Film / Saturday Night Fever

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/730809saturday-night-fever-posters1_1827.jpg

And that sweet city woman,
She moves through the light,
Controlling my mind and my soul.
When you reach out for me
Yeah, and the feelin' is bright,
Then I get night fever, night fever.
We know how to do it.
The Bee Gees, "Night Fever".

Saturday Night Fever is a 1977 film starring John Travolta in the role that made him a superstar.

The film centers around Tony Manero, a young Italian-American from Brooklyn who likes to spend nights dancing at a local nightclub; his would-be girlfriend and dance partner Stephanie; his unrequited love interest Annette; and their various friends and cohorts.

But the film is mostly remembered for being a reflection of the Disco era at its height in New York in The '70s, and the Unconstructed Trope of the modern dance flick. Subsequently, the film sparked a national Disco craze that didn't die out until the onset of The '80s. Thus, Saturday Night Fever remains a late-Seventies period piece, such as it is. Critic Gene Siskel's favorite movie of all time, its influence has been felt directly and indirectly across many later films, especially in terms of the poster's iconic finger-in-the-air pose.

And it got Travolta dancing.

Not surprisingly, the soundtrack album to the film is one of the best-selling releases of all time, featuring tracks from The Bee Gees, Walter Murphy, K.C. & the Sunshine Band, and others. It ended up as the most popular album in history for a while, only unseated after Michael Jackson released Thriller.

A sequel titled Staying Alive was released in 1983. It didn't do as well with the critics, especially since director/co-writer Sylvester Stallone also decided to heavily feature his brother Frank on the soundtrack. However, the original movie's adaption as a musical for the stage in 1998 became an international success, still running in various productions. Has an unofficial quasi-sequel in 2008's Tony Manero as well, which is about a creepily obsessed fan of the original movie.


Saturday Night Fever provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The '70s: And how. You can't help but think of the 1970s when you see the film, and you can't help but think of the film when you remember the 1970s.
  • Anti-Hero: Some viewers feel that there's little to no redeemable qualities to Tony. While the film ends with him having a kind of psychological break, riding around in graffiti-covered subways looking shattered, it's an easy sort of redemption. It's especially glaring for somebody who's spent a whole movie as a violent misogynist with a buttload of other flaws.
  • Auto Erotica
    • Gets averted when a drunk Tony makes a pass at Stephanie in the car.
    • Played straight earlier when he has sex with Annette in the backseat, but doesn't finish.
    • Also, played straight with one of Tony's friends and some girl he met at the disco. They have to finish while Tony and crew watch.
    • Don't forget when Tony's Jerkass friends raped Annette.
  • Benevolent Boss: Tony's job may be tedious, with long hours, but his boss seems like a nice enough guy, giving him a raise and even rehiring him after Tony angrily quits. The store manager makes a point of how he's had other employees working for him for years upon years. Tony's gratefulness at his boss' actions also softens his character a bit.
  • Big Applesauce: It's a very N.Y. movie, and the setting is justified because the Big Apple was one of the places where the disco culture originated.
  • Book Ends: The film famously opens with Tony strutting down the streets of New York City to the tune of "Stayin' Alive". The sequel film ends on the exact same image, to the exact same tune.
  • Bowdlerise: The movie was originally rated "R" in the United States, but after marketing research revealed that most people who were buying the soundtrack album were young children, the studio re-released it to theaters in a "PG" version with little to no profanity, drug use, and nudity. Wikipedia has a picture of the poster that advertised it.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Brooklyn gang violence is mentioned and even given screen time.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Averted. When Tony and Annette have sex in the backseat before the first trip to the Bridge, he stops because she's not "fixed" and he's not wearing a condom.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: This happens in-universe and is Played for Laughs. A drunken girl at the disco mistakes Tony for Al Pacino and urges him to kiss her. Lampshaded when an incredulous Tony wakes up in the morning and asks himself point-blank: "Do I really look like Al Pacino?"
  • Choreography Porn: In Staying Alive, a large percentage of the screen time was of montages of dance rehearsals, as well as the finale Broadway show. All involved heavily choreographed dancing.
  • Commitment Issues: Tony and his friends have this in spades.
  • Country Matters: It's treated as general rule of Tony's crew that if you don't sleep with them you're a cunt, and they'll tell you so to your face.
  • Crowd Song: In the first visit to the club, Tony ends up spontaneously instigating a line dance to "Night Fever" by The Bee Gees.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: Quite possibly the Trope Codifier.
  • Date Rape Averted: Tony tries to have his way with Stephanie, but she gets away.
  • Deconstruction: The film is a deconstruction of the hedonistic culture of the 1970's. Sure, there were beautiful clothes, music, and lots of dancing, but there was a dark side to the life led by such people like Tony and his friends. For example, Tony has no thought for the future (and the culture as a whole didn't either), and his friends are involved with drugs, drinking, and casual sex which causes them many problems. The fact that later films called back to Saturday Night Fever with complex results makes it fundamentally a Unbuilt Trope.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The racist and sexist attitudes of the times shine through in Tony and his crew. Even back then, their portrayal established them as working-class louts, and modern viewers are in for a shock if they're just here for the dancing. Note that the black couple is booed as much as the Hispanic one in the plot-crucial dance contest, and while Tony angrily decries how the non-Italian dancers were unfairly passed over for the top prize, he uses a racial slur when describing them.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Tony's father slaps him even for minor things.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bobby C.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Just watch the dinner scene.
  • Fangirl
    • Tony has his fair share of these, most notably Annette, and the Hollywood Homely blonde woman that wiped his forehead after he danced.
    • This is played with as much as its played straight. One girl begs him to kiss her, and she believes she kissed apparently "Al Pacino" (even though Tony looks nothing like him). Tony spends a moment joking with a poster of Pacino later.
  • Feet-First Introduction: This is how we meet Tony. The man's strut is a defining character trait, often parodied in later works. Contrary to rumor, that's all the real Travolta strutting down the streets, with the lone exception of one quick moment (the comparison of Tony's shoe to a shoe in a store window).
  • Flanderization: The film is often boiled down to "that disco flick where Travolta dances to corny music and little else happens", ignoring its very mature themes and serious characterizations. The popularity of the softened TV edit (which, in a tweaked form, was even released in theaters) plays a role as well as the nostalgia filter. The fact that the sequel Staying Alive is Lighter and Softer (to the point that it went out with a PG rather than an R) may or may not be a factor, with people mentally conflating the two movies.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: That's a hell of a nice apartment Stephanie has on a dance teacher/secretary's salary. A lot about her background is left often, but she's clearly not that well off. Even in the 70's, it's a little implausible.
  • The Generation Gap: Tony wants to enjoy being young and wild and free, while his parents (and, to a lesser extent, his off-again/on-again girlfriend) encourage him to get a real job, move out, and marry a nice Italian girl.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Tony gets hit hard by his friend's death. It's especially stark since he stood there just a few feet away during the fatal fall.
  • Iconic Outfit: Travolta's white outfit became synonymous with Disco culture and a sort of a uniform for Disco Dans worldwide.
  • I Feel Guilty; You Take It: Tony and his partner win a dance competition, but he thinks another couple was better and only lost due to being Puerto Rican (in a context judged by Tony's fellow Italian-Americans), so he gives them the top prize. The contrast between him and his friends (who view this as something like a betrayal) shows Tony's Character Development.
  • I Have No Son: After Frankie leaves the priesthood, his parents are heartbroken (especially his mother), and they eventually seem disown him.
  • Irony: Tony's friends, and a lot of the general crowd of his favorite nightclub, display lot of ignorant prejudice, but none of them seem to have any problem dancing to songs by African-American, LGBT, etc musicians.
    • Tony himself is more sympathetic than the rest of them since he recognizes the futility of dumping on one group of people just because you've gotten dumped on first.
  • Italian Mother: Tony's mother, always nagging and criticizing him, and doting on Her Son, The Priest (Tony's older brother Frank) who ends up leaving the priesthood for unknown reasons and becoming estranged from his family.
  • Jerkass: Tony himself is quite a douche, but his friends act like self-absorbed, macho idiots. Tony's parents are this as well to a large degree, especially when they start acting like he's somehow at fault for his brother leaving the priesthood.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The film tries to set up Tony as this, but how well things work out depends on the viewer. It's undeniable, though, that he's the only one out his regular group of friends (and even his family, excepting his brother) to have some kind of a psychological depth to him. Tony takes dancing seriously enough that he's willing to invest a lot of time and effort to legitimately improve himself, and this bleeds into at least faking an interest in higher-class society more generally. His Heroic B.S.O.D. moment after Bobby C's death goes a significant way in making him even more sympathetic.
  • Karma Houdini: This largely applies to Tony's friends apart from Bobby C. Yes, they lose Bobby after he jumps off the bridge. Tony, their de facto leader, also abandons them completely after he decides to move out of Bay Ridge and start over. Yet nothing directly really happens to them.
  • The King Of Dance: Tony. By day, he's a normal youth that goes to work but by night, he is the biggest celebrity in the nightclub.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Tony believes that a girl can be either a "nice girl" you enter into a serious relationship with and maybe even marry eventually or a "cunt" that you sleep with, not both.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film alternates between dreamy, mesmerizing disco sequences and shallow and violent everyday life of Brooklyn youth. This is kind of the point as Tony's nights spent clubbing are escapism from his everyday life.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Tony strutting down the street... oh, yeah.
  • New York Is Only Manhattan: Averted here, which focuses on Brooklyn.
  • Not So Different: Stephanie and Tony realize that both of them are putting up fronts, as her pursuit of the celebrity-filled high-life has as much phoniness as Tony's dance-fueled hedonism.
  • Nobody Touches the Hair: Tony!
  • One of the Kids: Again, Tony.
  • Only Sane Man: Stephanie and Frank. Tony has shades of this as well, at least compared to his thickheaded friends.
  • Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending: Tony leaves behind his phony life in Brooklyn, and heads to Manhattan to start over. He even gets back together with Stephanie! Unrequited love interest Annette, meanwhile, ends up having been treated like dirt, raped, and forgotten about. And Bobby C. has jumped to his death, leaving behind his Catholic girlfriend whom he wasn't going to marry that is carrying his child. This is heavily implied as a de facto suicide. Whew.
  • Rape as Drama: Annette is raped by two of Tony's friends. This is a... weird scene. It's subverted in the sense that her rape is more or less treated as a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment. The lead character, who is sitting in the same car as it happens, decides on the spot to outright ignore it. When the whole group gets out of the car, it's basically as if the whole thing didn't happen. This can be seen as the ultimate dark side of "bros before hos", but then the overall film's story is more coherent if the whole thing is cut out.
  • Rock Me, Amadeus!: "A Fifth of Beethoven" and "Night on Disco Mountain" are based on classical pieces by Beethoven and Mussorgsky, respectively.
  • Second-Act Breakup: Tony and Stephanie. They get back together at the end of the movie, though.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Disco
  • Shirtless Scene: Travolta shows his pectorals a lot. This continues in the sequel, in which he becomes a Walking Shirtless Scene in a Show Within a Show.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Bobby C is unhappy because he is about to be forced into one of these by his pregnant girlfriend's Catholic family and his own family.
  • Shout-Out: "AL PACINO! AL PACINO! ATTICA! ATTICA! ATTICA!"
    • Tony and his friends have a quick conversation with Stephanie about David Bowie.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Young John Travolta as Tony Manero.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Bobby C's unseen girlfriend. The focus is more on Bobby's side of the story. He doesn't want to marry her, but she refuses to get an abortion. He even goes so far as to speculate about bringing a special request to the Pope about it, showing a kind of naive ignorance that's downright painful to watch.
  • There Are Two Kinds of Girls in the World: Tony's philosophy is that a girl can either be a "nice girl" or a "cunt", but not both. He seems to have a case of the Madonna–Whore Complex.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The movie's portrayal of disco lifestyle is decidedly unsentimental and depressing enough to be labeled as a grim Deconstruction of dance flicks and nightclub culture in general. The scene to scene contrast is Mood Whiplash to a T. The twist is that this film was the Trope Maker of The '70s' Disco craze. This somewhat counts as Do Not Do This Cool Thing as Tony's life choices make him miserable but look amazing.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Annette.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film originated from the article "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" that was run by New Yorker. While the movie itself used the magazine report as just a springboard, since it's now known that the article itself was completely fabricated, made up by famous journalist Nik Cohn. The writer wisely covered himself with the disclaimer: "Everything described in this article is factual and was either witnessed by me or told to me directly by the people involved. Only the names of the main characters have been changed", which basically said "If the people who told it to me are lying, then I'm blameless."note )
    Nik Cohn: My story was a fraud. I'd only recently arrived in New York. Far from being steeped in Brooklyn street life, I hardly knew the place. As for Vincent, my story's hero, he was largely inspired by a Shepherd's Bush mod whom I'd known in The '60s, a one-time king of Goldhawk Road.
  • Walking In Rhythm: Tony, to "Stayin' Alive" at the beginning of the film. One of John Travolta's most famous movie scenes, subject to much Stock Parody. This is revisited in the final scene of the sequel, creating Book Ends.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Stephanie and Tony's friends didn't take too kindly to Tony handing over the first-place dance contest trophy to the Puerto Rican couple who took second. From the audience point of view, though, they're in the wrong and he's in the right, so it counts as Character Development.

Alternative Title(s): Staying Alive

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