Film Diary: Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977)

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Saturday Night Fever.png

I had never seen Saturday Night Fever before. Not when it was the big pop-culture phenomenon of early 1978 (only to be surpassed later in the year by Grease, which I did see at the time and will probably not be revisiting.) Not since, and with any luck I might have escaped forever. But then the estimable Popular site reached 1978 and this film couldn’t be ignored any longer.

One reason why I hadn’t been tempted before was my perception, not unique to me, that this was a bit of fluff designed to promote the then-hot disco movement in general, and the musicaol careers of Robert Stigwood’s charges in particular. A piece of product placement on what was then – a more innocent age when merchandising wasn’t the plague it is now – a more innocent age.

It seems I was wrong in my snap judgement, and that’s why Saturday Night Fever had to be worth a look.

And yes, this is a much more substantial film than the 1978 hype would have had you believe. Yes, the disco is at its core, and yes, there’s a lot of Bee Gees songs (and the Bee Gees, though never considered “cool”, could write damned good songs spoilt only by Barry’s put-on squeaky “disco” voice. It’s based on a Nik Cohn story in a New York newspaper and Cohn himself has admitted that he based it on the lives of West London mods, but there’s surely more than a slice of Alan Sillitoe here. Think of another classic film with “Saturday Night” in the title. Consider that this, too, is about a working-class lad in a dead-end job, whose family doesn’t understand him, who thinks he is god’s gift to women, whose life revolves around letting his hair down on a Saturday night on the local dancefloor. And hanging out with a gang on the edge of criminality, full of macho posturing. Get my drift?

There, too, is the immortal story: man can screw any woman he likes except the one that he really wants, who teaches him a few life lessons. Karen Lynn Gorney does this bit marvellously, saving the film from the kind of gloop I had feared, by managing to look great without being in the slightest glamorous.

It’s not that great a film but it;s not a bad one either. And there’s the dancing, which in the end really is what it’s all about. While there is some of the tedious macho strutting I was dreading, I found myself pleasantly surprised to see that much of the dancing was the sort of dancing I recognised; they probably wouldn’t have called it leroc but the moves sure looked like leroc to me, particularly those moves borrowed from salsa, And I can do that! Or I could before arthritis in the knees put paid to it.

Anyway, I’m glad I saw it. I may watch it again one day, but not for a while.


4 Responses to “Film Diary: Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977)”

  1. Alex Foster Says:

    Does it deserve its 18 cert?

  2. enitharmon Says:

    Well, there’s some fairly explicit copulation and a couple of attempted rapes…

  3. mrsdanvers Says:

    I saw this in a run down cinema in Leicester in 1979( it took a year to get round to my local flea pit).

    You’re spot on with the referencing of “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”.
    I think Travolta’s portrayal of Tony was under-rated at the time because of the dance movie tag.

  4. enitharmon Says:

    Yes, I agree. When I say (as I did in another place) that I never found Travolta physically attractive, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like him, nor that I don’t admire him as an actor.

    SNF looks a very un-Hollywood kind of film actually. Much closer to the British New Wave all round.

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