I was still in elementary school in the 70s, so disco meant awful school dances at which you avoided doing anything with girls. So I didn’t really appreciate Saturday Night Fever when it came out. But I just saw the movie again on TV, and it isn’t half bad. It kind of reminds me of Pasolini’s Accattone. Like that film, the painful parts are somehow forgotten after viewing, and we just remember the fun parts. As Roger Ebert says:
The most lasting images are its joyous ones, of Tony strutting down a sidewalk, dressing for the evening and dominating the disco floor in a solo dance that audiences often applaud. There’s a lot in the movie that’s sad and painful, but after a few years what you remember is John Travolta on the dance floor in that classic white disco suit, and the Bee Gees on the soundtrack.
Looking around on the web I just found out that the film was originally based on journalistic account of the real 2001 Odyssey disco club in Brooklyn by New York writer Nik Cohn. At first I thought — no wonder the story is so good, it is based on a real account of life in Bay Ridge. But the same Google search informed me that on the 20th anniversary of the film Nick Cohn admitted to having faked the whole story:
The British writer describes how he went to Brooklyn’s now legendary 2001 Odyssey searching in vain for a flamboyantly dressed fellow he had spotted in the club’s entrance a week earlier. “I didn’t learn much…I made a lousy interviewer: I knew nothing about this world, and it showed. Quite literally, I didn’t speak the language.
“So I faked it. I conjured up the story of the figure in the doorway, and named him Vincent…I wrote it all up. And presented it as fact,” Cohn confesses. “There was no excuse for it…I knew the rules of magazine reporting, and I knew that I was breaking them. Bluntly put, I cheated.”
I guess he was just a good writer! Or maybe it was the screenplay writer, Norman Wexler who was also one of the writers for Serpico? He seems to also have been an interesting case. He was arrested in 1972 “by the FBI for saying he was planning to shoot then-president Nixon.” Well, it is certainly a better reason to be arrested than reading a magazine article in a coffee shop!
BONUS LINK: You may have noticed the numbered arrows in the picture of John Travolta. Those are from this site, which has a wonderful rundown of the whole Saturday Night Fever “look.”