Review: Saturday Night Fever

For reasons that are not wholly known to me, I am filled with a seething hatred for one Mr. John Travolta. I can’t put my finger squarely on the problem, but I reckon that it has something to do with that smug look on his face, the fact that his acting has dwindled down to playing every character with the exact same mannerisms, and I guess we could always throw the whole weird Scientology thing in there too, although that doesn’t really affect me directly as a movie viewer.

Because of this, I have to admit that my canon of Travolta films from which to pull is rather limited. I recall seeing Broken Arrow once (probably after losing a bet) and I hang my head in shame when admitting that I actually went to Michael while it was in the theater, which came out the same year as Phenomenon. Words cannot describe how traumatic ’96 was for me. He was acceptable in The Thin Red Line, primarily because his whopping two minutes of screen-time didn’t really put a dent in an otherwise wonderful three-hour film. And I suppose that he wasn’t too bad in Welcome Back, Kotter, but that’s as far as I go. Grease? I will withhold my comments to avoid offending all the Grease fans out there.

So all that is to say that I haven’t seen some of the “classics”, such as Pulp Fiction, Boy in the Plastic Bubble, and the reason for this written exercise, Saturday Night Fever. I say that with a small amount of regret, because I fully realize that SNF is one of the quintessential films of the 70s. The disco lights, the polyester suits, the gold chains on hairy chests, the hip-shaking music… I’m missing out on all that. And I blame John Travolta. If it wasn’t for him and his utter contempt for my personal comfort and pleasure, I would be living large in my enjoyment of some shameless disco propaganda. But regardless of how much John pains me personally, he cannot keep me from enjoying the soundtrack to said film.

Let’s be honest. The sole reason that Saturday Night Fever was filmed was so that the Bee Gees could have another hit album. Plain and simple. I take comfort in that, knowing that Travolta was only an unnecessary afterthought.

The Bee Gees. They had big teeth, tight clothes, sang in perpetual three-part harmony on and off stage, and were brothers through thick and thin. Thick and thin disco music, that is. Saturday Night Fever pretty much defines the disco music scene for a lot of people, and the soundtrack, penned largely by the Gibb brothers, is the reason. “Stayin Alive” has been doing just that for as long as anyone can remember. “Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man. No time to talk.” Somehow the fact that it was sung by castrati tends to undercut the message a bit, but still we recognize it as a milestone in an ongoing sexual revolution. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. That’s what disco means to me.

But the hits don’t stop there, they just keep on coming. The tender ballad “How Deep Is Your Love?” raises an important question that I think we would all do well to consider. And “You Should Be Dancing” offers the sage advice of:

You should be dancing, yeah
Yeah, yeah
You should be dancing
You should be dancing, yeah
Yeah, you should be dancing.

But the Bee Gees weren’t the only ones ripping up the lights right out of the floor (so to speak… actually, that didn’t make a lick of sense, did it… oh well). An able group of five gentlemen known as the Tavares do the unthinkable and cover a Bee Gees song… Only Three Tracks After The Bee Gees Themselves Perform The Very Same Song! Foolhardy? Perhaps. But I think their cunning audacity goes a long way towards proving that bushy and somewhat lopsided afro hairstyles can compete right along with excessively blow-dried and hair-sprayed pompadours anyday.

A lot of people are quick to dismiss disco music as being overly artificial dance music fluff. Those people are morons. Any hipster will tell you that disco is all about soul, emotion, and even a little bit of the classics. For example, there are two classical music cover tunes to be had on this here soundtrack, one of Mussourgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain” (although the name was changed to “Night On Disco Mountain,” probably to avoid lawsuits from Modeste, who has been a staunch critic of disco music as of late) and another that is cleverly titled “A Fifth Of Beethoven.” How do they sound? Do they stack up against their much-revered predecessors? Well, I feel pretty confident that if Beethoven himself were alive today, he wouldn’t have much of a problem with it. Mainly because he wouldn’t be able to hear it.

K.C. & The Sunshine Band. Kool & The Gang. You know these people. And they know you. And you all love each other, just like the disco music tells you to. It’s a wonderful world of hand-jiving, polyester-wearing fun and frivolity… that is, until you actually have to listen to The Trammps full version of the hit song “Disco Inferno.” It starts off well enough; it’s catchy, and the kids seem to like it. That’s all well and good, but by the time you get to the five-minute mark, you begin to wonder if they just left the track running on a loop while the band went out to stock up on some more gold chains. At the song’s conclusion, it is almost eleven minutes of time-space history that has caused a permanent rift in the cosmos, allowing untold numbers of demons to slip through the cracks, entering our world after destroying their own, and paving the way for the ascension of their supreme evil ruler. That’s right: John Travolta.

So in conclusion, I would have to whole-heartedly recommend a few spins of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, provided you can obtain a copy on vinyl, and also that you stop short of playing the last track in its entirety. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go practice up on some of my moves. I hear a “whacka-chicka” guitar riff calling my name.