Friday, February 11, 2011

"Saturday Night Fever" 34 Years Later

Last night my film class at Stanford University viewed a film that I hadn't thought about in quite a number of years: 

This 1977 iconic film, that most people remember only for the dancing and the white suit pictured here, is actually quite a dark study of a very specific time period in American culture.  That period would be the disco era in New York City that lasted only about 5 years from around 1975 to 1980.  It stars the beautiful and very young John Travolta, who astounded me last night with his acting.  His portrayal of Tony Manero, a 19 year old living with his very catholic parents, working at the local paint store and dancing at the 2001 Disco club on weekends, is touching, funny, honest, and at times brutally mean-spirited.  I first saw this film as a 20 year old girl living in conservative Orange County, California, and it had quite an impact on me.  The blatant sexism and misogyny overshadowed the rest of the film almost completely.  For me at the time, it was actually kind of a scary film due to the graphic nature of the mistreatment of women.  Seeing it again last night from an older perspective, was quite enlightening.  I was better able to appreciate the beauty of the film and to see it for the period study that it is.  It is filmed in a gritty style that moves from the streets of New York, to the family house where Tony lives, to the disco and finally to the rehearsal hall where his partner, Stephanie, is filmed with a gauze-like quality that makes her look almost angelic.  This grittiness gives the film a raw feeling that helps emphasize the debauchery of the era and the baseness of the characters.  This is a film that is worth taking another look at - it captures a time in American history with honesty and style, and the disenchantment of Travolta's Tony at the end of the film leaves you feeling hopeful that he can rise above his roots and environment to a more enlightened life.  Thank goodness our culture seems to have done the same thing.  Oh, and I still love the Bee Gees. 

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