Mystery Fest: Saturday Night Fever

1977 dancing movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A Scientologist from Brooklyn dreams of putting on his b-b-b-boogie shoes and walking across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. He prepares for an upcoming dance competition to prove he's king of the discotheque with his partner, dumps his partner for a woman he's smitten by, deals with his parents, works a nowhere job at a paint store, messes around with his idiot friends, and thrusts his pelvis a lot. And it's all very colorful.

"You can't fuck the future; the future fucks you." Poetry.

Best opening scene in movie history? You can argue with me, but you probably won't be right. Travolta with that rhythmic strut and that paint can, that "Stayin' Alive" bass line. Man, they really show you every inch of Travolta there with that soul strut, and without any dialogue at all, no exposition, no plot--without any of that, you can know everything you need to know about Travolta's character. All you really need to know about him is what you can tell by the way he uses his walk. Travolta, to me, isn't far removed from Bruce Lee in this movie. There's an oozing sexuality, and the character stands out like Bruce does in those films. There might be other people doing exactly what Travolta or Bruce Lee are doing--dancing or kung-fu fighting--but you really only want to pay attention to what the stars are doing, watch their moves. Maybe it's just because Travolta's pants are tighter. And I don't know--maybe it's the decade this was made or the appearance of Bruce Lee on a poster in Tony's room. But watch that solo act during the "You Should Be Dancing" scene where he just goes nuts and there's enough color to give an epileptic a fit. He walks into those colors, he snaps his fingers, he wiggles hips, his lips strut, and he's freakin' Bruce Lee. With nothing more than a physical presence and an array of dance moves, he's somebody in that club, and when you watch Travolta on the screen, it makes complete sense why he becomes somebody when he's there. It's such a good performance, and what's best about it--even better than the dancing--might be the look he gets on his face when his character figures things out. And I just love the scene where he shows off all this knowledge of that bridge and talks about how one of the workers was trapped in the concrete. I also love every scene he's in at the dinner table with his family. First, there's the grandmother who I don't think gets a single line in the film but the looks Nina Hansen gives Tony are classic. He also gets these great exchanges with his father including getting to say the line "You know I work on my hair a long time, and he hits it. He hits my hair." And he talks about his pussy finger and, on an awkward lunch date, orders lemon with some tea and asks "Why not?" with a mouth full of cheeseburger to Karen Lynn Gorney's telling him that they can't date. I just love that character--a childish beast who is a little too old to be the protagonist of a coming-of-age movie but winds up in one anyway. My favorite bit might be where he's dancing on a bridge and says, "Hey, Annette, can you dig it? I knew that you could." No other human being but John Travolta could deliver that stupid line like he does there. Speaking of Gorney, how about that first scene of hers? Tony might be the king of that floor, but Gorney was nearly a goddess, beautiful bathed in all that color. This movie isn't flawless. You've got a subplot involving Tony's brother leaving the priesthood that seems about as important as Lisa's mom's cancer in The Room. You've got some thematic loose ends. You've got an (indeterminate?) ending that is actually a little difficult to buy 100%. But the good far outweighs the bad or the dated in this 70's classic. That almost disgusting amount of color. This is almost a movie about the colors of the 70s, colors just a little bit filthy and made filthier through the lens we see them through in 2014, then it is about the characters. There's Denny Dillon's Doreen, a brief appearance as one of Tony's many admirers but who is so good as she asks if she can wipe off his forehead. There's Bert Michaels as Pete, and Pete steals every scene he's in. There's that White Castle scene, something I'd love to reenact with my friends some day provided I can round up that many friends. Tony's friends are all idiots and their conversations are disgustingly politically incorrect, but you have to love their raunchy rapport. And there's the music, one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. You can argue with me about that, too, but you'll be wrong again.

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