Happy 59th birthday today to John Travolta, the consummate, versatile actor, who rose from rather humble beginnings in the 1970s to become first a teen heartthrob, then a superstar dancer, singer, and handsome man-about-town soaking up every ounce of the Hollywood limelight. The man has weathered many ups and downs career-wise, going to almost unabashed obscurity in the mid 1980s, and then finally rising to the A-list once again when he co-starred in Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to low life, Pulp Fiction. Travolta remains a viable, bankable actor to this very day, and a symbol of contemporary movie musicals and a measuring stick for pop cultural figures of the 1970s.
The career of Travolta spans eras and generations, the earliest of which were ones who discovered him on the ABC-TV sitcom Welcome Back Kotter. On that show, he played Vinnie Barbarino, who was one of the “Sweathogs,” a juvenile group of underachievers in a Brooklyn High School who parlayed their styles and attitudes more like the Marx Brothers than the rough and tumble dangerous teenagers that kids of that stripe in reality really would be. Harmless and gregarious at every turn on the show, the Sweathogs were really just a comprised second banana ensemble to the show’s main star, Gabe Kaplan, who played their teacher Gabe Kotter and who, since he himself had been a Sweathog at one time, acted as a mentor and lighthearted and always trusting and caring foil to their comic absurdities. Travolta quickly stood out from the ensemble cast, with his perfectly blow-dried hairstyle, easy on the eyes good looks, an irresistible silly charm, and especially his oft-repeated use of the catchphrase which became synonymous with the program, “Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose.” The show was relatively popular during the mid 1970s and some key marketing of the program (games, lunchboxes, and T-shirts) kept Travolta’s visage and image on teenager’s minds across the United States.
It was 35 years ago today of the release of Saturday Night Fever, a film that introduced the masses to the pulsating beat of disco music and all the attitudinal and fashion accoutrements that went with it, made a superstar out of John Travolta, and spawned a soundtrack which became one of the biggest selling records of all time.
Contemporarily, in its consistent airings on channels like VH1 Classic and TBS since the original release in the theaters, Saturday Night Fever is quite a different film than the one seen by many generations who discovered it for the first time on those cable circuits. To them mostly, they have seen a somewhat watered down version of a film that in its uncut state, remains almost brutal and unapologetic, underneath its fluffy, musical surface levels.
Saturday Night Fever is actually a film about a confused youth, one Tony Manero, (expertly portrayed by Travolta, who was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars for his characterization), who is on a directionless path in his young teenage life (he’s only 19), experiencing growing pains at every turn, working a dead-end job in a paint store which he still handles with grace, charm and effortless congeniality, who finds solace and an emotional outlet at the local discotheque in his hometown of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, New York. At this disco, he is literally treated as King due to his dancing, which electrifies the large crowds that congregate there every Saturday night. Manero (in the original R-Rated version) is one part charismatic, enigmatic, magnetic, and gorgeous in his physicality and two parts naÃ¯ve, misogynistic, egotistical, brash, crude, and even racist. His friends are of no help to him, only enabling his bad misspent youth behavior. Upon meeting Stephanie (played by Karen Lynn Gorney), who although not that far from Tony in age, but light years ahead in terms of direction, Manero starts to slowly question the repetition of his existence and finds himself at a crossroad.
Right now, the Bee Gees hits album Number Ones is on sale for only $.99 in MP3 format. The CD is on sale as well for only $11.02.
The Bee Gees had a ton of hits and Number Ones’ collects 20 of them, including their Saturday Night Fever soundtrack contributions – “You Should Be Dancing,” “How Deep Is Your Love, “Stayin’ Alive,” “More Than A Woman,” and “Night Fever,” as well as popular tunes like “Jive Talkin’,” and “Tragedy.” You can’t beat 20 songs for only 99 cents, so snag it while it’s on sale through this weekend.
Browse all 1,000 albums on sale this month for only $5 each, as well as several albums on sale this week for only $2.99 each.
Saturday Night Fever Directed by John Badham
Starring John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Barry Miller
Paramount Home Entertainment
Release Date: May 5, 2009
Saturday Night Fever is a portrait of a particular passion drowning as much as it can life’s harsh and unforgiving reality. Almost as if he’s hypnotized, John Travolta‘s Tony Manero struts down the streets of Brooklyn in a black jacket that’s worn over a red buttoned-up shirt that’s not fully buttoned. He’s brim full of confidence even while carrying a can of paint he got for his boss at the hardware store. He doesn’t know he’s carrying that can, doesn’t know that he’s at the age of nineteen and still universally entrenched in his dreams, and he doesn’t know anything else that isn’t relevant to dancing. His mind and thoughts are unable to resist what the night holds for him and his equally confident friends at the disco dance hall in the 2001 Odyssey club. The present is what matters to Manero, not the future: “Fuck the future,” he tells his boss.
Tony from the start of the movie is a different Tony when the film reaches its end. It’s a beautiful character study. Watching him progress from his rebel attitude into manhood as the movie deepens is what makes director John Badham‘s Saturday Night Fever a great film. Bedham knows what he’s doing when he laces his film with vulgarity, booze, sex, and more vulgarity. He’s doing it for a reason. The multitude and excess of such actions are used to make the audience as familiar with it as Tony is. Exposure to this makes Tony a one dimensional character. He’s surrounded by a wrecked home life, reckless friends, and a passion for dancing; a great talent but becomes obscured when applied to the future of Tony. Bedham believes strongly in this atmosphere so strongly that when an outsider attempts to wedge their way in they are looked upon as a foreigner, even though they seem to be more mature, successful and promising.