Our Disco Week begins with the most popular movie about this genre of music, Saturday Night Fever. Also, Mike White and Robert St. Mary’s The Projection Booth podcast will cover this movie next week. Stay tuned.
Before it became a punchline for every gay joke, Disco had been a phenomenal trend in 1977-1980. It revolutionized culture as much as Punk Rock music. I’m not kidding. While Punk stands up against corrupt society, Disco was the first kind of music that let man dance with another man (before that, dance floors allowed only opposite-sex dancing partner). It changed sexual culture in the society…and it might not have had the same impact if a film called Saturday Night Fever hadn’t been released in 1977. Yep, this film raised the status of Disco culture from being somewhat underground to being mainstream.
I haven’t seen it in a pretty long time, but when I watch this flick today I’m surprised that the film is way more intense than what many people think.
“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!”
The film concerns Tony Manero, a 19-year-old guy who has to get through lots of problems in his life, whether it’s his dead-end job or his Christian family. Luckily, he can spend his Saturday at a Discotheque so he can escape from his problem.
As I said, I find this film to have much much deeper meaning than “Come on! Let’s have fun at Disco”. Audiences can relate to Tony since he’s basically a “loser” teenager who still has no plan for his life. He has problems with his family: his abusive/unemployment Dad, his extreme Christian Mom, and his brother who broke mother’s heart by choosing not to be priest. Next, his friends. Although the gang has the “Come on, let’s have fun” attitude, they will fight to death if someone hurt one of their friends (this will lead to serious problem). Then, a love-triangle story. Annette, a fat (and, to be honest, ugly) girl tries everything to show Tony how much she loves him, but Tony is more interested in Stephanie, a PR staff who spends her free time dancing at the Disco. And finally, Tony himself. He has a weird attitude, especially towards Stephanie. To be honest, I think he’s really awkward with conversation so he usually has an argument with her….and will change his life forever at the end of this film.
In my opinion, this, Pretty in Pink, and Repo Man are my two favorite coming-of-age films of all time. They represent loneliness and confusion in teenage life and show us that sometimes we need something to “rely” on. In this case, we all need someone who understands and cares about us every time we have problem, whether it’s a family or friends or “somebody out there”. That’s why they chose Bee Gee’s Stayin’ Alive as an opening theme for this movie.
When Disco (almost) Ruled The World…
Besides the plot, the film mesmerizes me since it’s a time capsule for late 70’s. It kinda sums up Disco subculture before it became mainstream. Sex, drugs, glamorous discotheque, hilarious clothes, and hot chicks are main elements from this era. And what happened after this? Discotheques became bigger and had wider of sub-category like gay discotheque or roller disco , and Disco music spread like a wildfire. Every artists tried to cash in on this trend; from Rolling Stones (which is amazingly cool) to Ethel Merman (which is amazingly godawful) to Sesame Street…yep, that one exists. Every product tried to exploit this fashion, and many TV shows about Disco aired around that time. Hell, there was a Disco Dancing Championship competition in England. It looks extremely ridiculous by now, but back then it was considered “awesome” to dance like this. (Not to mention hot chicks from that era…). As time went by, Disco became more and more of a caricature of itself and its popularity exponentially faded because of things like the Disco Demolition Night event and movies/TV shows like Airplane! and WKRP in Cincinnati started making fun of this trend.
There’s another thing I’d like to mention about this film: a soundtrack from RSO Records (which, at the time, was one of the most popular Disco labels). It sparked a whole new era of creating a soundtrack and marketing planning for movies since this soundtrack album consists of music from popular artists around the time like Bee Gees or Kool & The Gang, which is pretty unusual for the time considering that most of soundtrack albums from that period are scores from the film or songs from different, older era, NOT newly written pieces of music like this. Also, SNF‘s soundtrack album had been released shortly before the premiere of the film. This generated awareness of its songs and the movie itself and it made audience want to find out about the storyline of the film. So when the actual movie was released, the awareness and popularity of the film was already skyrocketing since everybody knows songs that appear in this film and title of the film.
Overall, this is a film that has much much deeper meaning that what pop culture remembers. It’s a fun movie that has beautiful soundtrack.
Since this film created Disco trends, another two records company wanted to cash-in this bandwagon by making a film that has similar title, but totally different attitude and, unfortunately, quality. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.