I’ve hated “Saturday Night time Fever” for the reason that first time I noticed it in 1977. It’s the one Hollywood film that offends me as an Italian-American. Certain, it’s “iconic” — however that debased time period is now used for each pizza joint that closed due to a lease hike.
I admit that I like the pulse-pounding opening sequence the place John Travolta prances underneath the 86th Avenue tracks in Bensonhurst to the beat of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” Who doesn’t? However the subsequent 116 minutes make my blood boil.
Motion pictures about Mafia gangsters, which some Italian-Individuals grumble about, not often hassle me. The Mafia was and is an actual factor. Some Mafia films are cinematic masterpieces.
However the Bay Ridge disco world depicted in “Saturday Night time Fever,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, is completely faux. It was primarily based on a New York Journal story known as “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night time” by Nik Cohn, a British pop-music journo who knew nothing about New York and would later plead responsible to heroin trafficking. Cohn admitted in 1996 that he made up the entire story.
What’s flawed with that? In spite of everything, there actually was a spot known as 2001 Disco Odyssey in Bay Ridge, the place the characters of the movie danced each Saturday night time. And aren’t all films fiction on some stage?
“Saturday Night time Fever” depicted a contrived darkish aspect to the spirits-lifting 1970s dance craze, which included ballet greats Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov at Lincoln Heart, the groundbreaking choreography of “A Refrain Line” and the superstar dazzle of Studio 54. All introduced recent glamour to city, in addition to the notion that transferring one’s physique to music might be empowering.
“Saturday Night time Fever” outlined a nonexistent, depressing dance world and used Italian-American characters to make it appear actual. Within the movie’s telling, the disco frenzy in a Brooklyn neighborhood removed from Manhattan mirrored a despairing refuge from going-nowhere, blue-collar lives. Make that low-lives — a bunch of uneducated, racist, violence-loving, working-class lugs epitomized by John Travolta’s paint retailer clerk Tony Manero.
Travolta’s precise Italian ancestry, and his supercharged efficiency that gave Tony extra nuance than he deserved, helped disarm any Italian-American qualms over his character or the story. However “Saturday Night time Fever” depicts a “guido” world with none redeeming qualities.
Tony’s “love” pursuits, Karen Lynn Gorney and Donna Pescow, communicate in “guidette” accents which might be stereotypically cringe-worthy
Within the tough, working-class, largely Italian Brooklyn neighborhood of my childhood — Ocean Hill, the place residents had even much less cash than these in Bay Ridge or Bensonhurst — my household, mates and neighbors didn’t have a lot however they have been clever and loving. They have been respectful of girls regardless of utilizing generally vulgar language.
The characters of “Saturday Night time Fever,” however, are so uniformly silly. How silly? One man asks Tony’s brother, an ex-priest, if he may get the pope to provide him a dispensation for getting his girlfriend an abortion.
Tony’s “love” pursuits, Karen Lynn Gorney and Donna Pescow, communicate in “guidette” accents which might be stereotypically cringe-worthy — even in case you disregard the horrible dialogue. When Travolta learns that Gorney had a fling with an older music producer in Manhattan, she explains the man’s attraction this fashion: “I didn’t know tips on how to do stuff, so I’d ask him and he’d inform me.” This from a personality whom Travolta regards as classier than himself.
Tony’s view of girls is revealed in feedback like, “You gotta resolve whether or not you’re gonna be a pleasant woman or a c- -t.” And, “You a–holes virtually broke my p—y finger.”
One other “traditional” Tony line embraces a unified principle of sexual and race relations: “Would you place your d–ok in a spic? Does it get greater in a n—-r?”
For those who don’t keep in mind these traces — or the hideous gang-rape of Pescow’s character Annette by three of Tony’s buddies within the again seat of a automobile — you probably noticed the bowdlerized model launched a couple of years later. No fewer than 100 modifications turned the unique R ranking to PG — a model nonetheless extensively in circulation right now.
“Saturday Night time Fever” was skillfully marketed by Paramount Footage as a feel-good, party-time movie. The marketing campaign drew on the “Welcome Again Kotter” reputation of attractive, charismatic Travolta. The Bee Gees’ soundtrack was acquainted to Individuals weeks earlier than the premiere.
These elements cosmeticized a wretched portrayal of the ethnic group it’s nonetheless permissible to ridicule and denigrate — Italian-Individuals. Forty years later, it’s time to burn this fever out of our brains.