Saturday Night Fever: The Director’s Cut (1977) – John Badham

Paramount Pictures takes you back to the dance floor with the blu-ray and DVD release of the Director’s Cut of the now iconic Saturday Night Fever, which helped to catapult John Travolta, a Sweathog from Welcome Back, Kotter, to super-stardom.

It’s easy now to think of the film as a time capsule of the 70s and the disco scene, from the fashion to the music. In fact sometimes that nostalgia outweighs the acknowledgement that there is an incredibly solid story about a young Brooklyn man, Tony Manero (Travolta), from a lower middle-class family, who struggles in day to day life, but with his friends, and more importantly on the dance floor of the 2001 Odyssey discotheque, he’s the king of his world.

In fact, the first time I saw it, I was stunned, expecting not much more than a lot of dance sequences with a lot of Bee Gees tunes. All that glitz, glamour, and polyester is only the surface of the film, as a reflection of the 70s, it’s all there, there is racism, sexism, abuse (physical, substance…).

But it all comes back to the dance floor, the moves are electric, and Tony meets his match in Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), who he pairs up with for a dance competition, though for the first time, he’s the one who wants something more from his partner.

I quite like how their interactions and relationship develop. Stephanie tries to present herself as better than everything around her in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, talking about Manhattan constantly, and name drop all the people who drop by her place of work. Tony knows that she’s making herself up to be more than she is, but is still drawn to her.

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The movie has become a cultural touchstone, in addition to being a time capsule of the period. There are issues that affect Tony and his friends that are still relevant today despite the trappings of bell bottoms, wide collared shirts. The dreams and desires remain the same throughout the years, and the audiences see characters and events that they can relate to.

The climax of the film, from the dance contest on, gets pretty brutal, intense, and makes you see Tony’s friends in a whole new way, but Tony doesn’t necessarily fare any better with his actions and behaviour. After the fantastic dancing sequences, the film ends up going to a very dark place, and Badham and Travolta take us their easily.

Following the crucible of the film’s final act, does Tony change? Does he grow? Has he learned? Has the audience?

Director Badham has restored some moments to his cut of the film, and the picture and sound are as cleaned up as I’ve ever experienced. The majority of the extras are from the 30th anniversary edition, but they are comprehensive, enjoyable, and hey, there’s even one that teaches you the dance steps to Travolta and Gorney’s routine for the contest.

Saturday Night Fever remains a classic, and endures not only as a reflection of a captured moment in time, but as a relatable tale of working class trappings and the dreams of something more.

Saturday Night Fever: The Director’s Cut is available today on DVD and blu-ray from Paramount Pictures – get your boogie shoes on!

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