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'Saturday Night Fever' Turns 30

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'Saturday Night Fever' Turns 30

Movies

'Saturday Night Fever' Turns 30

'Saturday Night Fever' Turns 30

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Three decades ago, little-known actor named John Travolta brought a slice of hardcore New York to the rest of the country.

(Soundbite of movie "Saturday Night Fever")

Mr. JOHN TRAVOLTA (Actor): (As Tony Manero) Would you watch the hair! Ma, I work on the hair a long time and you hit it.

(Soundbite of song "Staying Alive")

ALISON STEWART, host:

Oh, yeah. Thirty years ago, this week, a 19-year-old from Brooklyn who donned a tight-white suit, gave us all night fever when he hustled his way into our hearts. "Saturday Night Fever" debut in the December of 1977. A little-known actor named John Travolta strutting down the street toting a paint can, brought a slice of hardcore New York to the rest of the country.

Leah Rozen is a movie critic for People magazine and she's here to help us say, homage to "Saturday Night Fever."

So, Leah, this film owes its origins says New York magazine article that was called The Tribal Rights of the New Saturday Night. So how did this movie convey all the ritualistic behaviors and attitudes of New York City at that time?

Ms. LEAH ROZEN (Movie Critic, People Magazine): Well, it showed you these kids, these working-class kids out of Brooklyn who were just lived to go to disco in Brooklyn on Saturday night. I mean, the rest of the world was at that point focused on Studio 54, Liza Minnelli, but clearly, there was this whole subculture. What the movie did was take you into the subculture.

STEWART: Let's play a little clip to describe what was going on at the time.

(Soundbite of movie "Saturday Night Fever")

Mr. TRAVOLTA: (As Tony Manero) Hey, you know, Bay Ridge isn't the worst part of Brooklyn, you know what I'm talking? I mean, you know, like a hell hole or nothing.

Ms. KAREN GORNEY (Actress): (As Stephanie Mangano) Yeah, well it ain't Manhattan. It isn't Manhattan. You have no idea how it changes ya. Right over there, right across the river, everything is different, completely different

STEWART: I love the accents in this movie.

Ms. ROZEN: But it's also - Manhattan as Oz. It's the sense that, you know, there's something out there and we've got to get to this promise land and that sort of being young and realizing, oh, there are - there is this world beyond your neighborhood which is essentially a universal experience of people tied into.

BILL WOLFF, host:

I feel that same way about New Jersey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: You know, it's funny I had to beg to go see this movie. I had to beg my parents let me. I really think they actually…

Ms. ROZEN: It was originally Rated R.

STEWART: …they did. I don't think they did. Was it a success at the time? I can't even remember.

Ms. ROZEN: It's huge. Huge. It - when it opened, it opened in mid-December and it became the movie that everyone wanted to see over Christmas. John Travolta ended up on the cover of Time magazine.

STEWART: On the cover of Time?

Ms. ROZEN: On the cover of Time magazine. You know, and at that point, he was sort of the sitcom star out of "Welcome Back Kotter" who, you know, teenage girls love but nobody else knew.

WOLFF: Teenage boys and grade - teenage girls and grade school boys.

STEWART: Sorry.

WOLFF: What? Where? What? Vinnie Barbarino.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Was it a good movie?

Ms. ROZEN: Not especially, but who remembers anymore? You know, now, they're simply so iconic and there's so many movies that, you know, critics are not especially appreciative when they first come out. But overtime, they sort of get this patina because of their success, because it's how fond we all feel for it. But, I mean, it told a story you'd sort of seen before: Boy meets girl. Boy dances well. Girl is impressed. Have to win contest. I mean, it'd been done before, it will be - it has been done again.

WOLFF: But in a way, looking back, I mean, we were talking about it yesterday, is all the sentiment about the summer of '77 - Summer of Sam, and they had a blackout, and there was sort of the chaos of New York in that summer. I was offering the opinion that "Saturday Night Fever" is not a look back at that. There is no sentiment to it. It is, in fact, New York in 1977 and maybe a better look at it than anything that you'll see on VH1 or the History Channel or A&E that this was how New York was. Do you think it has some value as a time capsule or is it so - such a caricature of things that it has.

Ms. ROZEN: Right. I think it, absolutely, has value as a time capsule. I think you got a doctoral thesis there, Will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROZEN: Should you be looking for your Ph.D.?

WOLFF: Yeah. I got to go. I got some writing to do.

STEWART: Well, obviously, John Travolta became a huge star but we want to play a little where are they now - from the cast of "Saturday Night Fever." Bobby C., who was played by Barry Miller. Now, we've seen this guy. He was sort of the winy guy with the curly hair. He went on to…

Ms. ROZEN: He was in "Peggy Sue Got Married." I mean, he's continued but he did not end up having this breakthrough career.

STEWART: What about Donna Pescow? She was sort of the low self-esteem, overly eager, in many ways, dance partner.

Ms. ROZEN: She went on to have a sitcom, to appear on soap operas. I think more recently is known to a younger generation for staring in the "Shia LaBeouf" Disney Channel show.

WOLFF: Huh.

STEWART: Really?

Ms. ROZEN: Yes.

STEWART: And I remember "Angie." That was her…

Ms. ROZEN: Actually, if you've been watching the Disney Channel, you would known her now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: That's interesting. The woman who played his mother. I believe she was named Julie.

Ms. ROZEN: Julia Bovasso.

STEWART: Yeah.

Ms. ROZEN: She's a well known in New York stage actors, especially for off-Broadway star(ph) but she died in the early '90s I believe.

STEWART: And then there…

Ms. ROZEN: But brought a touch of class to the movie.

STEWART: And then there was the actress who was trying to bring a touch of class to her own life, the character that sort of dance partner, you heard there, correcting her own grammar because she wants to be more Manhattan than Brooklyn, Karen Lynn Gorney?

Ms. ROZEN: Yes. She had come out of soap opera. She had been a big star in the original "All My Children" when the show debut, then on "Saturday Night Fever." Her career did not - I mean, she has continued to work. She showed up, I think, on the "Law & Order," but not's not - again, Travolta's the only one who really came out on that film with a sustained major career.

STEWART: All right. So you have to break a debate for us, in terms of a sustained major career.

WOLFF: Yeah.

STEWART: The sequel is "Staying Alive."

Ms. ROZEN: Pleas may it pass quickly.

STEWART: Directed by Sylvester Stallone.

Ms. ROZEN: Yes.

STEWART: All right. So we're in a debate.

WOLFF: Well, "Rocky" come out, I believe in 1977 as well, right?

Ms. ROZEN: Yes.

WOLFF: Okay. So…

Ms. ROZEN: Or '76 maybe.

WOLFF: Okay. So later on at the same time, Stallone breaks out, Travolta breaks out. Whose career since that early peak, has gone worse, Stallone's or Travolta's?

Ms. ROZEN: Stallone, far worse. Travolta had a real dip for a while, where his movies went straight to video but then with "Pulp Fiction, he came back bigger than ever. Stallone was high for quite a while but, I mean, the poor man - how do I say this nicely - can't get hired now.

WOLFF: Wait a minute. So you are saying that "Stop or My Mom Will Shoot" is not a good movie?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROZEN: I'm afraid, Will, I just - yeah. I'm saying it's a really bad movie.

WOLFF: This has been a disillusioning visit at BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: But we do love seeing you always. Leah Rozen…

Ms. ROZEN: A pleasure.

STEWART: …from People magazine. Thanks so much.

(Soundbite of song "More Than a Woman")

BEE GEES (Group): (Singing) Oh, girl I've known you very well.

STEWART: That ends another edition of THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. I'm Alison Stewart.

WOLFF: You are more than a woman to me, miss.

STEWART: That's Will Wolff, our guest host, my husband. He has to say that. We'll talk to you tomorrow.

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