Saturday Night Fever – Oh John Travolta…Oh Tony Manero! How you strut (paint can swinging at your side, as you leave that crummy day job), with the open collar shirt, a cocky grin, tight trousers and the discotech helium of the BeeGees bouncing a bubblegum soundtrack of chipmunk grooves…it sure is a fun start to the film. But Saturday Night Fever develops into a much more ambivalent and curious film than its celebration of disco might suggest.
There is often the quivering and unresolved tension of a latent homosexuality in Travolta’s performance: whenever on the brink of heterosexual sex he seems to either avoid it or the narrative significantly removes its possibility, dance meanwhile becomes the chosen expression of release and the only moment (in swooning artifice) when he kisses a woman. There is also the painful scene in which we witness a girl’s repeated rape in the backseat of a car (unsurprising no Beegees soundtrack here), Tony remains staring forward, as uncomfortable as the audience, but maintains coldly detached – finally turn around to scold her verbally for claiming it was what she wanted. Although issues of sexuality (and also racial discrimination) cast an uncertain influence over the film’s semantics – ultimately there is a lot of dancing. No two ways about it, unsurprisingly Travolta’s compotent disco gyration reigns supreme. Not being a lover of dance, disco music, or Travolta (I find his cold watery blue eyes, when combined with his sexualized dance prowess, makes for mildly disconcerting viewing…I mean, dammit the man can dance. And he does…again and again with many a Beegees track), the film couldn’t help but be pervasively uninteresting…but it does have a curious charm: whether in the cheap lighting of extended dance scenes that erupt without warning, whether in the male grooming Travolta indulges in front of his mirror and beside the towering poster of Bruce Lee, or whether through the unexpected grit of a film in which New York is both surprisingly dangerous and downbeat, this disco epic does have summat about it. 6/10