Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Movies! - Oh f@%$ the future!

I'm going to begin Movie-a-Day Month by writing about a movie that I genuinely think is great. I once thought that it was a so-bad-it's-good movie, but that was back when I didn't know what the hell I was talking about.

I first saw Saturday Night Fever when I was just a little kid. It was a double-bill with Grease. I'm pretty sure that I was too young to understand it, and I think that I liked Grease a lot better. As I grew up in the late eighties and early nineties, I was part of a generation that frowned on the whole disco movement. It was cheesy, dated, and bogus. Since Saturday Night Fever was the signature film of that era, it therefore must also be cheesy, dated, and bogus as well. After all, who doesn't do that goofy pointing dance whenever they hear "Staying Alive"?

I used to joke about it with some friends, and some of them even got together and filmed their own version of the film. (I'm pretty sure they never completed it.) I would laugh at and make fun of the dialogue. (I'm very ashamed to admit this now, as the dialogue in the movie is one of the best things about it.) I would make fun of the dancing. I would laugh at the dancers in the background. I'd mock Bobby C.'s platform shoes. I'd giggle at the blank expression John Travolta makes when he gets a shirt out of his closet. (Okay, I still laugh a bit at the last two things.)

Something eventually started to happen though. While I would watch it as a joke with my friends, I slowly started to realize that it's actually a pretty good movie. I wasn't alone. I remember even confessing that to one of my friends, and he replied with, "It's a GREAT movie!" I have the feeling that I was a little late in getting hip to this fact, but I'm glad that I eventually did.

It's one of those frustrating things, as when I tell people that it's one of my all-time favorite movies, I often get a bit of a snicker. They're laughing for the same reasons that I did. However, if they'd only see it with an open mind, they'd realize how good it actually is. (I actually got the chance to show it to a friend, and he did indeed wind up liking it.) So, what's so good about it?

1. Tony Manero - With the iconic "strut" scene at the beginning of the film, you might think that you got this guy all figured out. He's obsessed with girls and clothes and lives a fairly shallow existence, only living for the dance floor on Saturday night. You quickly learn that there's more though. He's got a lot of heart. He's NOT like all of his friends. He's more thoughtful, and the problem is that he just hasn't been exposed to much of the world beyond his limited experiences. Is it any wonder that he knows so much about the Brooklyn Bridge? It's a path to a bigger world that he wants access to. When he meets Stephanie, she seems to be an access to this broader world - even though she's not half as sophisticated as she (or he) thinks she is. (She corrects him when he asks if Romeo and Juliet was Shakespeare by telling him that it's from Zefirelli, the director.) Good thing the guy can dance, as that's probably his real ticket out of his old life.
I knew you'd piss on it. Go on, just piss on it alright. A raise says like you're good, you know? You know how many times someone told me I was good in my life? Two! Twice! Two fuckin' times! This raise today, and dancing at the disco!
2. John Travolta - Tony's a great character, but that would never get across if Travolta didn't infuse so much life into him. He's perfectly believable in every way, and you can tell how conflicted he is inside. Also, Travolta pulls off all the dance moves. Any man who watches him dance and doesn't envy him is lying to himself.

3. It's about something - The 70s disco scene is just the backdrop for this movie. It's about living up to your potential, realizing who you are, and being honest. Tony's admission about why he won the dance contest at the end of the film is one of the film's highlights.

4. It has a great love story - I'm sure that anybody who likes your standard love story would disagree with me. It doesn't wrap up everything neatly, and it's ambiguous as to where Tony and Stephanie are going to go from where they're at by the end of the film. Still, it all comes forth in an honest and genuine fashion.

5. The music - Yes, I said it. Honestly, I don't know if I'd want to listen to it outside the context of the film. I can't really say that I'm all that fond of the falsetto of the Bee Gees. Still, in context of the film, they're all perfectly placed. I've heard that Saturday Night Fever was a musical before, and even though it isn't in the traditional sense where the characters do the singing, the music is just as essential as anything else in this movie. Best example of this? "If I Can't Have You".

I just realized that there's so much else to say. There's the subplot with Bobby C and his pregnant girlfriend who "loves the taste of communion wafers". There's Tony's brother, the holy man who shames the family by giving up the priesthood. There's Annette, who's so desperately in love with Tony and tries to find happiness by letting his friends take advantage of her. I suppose that I could go on forever, but let's just say that writing about it is making me want to watch it again - and soon.
No, Tony! You can't fuck the future. The future fucks you! It catches up with you and it fucks you if you ain't planned for it!


Anonymous said...

Movie a day month? You have my envy (even though it's just one so far). Are you going to work from a list or just figure it out as you go?

Kaboom32 said...

I was listening to a brief discussion of this movie a few days ago and they were saying that it didn't age well - that it doesn't hold up today. I disagreed because of many of the elements you wrote about and that it needs to be in and of the 70s. It has to look and feel the way it does.

But I think that Travolta's work as Tony Manero is mock-worthy simply because he's playing a character that is somewhat worthy of mockery. Tony isn't smart. He's actually kinda dumb. But the thing that makes the performance so great is that this a real dumb person. Not a movie dumb "duh" person, but dumb in real life. Compare him to many of your students who aren't going to be brain surgeons. It's really dead on. Yeah, he has his skills. And he wants more, and therefore has the desire for more, as you discussed. But you know where his story is ending up (and I don't means the crappy sequel).

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Comicsnbeer: I'm just figuring it out as I go, but I probably have about ten in my head that I know I'm eventually going to do.

Kaboom: That's it exactly. Tony is a dumb guy. He is just like a lot of my not-so-bright students, but he's one of the dim bulbs that I like and want to see do well. I would argue that he is slightly smarter than his friends though - or perhaps just a little bit more thoughtful.