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Saturday Night Fever

Saturday Night Fever(1977)

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Saturday Night Fever (1977)


By day 19-year-old Tony Manero works in a Brooklyn hardware store, but by night he finds glory as king of the dance floor at the local disco. With a dead end job, unsavory friends, and an unsupportive family, Tony is on the fast track to nowhere. However, when he meets Stephanie, a local girl who aspires to better things, Tony begins to question the choices he is making in his own life. Soon Tony and Stephanie team up to win a local dance contest and Tony must decide if he wants to remain in the familiar comfort of Brooklyn or take a chance on a better life by moving to Manhattan.

Director: John Badham
Producer: Robert Stigwood
Screenplay: Norman Wexler
Based on the New York magazine article Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night by Nik Cohn
Cinematography: Ralf D. Bode
Editing: David Rawlins
Music Composer: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb, David Shire
Costume Designer: Patrizia von Brandenstein, Jennifer Nichols
Choreographer: Lester Wilson
Cast: John Travolta (Tony Manero), Karen Lynn Gorney (Stephanie), Barry Miller (Bobby C.), Joseph Cali (Joey), Paul Pape (Double J), Donna Pescow (Annette), Bruce Ornstein (Gus), Julie Bovasso (Flo), Martin Shakar (Frank), Sam Coppola (Fusco), Nina Hansen (Grandmother), Denny Dillon (Doreen), Bert Michaels (Pete), Robert Costanzo (Paint Store Customer), Robert Weil (Becker), Shelly Batt (Girl in Disco), Fran Drescher (Connie), Donald Gantry (Jay Langhart), Murray Moston (Haberdashery Salesman), William Andrews (Detective), Ann Travolta (Pizza Girl), Monti Rock III (Deejay), Val Bisoglio (Frank, Sr.), Ellen March (Bartender), Helen Travolta (Woman in Paint Store)


From John Travolta to its throbbing disco soundtrack and polyester pantsuits, Saturday Night Fever uniquely captured a moment in time during the late 70s. Over the years the film has come to define the disco era and has become iconic in itself within the annals of American pop culture.

Saturday Night Fever was the film that made John Travolta a superstar. While Travolta was already a star from playing the character of Vinnie Barbarino on the popular television series Welcome Back, Kotter, Saturday Night Fever catapulted his fame into another dimension, making him the hottest young actor in Hollywood and one of the top box office draws for the next several years. His character was a far cry from the lovable Sweathog Vinnie Barbarino that had endeared him to television audiences, and Travolta surprised everyone with the depth of his acting range. Travolta's electrifying performance as Tony Manero also earned him his first Academy Award nomination as Best Actor.

While some people only remember the 70s hairstyles, clothes and Bee Gees music, many forget that Saturday Night Fever has an excellent script with richly drawn characters and a hard-hitting story of directionless youth that still packs a punch. No one expected much from Paramount's scrappy low-budget disco movie, but Saturday Night Fever struck a chord with audiences all over the world and became a box office and pop cultural phenomenon.

The success of Saturday Night Fever influenced American pop culture for years to come. The music of the film dominated the radio, while disco clubs and dance contests soon began popping up all over the country. People began dressing like the characters with John Travolta-inspired white suits being all the rage for men, and Saturday Night Fever merchandise was soon everywhere including t-shirts, bubble gum cards and posters.

Before Saturday Night Fever came out in 1977, The Bee Gees had enjoyed moderate success as a musical group but were largely considered a 60s throwback. With their numerous musical contributions to the film including the songs "How Deep Is Your Love", "Stayin' Alive", and "Night Fever", The Bee Gees' unique sound helped make the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack an international smash hit that became just as important as the film itself . The Saturday Night Fever album remained the bestselling soundtrack of all time until 1992 when it was finally dethroned by the soundtrack to the Whitney Houston film The Bodyguard.

Disco had been around for several years before Saturday Night Fever came out, though it was primarily an urban subculture phenomenon found in the big cities. In fact, many urbanites felt that disco was on its way out at the time. However, Saturday Night Fever changed that. The success of the film brought disco into the mainstream with dance clubs and disco music infiltrating every American suburb and completely revitalizing the craze for the next several years to come.

Saturday Night Fever came along at a time when traditional movie musicals were all but dead. The days when characters on the big screen spontaneously burst into song and dance had run their course and audiences no longer accepted the traditional conventions of the movie musical. Saturday Night Fever ushered in a new kind of musical in which the characters still danced, but the film's soundtrack became just as important as the film itself. Saturday Night Fever influenced many of the dance/soundtrack musicals of the 1980s such as Flashdance (1983), Footloose (1984) and Dirty Dancing (1987).

by Andrea Passafiume

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Saturday Night Fever (1977)

The September 1978 issue of Mad magazine parodied Saturday Night Fever in a cover piece titled Saturday Night Feeble.

In 1978 the cast of the children's TV show Sesame Street recorded an album called Sesame Street Fever that went gold. The album followed the popular characters of Sesame Street as disco takes over the neighborhood. Bee Gee Robin Gibb also contributed music for it.

In 2008 a Chilean film called Tony Manero was released that told a darkly satirical story of a disturbed loner in 1978 Chile who is obsessed with Saturday Night Fever.

The 1980 Zucker brothers comedy smash Airplane! parodied Saturday Night Fever with a sequence in which protagonist Robert Hays rips off his military uniform to reveal a John Travolta-inspired white suit. Before dancing with co-star Julie Hagerty, Hays strikes Travolta's iconic pose from the Saturday Night Fever movie poster.

With the success of Saturday Night Fever, dance studios across America were flooded with new customers who wanted to learn how to disco dance.

In October 2008 a study by the University of Illinois College of Medicine discovered that the Bee Gees' song "Stayin' Alive" used in the film Saturday Night Fever was a perfect song to use for CPR. It turns out that "Stayin' Alive" has 103 beats per minute, and the study found that the ten doctors and five medical students in the study who listened to the song while practicing CPR, according to MSNBC, not only performed it perfectly but remembered the technique up to five weeks later.

In 1979 Paramount decided to release a toned down PG-rated version of Saturday Night Fever to theaters (the original was rated R) in order to allow younger audiences to enjoy the film.

The April 3, 1978 issue of Time magazine featured John Travolta on its cover with the heading "Travolta Fever". The accompanying story tracked Travolta's meteoric rise to fame following Saturday Night Fever.

In 1978 John Travolta released a double album called Travolta Fever. On it he sang songs including "Let Her In," "A Girl Like You" and "Big Trouble."

When John Travolta hosted Saturday Night Live on October 15, 1994 one of the sketches poked fun at the opening sequence of Saturday Night Fever when the song "Stayin' Alive" automatically played any time that Travolta started walking.

In 1998 producer Robert Stigwood was involved in helping to turn Saturday Night Fever into a stage musical. The first production, with music from the original film plus some new tunes written by the Bee Gees, opened in London in 1998 and ran for two years. The Broadway production opened a year later, but closed after 501 performances.

On January 31, 1998 the Bee Gees joined musicians that had contributed to the original Saturday Night Fever soundtrack including Yvonne Elliman, KC and the Sunshine Band, Tavares, and Kool and the Gang for a special Saturday Night Fever reunion concert at Madison Square Garden in New York.

When Saturday Night Fever came out, the popular New York department store Abraham and Straus opened a "Night Fever" Menswear boutique to capitalize on the film's success.

Saturday Night Fever was followed by an unsuccessful sequel in 1983 called Staying Alive in which Tony becomes a professional dancer on Broadway. It was directed by Sylvester Stallone.

by Andrea Passafiume

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Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Director John Badham considered the image of the Brooklyn Bridge in the beginning of Saturday Night Fever to be symbolic to the film's meaning. "Our first image is of the Brooklyn Bridge and how it connects back to Brooklyn from Manhattan," says Badham on the DVD commentary. "That's a key image in this film as the connection between these two worlds which are so close together and yet so far apart at the same time."

When shooting the opening sequence of the film where John Travolta walks down a Brooklyn street to the Bee Gees' song "Stayin' Alive," the song was actually played so that Travolta would be able to keep his step in synch with the music.

In the opening scene when Tony orders two slices of pizza, it is John Travolta's sister Ann who plays the pizza vendor.

John Travolta's mother Helen plays the woman customer in the hardware store in the beginning of the film dressed in black and wearing glasses. On the DVD commentary director John Badham recalled that because she was Travolta's mother, she got first class treatment. "Here's a woman with two lines of dialogue who got more treatment than Jack Nicholson would get on a movie."

Despite the success of Saturday Night Fever, director John Badham actually got fired from his next project because of the film. "One executive was so horrified by the tone of [Saturday Night Fever], and he figured that I was going to make a movie for him that was just as vulgar and just as ugly," he explains in the DVD commentary.

John Travolta had a natural tendency to put on weight easily, so he had to work extremely hard to stay slim while making Saturday Night Fever.

The actress who plays John Travolta's grandmother, Nina Hansen, kept trying to increase the size of her part in the film according to director John Badham. "...she kept writing new scenes for me and every morning would bring me new scenes between her and John that we were somehow supposed to do, and she was miraculously good at trying to pad her part...never did understand why we couldn't do them."

The disco in the film, the 2001 Odyssey, was a real disco in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It has since closed.

Film critic Gene Siskel (of Siskel and Ebert fame) always considered Saturday Night Fever to be his favorite film of all time. Siskel even purchased one of Travolta's famous white suits worn during the dance contest finale of the film at a 1979 charity auction. When Siskel bought it, John Travolta wrote the following inscription on the suit's lining to him: "Gene, so here's to a classic. Your friend, John Travolta."

Fran Drescher of television's The Nanny fame is the girl who asks Tony in the film, "Are you as good in bed as you are on the dance floor?" It was her first speaking part in a film.

In the scene in which Tony and Stephanie are interrupted at the White Castle burger joint by Tony's buddies, director John Badham used real White Castle employees in the background to give the scene an air of authenticity.

John Travolta improvised the famous lines at the dinner table with his family, "Would you just watch the hair? You know, I work on my hair a long time and you hit it. He hits my hair." It was a spur of the moment decision from Travolta. "I just came up with that on the spot," he said, "because he hit my head so hard when he whacked it that it stung and I just thought wouldn't it be funny if this character thought it was more upsetting that his hair was messed up than his head was throbbing."

Saturday Night Fever was followed by an unsuccessful sequel in 1983 called Staying Alive in which Tony becomes a professional dancer on Broadway. It was directed by Sylvester Stallone.

Saturday Night Fever was based on a 1976 New York magazine article by Nik Cohn called "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night." In it, Cohn chronicled the life of a Brooklyn teenager named Vincent as he blew off steam at a local disco every weekend. Vincent was supposedly a real person, but 20 years later Cohn admitted that Vincent was a figment of his imagination. "He is completely made up, a total fabrication," Cohn admitted in a 1996 interview with the New York Times.

When Saturday Night Fever was originally released in 1977 it received an "R" rating, which legally excluded any audience member under the age of 17 from enjoying it on the big screen. However, in 1979 the film was re-edited down to a "PG" version and released in theaters so that younger viewers could enjoy it. When asked by the New York Times if the edited version of the film would have the same impact as the original, Paramount chairman Barry Diller responded, "I don't know. It is not the same film because it doesn't have the impact of that raw reality. Is it as good a film? I doubt it, but at the same time, I don't think people who go to see the PG version will be cheated. They'll see the same story, hear the same music, see John Travolta-although he'll be more like the Travolta they've seen in Grease."

John Badham did not want to use professionals as the background dancers at the 2001 Odyssey disco, which upset many Broadway trained dancers who wanted to appear in the film. Instead, he wanted amateur talent, mostly from New York neighborhoods, who would look more realistic dancing in a Bay Ridge disco.

Actress Donna Pescow auditioned six times to win the role of Annette, the neighborhood girl who has a hopeless crush on Tony.

Saturday Night Fever helped usher in a whole new wave of soundtrack-based dance films that dominated the 1980s, including Flashdance (1983), Footloose (1984) and Dirty Dancing (1987).


"Would ya just watch the hair? Ya know, I work on my hair a long time and you hit it. He hits my hair." Tony (John Travolta)

"You make it with some of these chicks, they think you gotta dance with them." -- Tony

"Can I wipe your forehead?" Doreen (Denny Dillon) to Tony.

"Nice move. Did you make that up?"
"Yeah, well I saw it on TV first, then I made it up."
Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) / Tony

"Four dollars? You know what four dollars buys today? It don't even buy three dollars!" Tony's dad Frank, Sr. (Val Bisolglio) to Tony (commenting on Tony's raise at the hardware store)

"Are you as good in bed as you are on the dance floor?." Connie (Fran Drescher) to Tony.
"You know, Connie, if you're as good in bed as you are on the dance floor, then you're one lousy f*ck."
"Then how come they always send me flowers the next morning?"
"I don't know. Maybe they thought you was dead."


"Oh f*ck the future!"
"No, Tony! You can't f*ck the future. The future f*cks you!"

-Tony / Dan Fusco (Sam Coppola)

"She can dance, you know that? She's got the wrong partner of course, but she can dance."-Tony, referring to Stephanie

"There's ways of killing yourself without killing yourself." -- Tony

"You know, you and I got the same last initial."
"Wow. Does that mean when we get married I won't have to change the monogram on my luggage?"
Tony / Stephanie

"Ain't ya gonna ask me to sit down?"
"No, 'cause you would do it."
"Bet you'd ask me to lay down."
"No, you would not do it."
--Annette (Donna Pescow) / Tony

"Al Pacino! Attica! Attica! Attica!." Tony

"I knew you'd p*ss on it. Go on, just p*ss on it alright. A raise says like you're good, you know? You know how many times someone told me I was good in my life? Two! Twice! Two f*ckin' times! This raise today, and dancing at the disco." Tony (to his father)

"My girlfriend, she loves the taste of communion wafers." Bobby C. (Barry Miller)

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Saturday Night Fever began as a magazine cover story article in the June 7, 1976 issue of New York magazine by British rock journalist Nik Cohn called "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night." It followed a working class Brooklyn teen named Vincent and his friends as they blew off steam at the local Bay Ridge disco 2001 Odyssey every weekend (twenty years later Cohn admitted that Vincent and the article were total fabrications). It was a scrappy urban story that struck a chord. It was about more than dancing at a disco. It was about aimless youth trying to find meaning in their lives on the dance floor.

One of the first people to recognize the cinematic potential of the magazine article was Australian entertainment mogul Robert Stigwood who immediately snapped up the rights to the story for $90,000. "The whole thing was completely baffling to me," said Nik Cohn according to the 2000 book The Ultimate Biography of the Bee Gees by Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook and Andrew Mon Hughes. "I mean, people didn't make films out of articles or short stories, films were films, magazines were magazines, sometimes books were turned into films but never magazine stories."

Stigwood knew instinctively that the project would be perfect for his new client, the young up-and-coming actor John Travolta. Travolta had auditioned for Stigwood a few years earlier for a part in the Broadway musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which he didn't get. However, Stigwood had watched Travolta emerge as a talented and versatile actor with parts in Brian De Palma's 1976 horror film Carrie, the popular television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976) and the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter which had made him a teen idol playing lovable sweathog Vinnie Barbarino. Stigwood was impressed with what he saw and signed Travolta to a three picture deal in 1976 for an impressive $1 million. At the press reception for the deal announcement, Travolta quipped, "I auditioned for [Stigwood] five years ago, and I just heard back!" It was a deal that expressed a tremendous amount of faith in Travolta's talent, even if others thought Stigwood was nuts. According to former RSO (Robert Stigwood Organization) executive Bill Oakes, "Everyone thought it was madness because nobody had ever made the transition from television to movie stardom. So, a lot of us thought to pay a million dollars for Vinnie Barbarino is going to make us a laughing stock."

Stigwood, however, knew better. Travolta was a dedicated actor determined to break out of television and become a movie star. At the encouragement of his girlfriend at the time, actress Diana Hyland, Travolta signed on to star in Saturday Night Fever believing it could possibly be the breakout role of his career.

To turn Nik Cohn's article into a feature length screenplay, Robert Stigwood hired Norman Wexler, whose previous writing credits included the 1973 Al Pacino film Serpico. Wexler fleshed out the story and characters, changing the hero's name from Vincent to Tony Manero along the way. Wexler's story, which became Saturday Night Fever, was a gritty drama with some rough scenes and language meant to give the film an authenticity that was true to the characters and situations. "I wrote Saturday Night Fever purely, organically, scene by scene, trying to imagine this boy's life," said Wexler in a 1996 interview. "I thought there ought to be a bit of a message: that with a little bit of luck and guts you can break out of your social and family programming."

The first draft of Wexler's script came in at a lengthy 149 pages, but everyone knew that it was something special. According to Robert Stigwood's assistant at the time Kevin McCormick, "It was way, way, way, way too long, but quite wonderful. I think what Norman did so well was to create a family situation that had real truth, an accurate look at how men related to women in that moment, in ways that you would never get away with now."

With the screenplay in place for Saturday Night Fever, Robert Stigwood and Kevin McCormick set out to find a director. According to McCormick in a 2007 interview with Vanity Fair, one agent said to him at the time, "Kid, my directors do movies. They don't do magazine articles." The very same agent later called McCormick back and said, "Kid, you're in luck. My client came in and looked at this, and he's interested. But you should see his movie first." The movie was Rocky (1976) and the director was John Avildsen. Rocky, the future Academy Award winner for Best Picture of 1976, had not yet been released, but word of mouth on it was very good. "So we saw Rocky on Monday," said McCormick, "and we made a deal."

Meanwhile, to prepare for his part, which would require tremendous athleticism for the dancing sequences, John Travolta had to get into the best physical shape of his life. Travolta, who had a natural tendency to put on weight, quickly shed twenty pounds by running two miles a day and dancing for three hours every night. A choreographer, Lester Wilson, and a dance coach, Deney Terrio, were brought in to teach Travolta the moves that would dazzle on the disco floor. "I told him he should think of himself as Valentino from the waist up and Elvis from the waist down," said Terrio according to the book Travolta: The Life. "I taught him that disco movement must be bold and macho and aggressive. The trouble was that John is naturally quiet and fairly timid." At first Travolta was worried that the dance moves were so athletic that he wouldn't be able to pull them off and briefly considered quitting the film because of it. However, Robert Stigwood convinced him to stick with it, and Travolta worked hard and soon gained confidence on the dance floor. "He was hungry," said Terrio. "He was easy to teach and he just wanted it so bad."

Travolta's schedule was exhausting - especially since he was still obligated to his hit TV show Welcome Back, Kotter, which was shooting simultaneously. In addition, Travolta was going through a personal crisis at the time - his girlfriend, Diana Hyland, was battling terminal cancer. It was a huge blow to Travolta. Still, Hyland had been the one who had encouraged him to make Saturday Night Fever, and she wanted him to continue on with the film despite her illness.

To research his role, John Travolta would also go to local discos incognito to observe the scene, though it usually didn't take people long to recognize him. Travolta noted how what he called the "alpha males" would behave. "Their girlfriends would come up, and [the guys would] say, 'Hey, stay away from him, don't bug Travolta,' and they'd actually push the girls away," Travolta recounted in a 2007 interview with . "Tony Manero's whole male-chauvinist thing I got from watching those guys in the discos."

As preparations for Saturday Night Fever were well under way, problems arose with director John Avildsen. According to Kevin McCormick, Avildsen and Stigwood had increasingly different ideas on what Saturday Night Fever should be and began butting heads. For one thing, Avildsen wanted to tone down the character of Tony Manero - some felt he was trying to make Tony into another Rocky Balboa. John Travolta was not pleased. "He wanted me to be this kind of guy that did all the favors in the neighborhood," said Travolta in a 1996 interview. "It was a sweet idea, but it was not the movie that I had signed on to do, so frankly, I was just very unhappy with the direction it was going."

Soon it became clear that Avildsen's vision of the film was out of synch with everyone else's. " just got to a point where Avildsen wanted to be put out of his misery," Kevin McCormick told Vanity Fair. "He was acting provocatively: 'Travolta's too fat. He can't dance, he can't do this, he can't do that.'" Avildsen also wanted to make major changes to the script, which didn't sit well with Robert Stigwood. "I told him that Norman Wexler's script was so brilliant that I just wanted ten minutes cut," said Stigwood according to the book Travolta: The Life. "I told him there would be no new script--he had to shoot Wexler's. He refused and so I said, 'I'm afraid you'll have to go.' At that point my office called me, because they knew about the meeting, and said, 'Perhaps you should know that John Avildsen's been nominated for the Best Director Oscar® for Rocky.' I had to stop and congratulate Avildsen. He said, 'I suppose this'll make a difference?' I said, 'No. You shoot the Wexler screenplay or you go.'" Avildsen went.

Within two days a new director, John Badham, was hired to replace Avildsen. Badham had done some television and one feature film called The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1976) with Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones. He didn't have much experience at that point in his career, but he was talented and ambitious and most importantly, he got along with everyone and was on the same page creatively as Stigwood and Norman Wexler.

Badham came on board with just three weeks left before principal photography was to begin on Saturday Night Fever. There was still a huge amount of work to be done with far too little time. There were constant scripts changes, locations still needed to be scouted, and a leading lady for Travolta had not yet been found.

Hundreds of young actresses in Hollywood and New York tested for the role of Stephanie, the Brooklyn girl who shows Tony that there is life beyond Bay Ridge. "It was the most difficult part to cast," said director John Badham, "because you wanted somebody who had a very real quality for Brooklyn. You wanted somebody who seemed like they grew up in the neighborhood who didn't seem like a pretty Hollywood girl, but she was still attractive, and somehow you wanted somebody who had some charm and fun to her."

It was a chance encounter with Robert Stigwood's nephew that led actress Karen Lynn Gorney to get the role. By coincidence, Gorney, who was appearing on the soap opera All My Children at the time, shared a taxi one day in New York with Stigwood's nephew who told her about Saturday Night Fever and the problem his uncle was having finding someone to play Stephanie. When he described the character to her, Gorney knew instinctively that she would be perfect for it. "That's me!" she exclaimed to him. As soon as she exited the cab Gorney called her agent and insisted that he get her an audition, and he did. She impressed everyone with her natural style, giving Stephanie a tough but vulnerable quality. Gorney was hired immediately, and she knew it would be the chance of a lifetime.

Badham and his team scouted dozens of discos all over New York looking for the right one to double as the 2001 Odyssey for the film. However, no matter how many they looked at, they kept coming back to the real McCoy. The actual 2001 Odyssey disco in Bay Ridge was completely authentic and perfect, so they decided to use it.

Badham and his production team decided to give the 2001 a slight makeover before cameras rolled. They added a new $15,000 dance floor with multicolored lights that were designed to flash in rhythm with the music. There was a fight over what colors the floor would actually be. According to Badham, production designer Charles Bailey wanted there to be green in the floor, but cinematographer Ralph D. Bode told him that green would make all of the actors' faces look green. Bode eventually got his way, and the color green stayed off of the floor. In addition, Bailey lined the plain walls of the disco with ordinary aluminum foil and hung up Christmas lights to give the place some sparkle. When the owner of the 2001 saw the new makeover, he was thrilled. "You boys made my place look great!" he said.

All wardrobe for Saturday Night Fever was purchased off the rack - nothing was specially designed--in order to add to the film's authenticity, including Travolta's famous white suit worn in the finale. At first, Travolta wanted the suit to be black. He was insistent on it. However, costume designer Patrizia von Brandenstein disagreed. "When we went to clubs, particularly the 2001, we loved the strobing effect the big block lights had on white," she said according to the book Travolta: The Life. "Also someone casually said at a meeting that John was at, 'But heroes wear white.' Exactly." Still Travolta wasn't sold on the idea. To convince him that the suit should be white, John Badham took Travolta aside and told him that if his suit was black while Karen Lynn Gorney's dress was light-colored, then all eyes would go directly to Gorney during their big dance contest scene. That did it. Soon thereafter he and von Brandenstein went shopping together and purchased two identical white three-piece suits. "The whole point had to be that it wasn't a designer suit," explained von Brandenstein, "it was worn by a Brooklyn kid who could barely afford to go out on a Saturday night but spent eighty per cent of his income on clothes."

Last but not least, for a film that centered around a disco, Robert Stigwood knew that the choice of music for the soundtrack would be extremely important. The Bee Gees were an Australian pop group made up of three talented brothers: Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. At the time, they had a few solid hit records to their name including "To Love Somebody" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart", but creatively they were in a rut and trying to find a way to make their music relevant in the 1970s. Stigwood, with whom they already had a working relationship, approached the band about providing some songs for Saturday Night Fever. The brothers were busy working on new material while staying at a chateau in France when Stigwood visited them. The Bee Gees played Stigwood some songs they were planning to use for their own album including "How Deep is Your Love?", "Stayin' Alive," "More Than a Woman" and "If I Can't Have You." Stigwood loved the songs and immediately asked to use them in the film. "We still had no concept of the movie, except some kind of rough script that they'd brought with them," Barry Gibb told Vanity Fair in 2007. "You've got to remember, we were fairly dead in the water at that point...the Bee Gees' sound was basically tired. We needed something new...We didn't know what was going to happen."

No one had any idea what was going to happen. According to John Badham, at that point Saturday Night Fever was just a little film that Paramount didn't particularly believe in because it was considered too vulgar to do any serious business. As a result, the film flew under the radar with no one guessing that Saturday Night Fever would explode as a pop cultural phenomenon beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

by Andrea Passafiume

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Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Shooting began on Saturday Night Fever in February 1977 with most scenes filmed on location around Brooklyn. From the very first day of filming, it became clear to everyone that John Travolta was a major star in the making based on the attention he received from onlookers. While shooting the opening sequence of the film, things quickly got out of control, and the production team was unprepared for it. "It was as we worked on that particular sequence that we discovered the kind of attraction that John had," said director John Badham, "because it started with a few school girls noticing him who then became hundreds and then thousands, and by noontime of that day, we had to quit and go home." Anywhere Badham would point the camera it would have picked up thousands of Travolta gawkers. It was a major problem.

To try and throw off Travolta fans, Badham and his team took to shooting any exterior scenes as early in the morning as possible before people caught on - often at the crack of dawn. They would also generate fake call sheets. The tactics worked well enough that Badham was usually able to get the scenes done before significant crowds had time to gather.

Just a few weeks into filming, Travolta suffered a major personal blow when his girlfriend, Diana Hyland, succumbed to cancer in March of 1977. A devastated Travolta left the film to be at her side in California during her final days. Although visibly distraught, when Travolta returned to work on Saturday Night Fever he struggled to remain professional and dedicated himself to his performance. "When he came back from California he was very distraught, almost like a zombie," said John Badham according to Travolta: The Life. "He'd sit over in a corner not speaking. Everyone was respectful and gave him his space. But when I shouted, 'Ready,' he'd get up and pull the life out of I don't know where."

At first, co-star Karen Lynn Gorney struggled to keep up with Travolta when it came to their dancing scenes together. "Physically, I was weak when I started," Gorney told Vanity Fair in 2007. "I was terrified, because the first time I danced with John he'd been working for half a year on the stuff. I felt like I was trying to dance with a wild stallion - he was that strong." Gorney hung in there, worked hard, and ultimately held her own on the dance floor opposite her famous leading man.

While filming on location in some of the rougher Brooklyn neighborhoods, some trouble briefly arose with some of the locals. According to Kevin McCormick, at one point someone threw a firebomb at the 2001 disco. Fortunately, no one was injured and there was no serious damage to the club. When McCormick asked the production manager, John Nicolella, why he thought it had happened, Nicolella said, "Well, you know, it's a neighborhood thing. They want us to hire some of the kids." The trouble didn't end there. "Then these two guys appeared on the set, pulled me off to the side," recounted McCormick. "'You know, you're being disruptive to the neighborhood. You might need some security. And if you want to put lights on the bowling alley across, Black Stan really wants seven grand.'" To McCormick's astonishment, the tough guys were paid what they wanted, and the trouble stopped.

When filming was completed on Saturday Night Fever everyone connected to the film crossed their fingers as the film went into post-production. When a rough cut of the film was finally shown, everyone was pleased - except for John Travolta. "The first time I saw the film," said Travolta in a later interview, "I actually was in shock, because I thought the acting scenes were fabulous, but my solo dance that I had worked for months on had been cut in close-up. I cried when I saw it because all you can think of is this hard work that you've done gone right down the drain."

Upset, Travolta called Robert Stigwood and vocalized his concerns. It didn't seem right he explained, that he had worked so hard to get in shape and learn a complex dance just to see the sequence cut down in the editing room. It was important to Travolta for audiences to see his work and to know without a doubt that he was doing his own dancing. Stigwood agreed and told Travolta to go back and sit with the editors and personally supervise a new cut of the solo sequence. Travolta was relieved. He told the editors, "I'm not going to take a lot of your time up. It's very simple. Stay on the master [shot] until you go to the mid shot." The small change made a huge difference. It was one of the most electric scenes in the picture, and when it was released, audiences cheered Travolta on from their theater seats all over the world.

Just before the film was set to be released, some rumblings emerged about a backlash against disco music - that disco was on its way out. These rumors made many connected to Saturday Night Fever extremely nervous. After all, they were banking on a movie that was all about life in a disco with an all-disco soundtrack to boot.

It turned out that all the worrying was unnecessary. When Saturday Night Fever opened in December of 1977 it was an immediate smash hit. Its phenomenal success exceeded everyone's expectations, and far from ushering disco out the door, the film re-ignited the disco craze.

John Travolta was a sensation, breathing life into his complex role as Tony and receiving glowing reviews for his work. It was a breakout role that made him a major movie star. The role earned him his first Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. At the time of the film's release, Travolta was still working on Welcome Back, Kotter and had to tape a show the night before Saturday Night Fever premiered. "Literally, that movie opened, and the next day he was the biggest star in America," said Travolta's Kotter co-star Marcia Strassman. "We had to start wearing backstage passes on taping night for Kotter...It was like having the Beatles working with you. And it happened literally overnight."

The soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever turned out to be a major contributing factor to the success of the film, and it instantly made the Bee Gees pop superstars. The dynamic soundtrack generated hit after hit and quickly became the bestselling soundtrack album of all time, picking up numerous awards along the way. "It wasn't just like a hit album," Barry Gibb told Vanity Fair in 2007. "It was number one every single week for 25 weeks. It was just an amazing, crazy, extraordinary time. I remember not being able to answer the phone, and I remember people climbing over my walls. I was quite grateful when it stopped. It was too unreal."

Saturday Night Fever made an indelible imprint on American pop culture. It set music and fashion trends for years to come and revitalized disco by pulling it from the urban club underground and showing it to the masses of suburbia. Soon new discos and dance contests were popping up everywhere to the music of a generation that wasn't quite old enough to remember the heavy politics of the turbulent sixties and just wanted to have a good time dancing on a Saturday night.

The success of Saturday Night Fever also helped change the face of Hollywood musicals. Traditional film musicals had been on the decline for two decades when Saturday Night Fever came along. It breathed fresh life into the genre by setting a dance story against a modern pop soundtrack so that while characters weren't literally bursting into song, each song on the soundtrack commented in some way on the dramatic action.

In addition to being a first rate movie, Saturday Night Fever also serves as something of a time capsule of the late 1970s. The clothes, the hair, the dancing, the music, the attitudes - the entire film itself has become iconic to that time in American history, uniquely capturing the essence of a bygone pop cultural era. "It was a statement of the decade," said actress Donna Pescow, who plays Annette in the film. "People think of the fifties as being Rebel Without a Cause. The seventies was Saturday Night Fever, disco, and the lost generation going into the Me generation."

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Saturday Night Fever (1977)

In the March 1984 issue of American Film magazine, writer Naomi Glauberman identified John Badham's Saturday Night Fever (1977) as the torch bearer of a new movement in cinema, films "ripped from the headlines" and boasting topical freshness. Subsequent productions likewise took their cues from a print source, including Mike Nichols' Silkwood, Peter Bogdanovich's Star 80 (both 1983), Roland Joff's The Killing Fields (1984), Peter Yates' Eleni and John Schlesinger's The Falcon and the Snowman (both 1985). Truth be told, the source material that sparked Badham's 1977 sleeper wasn't torn from the front page but culled, with little fanfare, from the June 7, 1976 issue of New York magazine. British rock journalist Nik Cohn's "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" identified a new generation "full of energy, urgency, hunger" in the dance clubs of Manhattan's lumpen outer boroughs:

They are not so chic, these kids. They don't haunt press receptions or opening nights; they don't pose as street punks in the style of Bruce Springsteen, or prate of rock & Rimbaud. Indeed, the cults of recent years seem to have passed them by entirely. They know nothing of flower power or meditation, pansexuality, or mind expansion. No waterbeds or Moroccan cushions, no hand-thrown pottery, for them. No hep jargon either, and no Pepsi revolutions. In many cases, they genuinely can't remember who Bob Dylan was, let alone Ken Kesey or Timothy Leary. Haight Ashbury, Woodstock, Altamont - all of them draw a blank. Instead, this generation's real roots lie further back, in the fifties, the golden age of Saturday nights.

The cinematic possibilities of this new angle on the youth picture were not lost on producer Robert Stigwood, who optioned the property for Paramount.

The Australian-born Stigwood had made a name for himself in Great Britain during the 1960s as a maverick music producer (although one of his first jobs in the United Kingdom was overseeing a dormitory of wayward teens). It was Stigwood's association with the brilliant but unstable producer Joe Meek that led to his career path as an independent producer. An aggressive and forward-looking entrepreneur, Stigwood used his position as the booking agent for The Who to lure the band away from parent label Brunswick Records to his own Reaction Records. Stigwood also promoted Cream, with Eric Clapton, long before the trio vulcanized its status as a "supergroup." In 1967, Stigwood struck a deal with Brian Epstein, manager for the Beatles, for control of all of his acts except the Fab Four (who despised Stigwood). Positioned prominently in the British pop industry, Stigwood imported the Aussie teen boy band The Bee Gees to London and, through the Robert Stigwood Organization, promoted such rock-and-roll headliners as Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and David Bowie. RSO diversified in 1968 with theatrical productions, beginning with the West End premiere of Hair. Stigwood helped bankroll the film adaptations of the hit "rock operas" Jesus Christ, Superstar (1973) and Tommy (1975), and adapted a couple of British sitcoms for American audiences as the long-running All in the Family and Sanford and Son.

The success of Rocky (1976) was key to Stigwood's decision to option "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night." Imagining a similarly flinty low budget production, Stigwood retained Rocky director John Avildsen, with filming to be done entirely on location in Brooklyn, New York. Picked to star as the film's impatient, proud but passionate Everyman was John Travolta. A member of the ensemble of the hit sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter and a recording artist in his own right, Travolta had made a strong impression in a supporting role in Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976) and was more than ready for his close-up. Bringing to the set an attach case full of his own ideas, Travolta clashed with both Avildsen and Stigwood on everything from his character's clothing to the type of shots needed in the dance sequences. Eventually, Avildsen was dismissed from the shoot three weeks into preproduction and replaced by the British-born, Alabama-raised (and Yale-educated) John Badham. Stigwood and Travolta may have felt they dodged a bullet with the dismissal of Avildsen, who was nominated for the Best Director Oscar® for Rocky the day he was let go, and that Badham was a much more malleable and cost-effective substitute. To flesh out Nik Cohn's magazine piece, Stigwood hired journalist-turned-screenwriter Norman Wexler, on the strength of his gritty dialogue for Sidney Lumet's fact-based Serpico (1973). The famously bipolar Wexler enjoyed a career as a highly-paid scribe and industry script doctor despite having spent time in prison in 1972 for threatening the life of then-President Richard M. Nixon.

Critical reaction to Saturday Night Fever was mixed (Pauline Kael likened the film to "an updated '70s version of the Sam Katzman rock cheapies of the '50s") but almost universally supportive of John Travolta's star performance as Tony Manero, a paint shop clerk whose devotion to Terpsichore takes him, at a considerable loss of innocence, out of the borough to a new life in Manhattan. Although he was relatively inexperienced in feature filmmaking, the New Jersey-born actor's instincts in shaping the character proved eerily on target. Travolta not only rewrote his dialogue, refused to film a scripted nude scene and sloughed off the need for a stunt double but he further demanded a dance solo against the better judgment of Stigwood. Stigwood's concession to star privilege led to one of the film's most indelible highlights, backed by the Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancing." During shooting in early 1977, Travolta's then lover, actress Diana Hyland (who had just been cast in the weekly series Eight Is Enough), succumbed to breast cancer. Flying west to be at Hyland's side for her last days, Travolta was unavailable for a stretch of principal photography. Saturday Night Fever's now-famous opening title montage, edited to the staccato rhythms of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," was filmed using a double, Jeff Zinn. Travolta later matched (albeit grudgingly) Zinn's singular style of perambulation to knit together a classic Hollywood opening sequence that marries character to mood with remarkable economy.

His Academy Award® nomination for "Best Actor" would be the only nomination the film would receive in Hollywood following its Christmas 1977 release. (Travolta lost out to The Goodbye Girl's Richard Dreyfuss, who would go on to make several films with John Badham.) Nonetheless, from its domestic rentals alone (which included both a profane R-rated cut and a tamer, somewhat more family-friendly PG variant the following year), Saturday Night Fever earned a quick $74 million for Paramount. Cross-marketing with the film's hit-heavy (and Oscar® ignored) soundtrack created a sales juggernaut; 7,000,000 copies of the double album had been shipped to stores before the film was even released. Thirty-odd years later, the aggregate profits earned by the film are calculated in billions. An ill-advised sequel, Stayin' Alive (1983) followed, directed by Rocky star Sylvester Stallone. Even a late life confession by Nik Cohn that he had largely fabricated "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" (which he based on time spent with "Mods" back in his native Britain during the 60s) haven't dimmed the affection for or diminished the importance of Saturday Night Fever as a pivot point between the more raw, personal cinema of the 70s and the business savvy, corporate-based "feel good" films of the next decade.

Saturday Night Fever has been homaged and lampooned in Airplane! (1980), John Badham's sci-fi spoof Short Circuit (1986) and Glen Goei's Singapore comedy Forever Fever (1998), while John Travolta has tipped his hat to Tony Manero in such later vehicles as Dave Thomas' The Experts (1989), Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) and Nora Ephron's Michael (1996).

Producer: Robert Stigwood
Director: John Badham
Screenplay: Norman Wexler; Nik Cohn (magazine article "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night")
Cinematography: Ralf D. Bode
Music: Barry, Maurice Gibb, Robin
Film Editing: David Rawlins
Cast: John Travolta (Tony Manero), Karen Lynn Gorney (Stephanie), Barry Miller (Bobby C.), Joseph Cali (Joey), Paul Pape (Double J.), Donna Pescow (Annette), Bruce Ornstein (Gus), Julie Bovasso (Flo), Martin Shakar (Frank Jr.), Sam J. Coppola (Dan Fusco), Nina Hansen (Grandmother), Lisa Peluso (Linda), Denny Dillon (Doreen), Bert Michaels (Pete), Robert Weil (Becker), Fran Drescher (Connie), Donald Gantry (Jay Langhart), Val Bisoglio (Frank Sr.).
C-119m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.

by Richard Harland Smith

"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night by Nik Cohn, New York, June 7, 1976
"Ripped from the Headlines," by Naomi Glauberman, American Film, March 1984
The Bee Gees: Tales of the Brothers Gibb by Hector Cook
John Travolta: Back in Character by Wensley Clarkson
The John Travolta Scrapbook: An Illustrated Biography by Suzanne Munshower
Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards by Mason Wiley & Damien Bona, Tenth Anniversary Edition, Gail MacColl (Ed.)
"Life After Loss: At 23, John Travolta Aims For The Stardom That Lover Diana Hyland Died Without Sharing" by Martha Smilgis, People, Vol. 7, No. 23, June 13, 1977
Norman Wexler obituary by Tom Vallence, The Independent, August 27, 1999

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Saturday Night Fever (1977)


John Travolta was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor in Saturday Night Fever. It was his first ever nomination. Travolta lost to The Goodbye Girl star Richard Dreyfuss.

The Bee Gees were nominated for BAFTA's Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music. The film was also nominated for a BAFTA award for Best Sound.

Saturday Night Fever was nominated for four Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture Musical/Comedy, Best Motion Picture Actor Musical/Comedy (John Travolta), Best Original Score, and Best Original Song for "How Deep is Your Love?"

The National Board of Review named John Travolta Best Actor for his work in Saturday Night Fever.

Norman Wexler's screenplay for Saturday Night Fever was nominated for a Writers Guild of America (WGA) Award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen.

The Bee Gees' song "Stayin' Alive" from Saturday Night Fever was ranked by the American Film Institute as the 9th Greatest Movie Song of All Time in 2004.

In 1978 The Bee Gees won a Grammy Award as Best Pop Vocal Performance By a Group for their Saturday Night Fever song "How Deep is Your Love?"

In 1979 The Bee Gees won four Grammy Awards for their contributions to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack: Album of the Year, Best Arrangement for Voices (for the song "Stayin' Alive"), Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, and Producer of the Year (shared with Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson).

In 2004 The Bee Gees were given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.


"The movie's musical and dancing sequences are dazzling. Travolta and Miss Gorney are great together, and Travolta does one solo...that the audiences cheered for. The movie was directed by John Badham..., and his camera occupies the dance floor so well that we really do understand the lure of the disco world, for all of the emptiness and cruelty the characters find there."
Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times

"...John Travolta is so earnestly in tune with the character that Tony becomes even more touching than he is familiar and a source of fierce, desperate excitement. The movie, which spends mercifully little time trying to explain Tony, has a violent energy very like his own. Among the movie's most influential principals-although they never appear on-screen-are the Bee Gees, who provided the most important parts of its score."
The New York Times

"Energetically directed and well acted (largely by unknowns), Saturday Night Fever succeeds in capturing the animal drive of disco music and the social rituals of the people who dance to its beat...When Tony and his inarticulate chums burn off the tensions of their workaday jobs and Roman Catholic guilts, we see a mindless explosion of pent-up energy that is almost frighteningly hedonistic. The characters become cruel and volatile beneath the strobe lights, and it seems that Saturday Night Fever has an authentic statement to make about America's newest crop of alienated youth...The performances...are first-rate and John Travolta is a revelation...His dancing is electric, his comic timing acute. In the timeless manner of movie sex symbols, his carnal presence can make even a safe Hollywood package seem like dangerous goods."
- Time Magazine

"Travolta's first starring film is thoughtful study of Brooklyn youth who finds only meaning in his life when dancing at local disco. Film pulses to dynamic Bee Gees music score..."
Leonard Maltin, Movie and Video Guide

"The way Saturday Night Fever has been directed and shot, we feel the languorous pull of the discotheque, and the gaudiness is transformed. These are among the most hypnotically beautiful pop dance scenes ever filmed...John Travolta doesn't appear to be a 'natural' dancer...but he gives himself to them with a fullness and zest that makes his being the teen-agers' king utterly convincing...He acts like someone who loves to dance. And, more than that, he acts like someone who loves to act...One can read Travolta's face and body; he has the gift of transparency. When he wants us to feel how lost and confused Tony is, we feel it. He expresses shades of emotion that aren't set down in scripts, and he knows how to show us the decency and intelligence under Tony's uncouthness...Travolta gets so far inside the role he seems incapable of a false note; even the Brooklyn accent sounds unerring...At its best, though, Saturday Night Fever gets at something deeply romantic: the need to move, to dance, and the need to be who you'd like to be. Nirvana is the dance; when the music stops, you return to being ordinary."
- Pauline Kael

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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