April 17, 2011

Saturday Night Fever (USA 1977)

I wasn't really in the mood to go out yesterday night so I decided to get the night life into the comfort of my living room by watching the modern classic "Saturday Night Fever" - the film that launched the disco fever of the late 70s.

It's the film that made John Travolta famous and it's easy to see why: his performance is still one of the best of his entire career. He really IS Tony Manero. The film is best known for its dance sequences but it is actually a rather serious drama about a young Italo-American from a bad neighborhood who has big dreams. There are funny parts to be sure - some of them unintentionally because the film has aged quite a bit - but its overall tone is much closer to the early films of Martin Scorsese than to "Grease" and "Dirty Dancing". It is also no coincidence that Tony has a poster of "Rocky" in his room.

That said, comparisons like that don't help much because "Saturday Night Fever" is in fact not a particularly good movie. It's at times clumsily directed, some of the more serious scenes at the end do not really work and it feels strangely outdated from today's point of view. It still works as a portrayal of a certain time and place but not really as a serious melodrama. But why is that so many people (me included) still like it? The reason is that it has that special "something" that other, more "perfect" films lack. It feels true, has charm and some of the good scenes more than even out the bad ones. Above all, Tony Manero is an interesting character that one can easily identify with.

The film touches something in many of us. After all, who hasn't dreamed of escaping the average life and who doesn't have a certain ability or passion that makes them feel special? I was never much into dancing myself but I can totally understand what it gives to Tony Manero: a sense of freedom and self-respect.


Dancing Star: John Travolta

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