the narrative.  This would be a rare occurrence, but much to my amazement it is something that is pulled off brilliant.  More so, aside from the odd continuity error, Saturday Night Lever is a perfectly shot and edited film, one that tells a story in an intimate way without being predictable.  I say all of these things in unison, because somehow it manages to do the same things that made works like Taxi Driver and Nashville work a few years earlier, but few have sung the praises of Saturday Night Fever in the same rhetoric they afford it to the previously mentioned films.  I would argue then that the reason I for the longest held off to see the movie is that it was either implied that Saturday Night Live was nothing more than a disco film, or the alternative that the people who cling on to specific genres or constant themes invariably find the musical dismiss of any social legitimacy.  Indeed, as I work through more musicals this month I will undoubtedly watch this happen on different, but perhaps not so fatally as is the case with Saturday Night Fever.  Masked behind the assumption that it is a dance movie are some serious considerations about the role of body in looking and cinematic gaze, as well as a repetitive, but quite necessary barging against gender performance and including its more problematic final scenes, it does provide a visual into a life that is often swallowed up by other more powerful figures or entities.  If not for this one can still justify its status by the use of The BeeGees alone.  I know this is a ton of rambling, but I did only finish the film about an hour ago so my reactions are fresh and haphazard, mostly in relation to my own surprise by the film I saw as opposed to what I expected.

Key Scene: There is a scene where Tony makes a discovery about a hidden secret of another character, during which Travolta delivers a death stare for the ages.

Rental, this is that in a very real sense, but it is not terrible so purchasing it is not absurd.

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