Film and Documentary

Saturday Night Fever: A Retro Review

What do you get when you make a movie about the insane disco craze of the 70s? You get music, dancing, and a whole lot more that could have been left on the cutting room floor. Ironically, it’s the numerous and heavily choreographed musical sequences that have failed to stand the test of time.

John Travolta portrays the angry, bitter young man from Queens named Tony Manero whose one true passion is to dance. Travolta is truly mesmerizing in every scene, carrying the film despite some woeful performances from the supporting cast. Naturally, his dancing is etched on the culture’s collective consciousness, but it was his dramatic work which earned him an Oscar nomination for his performance.

This movie is full of strong language, sex, and violence. The characters take part in gang fights, as well as racist and sexist behavior, and there’s a truly disturbing gang rape scene in the back of a car. The male characters drink, smoke, and talk about sex with wild abandon, and misogyny runs amok.

The movie is 75% based on pure shock value. The gang rape scene of Annette (Donna Pescow) alone would keep this movie from being released today. And then, there’s the attempted date rape of Manero’s dance partner Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) by Manero himself. While it’s brutally realistic, it’s a little too much realism.

Stephanie lays it on the line to him in a few brutal words, cutting Manero to the quick: “You live with your parents, you hang with your buddies and on Saturday nights you burn it all off at 2001 Odyssey. You’re a cliche. You’re nowhere, goin’ no place.” And deep down inside, he senses she’s right.

There’s a scene on the bridge after the gang rape, where one of his friends dies by attempting a stupid stunt to try to get Tony’s approval, and falls to his death, and that seems to wake Manero up. At the end of the movie, a shaken Manero distances himself from his buddies by moving to Manhattan, in an attempt to better his life. By then, it just falls a little flat. Seems like too little, too late.

Dancing aside, this movie really doesn’t hold up well at all today. First, the utter contempt that the men hold women in is disgusting. The movie degrades women as second class citizens and glamorizes brutality against them.  Secondly, disco was a short-lived phase that many never embraced. We find out just how short-lived it truly was in the sequel, which focuses more on the actual dancing, and less on the disco and misogyny.

In all honesty, I turned the movie off before it was over. I’m not easily offended, not by a long shot, but this movie struck all the wrong chords, and left a bad taste in my mouth. I’d seen it before, more than once, and it always bothered me. This time, it just wasn’t even a little enjoyable. To me, it was just dark, and mean spirited.  It’s not one I’ll be likely to ever watch again.

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]