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Two Different Neighborhoods, Yet So Alike
by Jon Schuller

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I grew up near New York City, in a small New Jersey town that was quite diverse. Many people had emigrated from Europe and other lands but I can't remember anyone resenting or insulting someone because they were from somewhere else. Let's face it: everyone's from somewhere else eventually. My own father was a little boy from Romania in 1922. My cousins lived in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and we'd visit them often. Bay Ridge was right next to Bensonhurst with a large population of Italians. But the 2 neighborhoods interacted and many people from both neighborhoods got married. In December, 1977, a movie opened that would show how people lived in Bay Ridge and its honesty made it an immediate hit. Saturday Night Fever starred John Travolta as Tony Manero, Karen Gorney as Stephanie Mangano, Barry Miller as Bobby C., Joseph Cali as Joey, Bruce Ornstein as Gus, Paul Pape as Double J. and Donna Pescow as Annette. There was a wonderful supporting cast and, although it didn't win Academy Awards, it did garner many Golden
Globes and it's on 4 of the AFI's all-time "100 lists." And, of course, the Bee Gee's music and soundtrack album broke records for years to come. Disco music was popular around the world.

Tony Manero works in local store, lives with his parents and has essentially a going-nowhere life. Except on Saturday nights when he and his close friends go out and usually wind up at the 2001 Odyssey, a popular disco club where Tony becomes a star. His dancing prowess is well-known and he knows how good he is. A girl, Annette, who wants to be part of the group, says she'll be his partner but really wants Tony for sex. He reluctantly agrees but really has his sights set on Stephanie Mangano whose beauty and dancing skills have Tony mesmerized. She agrees to team up with him as long as the relationship remains professional.

Meanwhile, Tony's brother, Frank Jr., a priest, announces to the family he's leaving the priesthood as mother, father and grandmother wail and weep with shame. Tony is close to Frank Jr., and now
realizes he's no longer looked upon as a loser.

Meanwhile: Gus gets attacked by a gang, the Barracudas; Bobby C's girlfriend is pregnant and asks ex-father Frank for advice; Stephanie is moving from Bay Ridge to Manhattan and Tony helps her; their relationship has deepened and she wants Tony to better himself.
Tony and Stephanie practice their dance routines as much as possible and eventually they enter the big competition at the disco. Everyone is enthralled when Tony hits the floor dancing solo but he and Stephanie are great together. The metaphor is obvious and it dawns on them that life, like their dancing, can be fast or slow, beautiful or not. They win first prize but Tony thinks another couple were better. They have a fight.

Annette wants to have sex with the whole gang and their weekly ritual on the Verrazano Bridge leads to tragedy. Bobby C has been depressed about his life and as the gang do their daredevil stunts on the bridge cables, Bobby slips and falls into the water below. The gang
realizes that their lives have been changed forever.

Tony rides the subway all night, wondering what's gone so wrong, and winds up in Manhattan, at Stephanie's front door. He apologizes to her and promises to change, to move to Manhattan himself and begin a new life.

Saturday Night Fever was one of those movies that make an immediate impact on society at many levels. Its multi-layered look at urban life, where people of different backgrounds mix together at a club and in other settings, was realistic and didn't try to paint an idealistic picture. We see a famous city and its citizens in real life. It's definitely Brooklyn but not the one seen in movies about the Mafia. John Travolta was already well-known from tv's Welcome Back Kotter, but his dancing and acting skills have been forever etched in the public memory because of this movie. The music is, needless to say, beyond fame, instantly recognizable and still used in movies and commercials 40 years later. We can witness this important cinema document any time we want.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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