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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Saturday Night Fever and I: Bay Ridge Comes to Bryant Park

Bryant Park's free summer movies in NYC return this year on Monday, June 16. 1977's Saturday Night Fever kicks off the film festival that evening. Shot in Brooklyn and Manhattan, it's an iconic movie in many ways but, oddly, not a well-made or respected one by any means. I remember, when I first saw it theatrically on its initial release, being astounded by the sight of overhead mikes dipping into the shots. And the script (based freely on an article published in New York magazine) is very contrived, kind of a Rebel without a Cause Goes Disco.

SNF is best represented by and remembered for its soundtrack, for John Travolta's white suit and for evoking the zeitgeist of the disco era. That the movie celebrated disco music for mainstream movie audiences turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. It turned disco dancing into something more formalized, the music into something less soulful, forged stupid petty-bourgeoise fashions and hairstyles and disco culture itself into something ultimately overbearing. Every legit act that had been around for decades went disco in the wake of this film's success: Abbe Lane, Andy Williams, Ethel Merman! As if that wan't enough to put the nail in the coffin, there was that whole, ugly Comiskey Park (anti-gay, racist) Disco Demolition Night (akin to the Nazi book burnings; the Tea Party would have loved it).

The movie represents an era when young Brooklynites longed to move to Manhattan for the culture, the art, the money! Of course, this was in the time before Barclay's Center, DUMBO and Whole Foods. Travolta's character's escape plan was to get across the East River divide by hitting the disco floor in power platforms and an exposed chest adorned by costume jewelry.

I have a few Six Degrees of Saturday Night Fever: The disco is in Bay Ridge (Travolta's Tony Manero is from Bensonhurst); I now reside in Bay Ridge. The real-life disco it is shot in really exists; in the '90s and early 2000's, I'd travel out to Bay Ridge when it was a gay club, Spectrum. It was fabulously no-attitude; had great live acts like Hazell Dean and The Village People, great music, and that legendary flashing-colors dance floor from the film. My friend Allison's husband played John Travolta's feet! In the beginning, as Manero struts down the street near the elevated train, we see close-ups of his feet hitting the pavement. They belong to Allison's husband, foot double. Lastly, I'm gay and so, it turns out, is John Travolta. He always pinged our gaydar. Plus, we're both Jersey boys.

Saturday Night Fever, Bryant Park, on the big screen, starts @ sundown/ lawn opens @ 5 pm. Bring a blanket and a picnic basket if you wish. Alcohol ok.

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