Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

The life and times of Tony Manero

I recorded the movie “Saturday Night Fever” recently and watched it on my days off. You know, it was almost like a religious experience, like being touched by Tony Manero.

It’s hard to believe that the movie is 37 years old. I commented to a neighbor that the female co-star, Karen Lynn Gorney, probably burned herself out on drugs or something and probably is dead.

Shows what I know. She’s very much alive and well at age 69, and continued a career in acting briefly after SNF, then ran an art gallery, then got back into acting and appeared on numerous shows. In fact, she and Donna Pescow, who played the other woman competing for John Travolta’s character’s attentions in the film, were in “The Sopranos.” Gorney, according to a source, had a very small part in the first episode of season six, “Members Only.”

She was so heartbreakingly pretty in the movie, especially at the end. It makes me sad that I was just 17 when the movie came out and too young to be part of that scene. One cute little background scene in the movie, by the way, is a shot of a couple – clearly underage – trying to get into 2001 Odyssey as Tony and his boys stride in. The door guard looks skeptically at their identification cards, probably fake, and the young man continues to argue as the camera follows Tony and Co.

Of course, we know what happened to John Travolta. Not wanting to be followed for the rest of my life, I won’t mention the whole you-know-what-in-Clearwater-thing, but his career had a few bumps and bruises after “Saturday Night Fever.”

In watching some stuff on YouTube, including a VH-1 “Behind the Music” episode from the late 1990s, it was clear that one person on whom the movie had a great effect was the late film reviewer Gene Siskel. The late Roger Ebert says in an interview in the show that Siskel saw a lot of the kind of youth he wished he had had in the movie, and even bought at a charity auction the original white suit Travolta wore in the famous dance contest scene.

I guess I feel the same way. I know that as I get closer to age 54 that my youth is gone for good. The late 1970s was not a great time for America, but it wasn’t that bad for some folks. While it’s true that Tony Manero is very frustrated with his lot in life, he at least is looking for a way out, and finds it with Stephanie. He’s limited in so many ways, but it’s interesting how he notices her on the dance floor one night at the disco, recognizes that she has the wrong partner and is aware that there’s something that draws him to her.

I never had that experience. I guess like a lot of Americans, we start to live vicariously through the movies and identify with the characters we see there. Maybe that’s why “everymen” like John Travolta then, Paul Giamatti now and others who aren’t conventionally good-looking but able to present an experience appeal to us.

Travolta feels dead inside during the workday, and his home life is frustrating, but he comes alive at the disco and on the dance floor. He’s nobody, but at 2001 Odyssey, he’s somebody. Granted, the film sometimes smashes you over the head with that, as in the Fran Drescher scene: “Tony, can I wipe your brow? I just love to watch you dance.” He eats it up, then dances with her. Interestingly, the scene that follows when Tony dances to the terrible song “Disco Duck” was cut from the theatrical release but used to fill in time in the PG-rated and TV versions of the movie because so much else was cut out.

As some who commented on the movie noted, there were some funny scenes as well as some very, very nasty scenes. Look at the quick cut between the big line dancing scene in 2001 Odyssey and the shot of Tony the next morning in bed, obviously nursing a terrible hangover. But what a night it was!

One other interesting shot of note is the scene where Tony and Stephanie are sitting on a bench and looking at the Verrazano bridge. It looks just like the shot taken later at the 59th Street Bridge in the Woody Allen movie “Manhattan.”

It’s tempting to respond to the current crises in our lives by regressing, by living in the past. Sometimes, I feel the pull of the past, but we have to go forward. “Saturday Night Fever” is a period piece of a place and time we cannot ever return to. Even Tony realizes that his days of dominance on the dance floor are over at the end of the movie.

But for a couple of hours, we can always go back to a time and catch a little night fever.

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October 8, 2014 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , ,

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