“Saturday Night Fever”, the sparkling 1970s screen era piece that transcends generations with its pulsating music, dramatic disco dance scenes, and timeless tale of coming to puberty, made its world premiere on today, December 14, in history. 1977.
The film premiered at the Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles before going national distribution two days later.
History.com writes: “Good casting, good acting, and well directed, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ received positive reviews from many critics, including the late Gene Siskel, who called it his favorite movie ever.
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“But whatever its other cinematic merits, even the film’s strongest advocates agree that it’s the pulsating disco soundtrack of ‘Saturday Night Fever’ that makes it a work of enduring historical significance.”
The movie opens with one of the biggest “a star is born” moments in Hollywood history.
Thin, handsome, and only 23-year-old John Travolta plays nightclub tycoon Tony Manero in a majestic fluffy pompadour.
He walks the streets of Brooklyn Bay Ridge in a red open-collar shirt, black pants and black leather jacket, strutting majestically as the opening credits roll to the soundtrack title song “Stayin’ Alive”.
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As the heels of Manero’s shoes click on the asphalt and his arms sway to the beat, the Bee Gees sing, “Well, you can tell by the way I use my gait / I’m a woman’s man, I don’t have time to talk.”
“One minute into ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ you realize this picture is up to something, it knows what it’s talking about,” said famous film critic Siskel.
The movie opens with one of the biggest ‘a star is born’ moments in Hollywood history.
“Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He twitches like crazy.”
Travolta was by then a goofy sitcom star, best known for his role as the goofy Vinnie Barbarino in the television hit “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
“Saturday Night Fever” made him an international celebrity.
Manero was the uncultured, black sheep son of a struggling working-class Italian-American family who rose to nobility on the dance floor of 2001 Odyssey, an actual Bay Ridge nightclub.
The contagious soundtrack included a string of radio hits from KC and the Sunshine Band (“Boogie Shoes”), Broadway star disco diva Yvonne Elliman (“If I Can’t Have You”), and landmark era hit producer The Trampps. (“Disco hell”).
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In addition to the title track “Night Fever”, “Jive Talkin'” and “How Deep is Your Love”, the album was carried by a series of classic dance club tunes by Australian artist Bee Gees.
The “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack remains one of the best-selling albums of all time, with more than 40 million sales, according to Billboard.
“Saturday Night Fever” was the first of the Hollywood hit trio, animated by dance and bestselling soundtracks, that made Travolta one of the biggest stars of the era.
This was followed by his roles as high school bad boy Danny Zuko in “Grease” (1978) and Houston bully Bud Davis in “Urban Cowboy” (1980).
“Saturday Night Fever” turned out to be a pop culture sensation that should never have happened.
The film was based on British reporter Nik Cohn’s New York Magazine article “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night”.
“You know in the first minute of ‘Saturday Night Fever’ that this painting is on to something.” — Gene Siskel
“Vincent was the best dancer in Bay Ridge,” Cohn wrote on June 7, 1976.
“Everybody knew him. When Saturday night came on and he entered 2001 Odyssey, all the other faces automatically fell in front of him, giving him space to glide right in the middle of the dance floor.”
The scene was recreated in the movie, almost down to the dance moves, and “Vincent” was replaced by Travolta’s Manero.
The British later admitted that he made up the whole story after witnessing a fight outside his nightclub one night.
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“My story was a fraud,” Cohn told The New York Times in 1996.
“I had just arrived in New York City. I hardly knew the place, let alone be in the Brooklyn street life. As for Vincent, the protagonist of my story, he was largely inspired by a Shepherd’s Bush mod I used to know. 60s, once king of the Goldhawk road. ”
“Saturday Night Fever” was based on a magazine article by British reporter Nik Cohn that turned out to be a fake.
Despite its manufactured origins, the story has stood the test of time.
“‘Saturday Night Fever’ endured … because its narrative is as flexible as 23-year-old John Travolta,” Entertainment Weekly wrote in an insightful 1990s retrospective shortly after the scam was revealed.
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This is the story of “a working-class palooka who thinks she has one special thing – dancing – and her struggles to figure out whether being a man is to use her or surpass her, whether to stay a child or grow up, to act like a lover. And a gentleman.”