Village Voice 05.10.2017 : Page 37

D — nightspots such as the Loft, Flamingo, nantly gay and black betray and banalize and the Tenth Floor, clubs that boasted disco or democratize it? varying levels of racial diversity. By the time Saturday Night Fever began In a 2011 essay, “Disco and the Queer-filming in mid-March 1977, disco had ing of the Dance Floor,” Lawrence cen-been ascendant for at least three years; sures SNF for “enact[ing] the some of its early top-ten singles include reappropriation of the dance floor by the instrumental “Love’s Theme” by straight male culture inasmuch as it be-Barry White and the Love Unlimited Or-came a space for straight men to display chestra, from 1973, and Gloria Gaynor’s their prowess and hunt for a partner of the Jackson 5 cover “Never Can Say Good-opposite sex.” As the 2001 Odyssey pa-bye,” from ’74. Saturday Night Fever ’s pro-trons clear the light-pulsating floor so Tony ducer, Robert Stigwood, the can swivel and thrust while the Bee Gees Australian-born music grandee who had Saturday Night Fever and the Politics of Dancing shriek “You Should Be Dancing,” his spec-been crucial to bringing the rock operas tacular solo gyrating — choreographed, as Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) and Tommy all of Travolta’s numbers were, by Lester (1975) to the screen, was eager to make a BY MELISSA ANDERSON Wilson, a gay African American disco movie. In Nik Cohn’s — epitomizes what Lawrence de-“Tribal Rites of the New Sat-SCREEN tests. Tony’s solitary hustling and urday Night,” the cover story CAPTURED grapevining contrasts wildly with for the June 7, 1976, issue of the ecstatic “oneness” promised New York magazine, the mo-by disco, as throngs of gay guys yield to the gul had found a promising source text: “I rhythm en masse, a scenario unforgettably see a $100 million movie here,” Stigwood described in Andrew Holleran’s 1978 novel said. (The film would gross almost two of homo night life, Dancer From the Dance . and a half times that.) Cohn’s article, a He writes of his revelers, “Now of all the chronicle (largely fabricated, as the jour-bonds between homosexual friends, none nalist admitted years later) of 2001 Odys-was greater than that between friends who sey, a real-life Bay Ridge disco, was danced together. The friend you danced reworked by screenwriter Norman Wex-with, when you had no lover, was the most ler, whose earlier credits included script-important person in your life…” ing two other New York stories, 1970’s Joe Also insupportable for Lawrence is and Serpico , from ’73. Saturday Night Fever SNF ’s Bee Gees–heavy soundtrack, was to be the first star vehicle for the actor “which threatened to leave viewers with Stigwood had recently signed a three-film the impression that disco amounted to a deal with: John Travolta, eager to expand new incarnation of shrill white pop.” But beyond the confinements of Vinnie Bar-some first-responder disco devotees, no-barino, the dim Italian stallion he played tably the longtime Village Voice writer and on Welcome Back, Kotter , the Bensonhurst editor Vince Aletti, loved the sound of the high school sitcom that had made him an Gibb brothers. “Their phrasing is tight, object of pinup lust. each word clipped, precise, compressed As Tony Manero, the peacocking into a brittle squeal, often underlined by nineteen-year-old prince of Bay Ridge in twitching guitar and pumping percussion Saturday Night Fever , Travolta remains but off-set by strings hung like a silken one of the most intriguingly irreconcilable curtain in the background,” Aletti wrote icons of the Seventies. His intro, no matter in the February 13, 1978, issue of the how many times you may have seen the Voice , near the beginning of the SNF film, still thrills: Below the soundtrack’s 24-week reign as the num-elevated tracks where a B ber one album in the country. train is roaring past, Tony Saturday Night Fever Among latter-day appreciations of struts down the street while Directed by SNF , Alice Echols, author of Hot Stuff: on a midday work errand, John Badham Disco and the Remaking of American Cul-the rumble of the subway Paramount ture (2010), makes a solid case for salut-adding to the percussion of Pictures May 10 ing, rather than reviling, the film, “Stayin’ Alive” — one of six arguing, contrary to Lawrence, that it songs on the SNF tries “to expand, not constrict, the pa-soundtrack by the Bee rameters of masculinity.” Echols scruti-Gees, the falsetto-favoring trio (signed to nizes the homoerotic voltage of the Stigwood’s RSO Records) that had made scenes in which Tony, a casa Manero, is the move to disco in ’75 with “Jive Talkin’.” filmed in nothing but tight black briefs. In During Tony’s sidewalk swagger, he Disco’s the first of these, the camera slowly, ador-wolfishly ogles two women, just one in-democratizer ingly pans up Tony’s near-naked body as stance of the backward behavior he and — or its he lies prone in bed. SNF ’s director his sexist, racist, and homophobic bud-death? wanted the segment to go even further, dies regularly exhibit. Their entire lives Courtesy Fathom Events but Travolta said no, sort of. “As a movie are limited to deepest southwest Kings star, he turned down Badham’s request to County, miles and light-years away from middle age: John Badham’s Saturday isco isn’t dead and never has get out of bed with no pants on,” Frank Manhattan, which looms, in the very Night Fever , first released forty years ago, been — not even the mass psy-Rose wrote in his waggish profile of the first shot of SNF , like the Emerald City returns to theaters nationwide on May 10 chosis evinced during the gro-actor, “Travolta Puts Out,” which ran in with an updated sound mix and four min-across the East River. A chasm also tesque spectacle known as the Voice dated December 19, 1977. The gapes, as disco scholars like Tim Law-utes added to the original 118. With this “Disco Demolition Night,” held in Chica-idol “did offer a compromise, however: revival comes the opportunity to consider rence have pointed out, between the go’s Comiskey Park in the summer of he would sit up in bed in his black bikini 2001 Odyssey, where Tony rules the anew — or to choose or switch sides in — a 1979, could snuff the music out. (Or, put dancefloor among the uniformly hetero-briefs and, you know, ‘adjust himself.’ ” partisan battle that’s been fought since less charitably: “Disco didn’t die. House sexual and predominantly Italian-Amer-Four decades later, the time is right murdered it,” per a T-shirt worn by a cele-December 1977, the month Saturday for this image of Travolta to replace ican habitués, and the more intimate Night Fever premiered: Did this resolutely brant at a dance party deep in Prospect that white-suited, finger-pointing, grim-Manhattan discotheques where an al-Park that I stumbled across a decade ago.) straight, white movie about a musical id-looking dancefloor martinet. most exclusively gay clientele gathered iom and subculture that was predomi-But one of its totems now officially enters 39 May 10 -May 16, 2017 The Vast Days of Disco VILLAGE

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