On this day, December 14, 1977, Saturday Night Fever was released. It hit the blockbusters and has become one of the most influential movies of the time, propelling disco out of the underground and skyrocketing disco fever to bliss of stardom.
Based on an almost innocent article published in New York Magazine on June 7th, 1976, Saturday Night Fever is a dark tale of a dead-end kid who seeks glory on the dance floor. When John Travolta stepped out on streets of Brooklyn on rhythm of Bee Gees, he ushered a new era in pop culture and music. Stayin’ Alive had become the sound of the times and a story of life in urban jungle: it sets the atmosphere of the movie and talks about the hardships of being a kid growing in urban New York. It is not just about getting dressed, getting high and getting sex, it is about survival.
Before the movie release, disco was a New York City phenomenon: underground, black, gay, and never before had that drug-laden, sex-drenched atmosphere been captured on celluloid. It had come in a perfect moment: America had suffered through Vietnam, was gravely affected by Watergate and suffering the lingering recession, so the people were yearning for an escape hatch from reality. Once John Travolta’s polyester moves hit the cineplex, it triggered the social movement. The movie reminded us what music really is, especially when you are young: go out, have fun, have a good time when you are dancing, it is Saturday night and you’ve got the fever. All of a sudden, pessimism was out and hedonism was in: urban dwellers were dancin’ away their problems.
Nobody expected Saturday Night Fever to do anything: in the beginning it was just a vulgar little movie, yet it will forever define the age of disco when Saturday night mean sex, drugs and dancing. It was a brave movie, it was revolutionary at the time and perhaps people didn’t realize how revolutionary it was. It represented the perfect marriage of music and film, a cinematic breakthrough that pioneered a whole new breed of Hollywood movies. It was a new form of musical, a musical in which music animates every single scene, a first modern film with a soundtrack as important as the script. In the end it seemed the music has been tailored for the movie.
Saturday Night Fever is a film that set trends and captured imagination, and its influence is still being felt today. Rather than heralding the death of disco, the movie ushered its heyday: the music and the lifestyle were celebrated in the nightclubs like New York’s Studio 54. Indeed, people who never bought records before, were taking dancing lessons, all over the world. That was the magic of the fever: everybody wanted to dance.
More than a film, Saturday Night Fever was a milestone that perfectly captured a moment in time, it is a time capsule, a perfect representation of time and place in the seventies urban America. Though the fashion may have faded, the message and the music live on. It is out of our hands, it is history: music was celebration and there was nothing wrong about it.