Cleaning Out The DVR: Urban Cowboy (dir by James Bridges)

Last night, I watched the 1980 film, Urban Cowboy.  This was a film that had been sitting on my DVR for over a year.  For some reason, I had never actually gotten around to watching it.  There were many times when I started to watch it but I always ended up stopping after a few minutes.  I was never quite sure why as everything that I had heard about the film was positive.  Having finally watched it last night, I think I hesitated because I instinctively knew that John Travolta would look silly wearing a cowboy hat.

And let’s just be honest.  He does.  I mean, Travolta actually gives a fairly good performance in Urban Cowboy.  He plays Bud, a kid from West Texas who moves to Houston so that he can work on an oil rig with his uncle, Bob (Barry Corbin).  At first, he only wants to stay in Houston long enough to raise the money to buy some land back home.  But, he soon falls in love with the Houston nightlife and the local country-western bar.  (He’s Travolta so, of course, he can dance.)  He also falls in love with and eventually marries Sissy (Debra Winger).

Travolta is believable as an impulsive young adult who might not be particularly smart but who makes up for it with a lot of determination.  And he even does an okay job when it comes to capturing the country accent of West Texas.  But that said, whenever he puts on that cowboy hat, the viewer is immediately reminded that Travolta is actually from New Jersey and probably never even attended a rodeo until he was cast in Urban Cowboy.  The hat feels like an affectation, an attempt by a city boy to be more country as opposed to a country boy trying to hold onto his identity in the city.  Ironically, the term “urban cowboy” has come to mean someone who, despite having never left the city, dresses like they’re heading out to herd the cattle and rope some steers.  However, in the film itself, the hat is meant to be a natural part of Bud’s persona but it never quite feels that way.

Far more credible as a cowboy is a youngish Scott Glenn, who plays Wes Hightower.  After Bud’s chauvinistic and abusive behavior drives Sissy away, she ends up with Wes.  Wes teaches Sissy how to ride a mechanical bull, which is something Bud tried to forbid her from doing.  Wes is confident and dangerously sexy and he can even make the fact that he lives in a run-down trailer work for him.  Unfortunately, Wes also turns out to be even more controlling and abusive than Bud.  Even though Bud still loves Sissy and Sissy still loves him, Bud soon hooks up with Pam (Madolyn Smith), the daughter of a wealthy oilman.

Many more complications follow and, of course, there’s one big tragedy that causes Bud to reexamine his life.  Not surprisingly, the film’s conclusion all comes down to who can stay on that mechanical bull for the longest….

The best thing that Urban Cowboy has going for it is not Travolta or Glenn but instead, it’s Debra Winger, who gives a believable and relatable performance as Sissy, playing her as someone who may not have much but who refuses to surrender her pride.  She knows that she deserves better than both Bud and Wes, even if she is hopelessly in love with one of them.  Winger has chemistry with both Travolta and Scott Glenn, which makes the film’s love triangle feel like something more than just a typical story about a girl who can’t resist a bad boy.  She grounds the film in reality and, as such, there are real stakes to the film’s story.  Thanks to Winger, Urban Cowboy becomes about something more than just a fight over a mechanical bull.

The second best thing that Urban Cowboy has going for it is that it does manage to capture the atmosphere of a good country-and-western bar.  It’s place where people go to relax after a hard day’s work.  Unlike the discotheques  that Travolta frequented in Saturday Night Fever, the bars in Urban Cowboy eschew glamour and artifice.  Instead, they’re all about proving yourself not on the dance floor but on the back of a mechanical bull.  For Sissy, the bull symbolizes freedom.  For men like Bud and Wes, it symbolizes survival.  Myself, I’m not a drinker so my bar experience is limited.  And, though I may be from Texas and I spent a lot of time in the country while I was growing up, I’ve never been a fan of country music.  That said, I’ve danced to a few country songs and I’ve certainly stopped by a few bars, even if I was usually the one who annoyed my family and friends by just asking for a glass of water.  I’ve been to the rodeo and I’ve seen people get trampled.  I’ve also seen a few people get tossed off a mechanical bull.  I’ve never been on a mechanical bull myself but I did buy one for my Sims.  (They loved it but, sadly, I had to get rid of it because they spent so much time riding it, they kept missing work and getting fired.)  From my limited experience, I can say that Urban Cowboy got most of the details right.  Even though it was made 42 years ago, it still feels authentic.

That said, Travolta still looks odd wearing a cowboy hat.

Scenes That I Love: Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta Perform You’re The One That I Want From Grease

I just read that Olivia Newton-John passed away earlier today.  She was 73 years old.

Here she is, performing You’re The One That I Want with John Travolta at the climax of 1978’s Grease.  No matter what else you may think about this film (and, to be honest, it’s not one of my favorite musicals, just because of the way that director Randal Kleiser framed most of the dance numbers), you can’t deny that both Olivia and Travolta poured their hearts into this climax.

Cleaning out the DVR: The Boy In The Plastic Bubble (dir by Randal Kleiser)

This made-for-television film from 1976 tells the story of Tod Lubitch (played by a pre-Saturday Night Fever John Travolta).  Tod was born without an immune system and, as a result, he’s had to spend his entire life in a germ-free, plastic bubble.  When Tod was a child, it wasn’t such a big deal not being able to leave his house without getting in a plastic ark beforehand.  But now, he’s in his teens and he wants to do teenager stuff.  His parents (Robert Reed and Diana Hyland) are overprotective.  His doctor (Ralph Bellamy) says that there’s little chance that Tod’s condition will ever improve.  But the girl next door, Gina (Glynnis O’Connor), finds herself falling in love with Tod and she wants to help him live a normal life.  Gina loves to ride horses and Tod wants to ride one with her.  As we all know, horses are totally germ-free.

The Boy In The Plastic Bubble is one of those movies that has a reputation.  It’s usually cited as being the epitome of 70s schmaltz and, indeed, it is very 70s and it is very schmaltzy.  It’s one of those films where the big dramatic moments are so overdone that they instead often become kind of comedic.  When Tod finally convinces his parents to allow him to attend school, he does so while wearing a special protective outfit that makes him look like a cross between an old school astronaut and a demented teddy bear.  When it looks like his suit might be malfunctioning, he runs into the plastic cell that’s been set up in the back of the classroom and strips it off while all of his classmates watch.  Everyone’s truly impressed by both Tod’s positivity and the sight of a 22 year-old John Travolta rolling around in gym shorts.

Indeed, while watching the film, it’s impossible not to ask certain questions.  In what world, for instance, could Robert Reed, best known for playing the patriarch on The Brady Bunch, be John Travolta’s father?  Why is there such a weird tension between Tod and his mother?  (It may have had something to do with the fact that Travolta was dating Diana Hyland at the time.)  How does Tod keep his hair so perfect while living in a plastic bubble?  Did anyone think that the scene where Tod is carried onto the beach inside a plastic box would be so odd to watch?  Reportedly, The Boy In The Plastic Bubble was based on the lives of two young men who has the same condition as Tod.  According to Wikipedia, one of them was very amused by the idea the Todd’s protective outfit would keep him safe at school.  And, then of course, there’s the film’s ending, which tries to offer a ray of hope but instead leaves you convinced that Tod is going to die at any minute.

And yet, for all the obvious flaws, The Boy In The Plastic Bubble is slightly redeemed by the sincerity that Travolta and O’Connor bring to their roles.  In particular, Travolta brings a smoldering anger to his role, which may not have been present in the script but which feels appropriate for the character.  As played by Travolta, Tod may understand why he’s in the bubble but he’s still pissed off about it.  O’Connor has an even more difficult role to play because Gina’s actions often don’t make a lot of sense.  But O’Connor makes you believe that she’s sincere in her desire to give the Bubble Boy the high school experience that he deserves.  It’s a schmaltzy film but Travolta and O’Connor bring a few moments of emotional honesty to it.

Director Randal Kleiser later worked with John Travolta on Grease.  I don’t think Danny Zuko would have been a good influence on the Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

Horror Film Review: The Devil’s Rain (dir by Robert Fuest)

Was I the only one who was relieved that William Shatner didn’t die this week?

Seriously, when I heard that the 90 year-old Shatner was going to be taking a trip on one of the Amazon rockets, I was really worried.  First off, you’re taking a 90 year-old into space.  Secondly, you’re doing it with a rocket that people don’t really know that much about.  And third, that 90 year-old is a cultural icon and one who probably played no small role in causing people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to become obsessed with conquering space in the first place.  With the exception of George Takei, everyone loves William Shatner.  (And, at this point, Takei’s constant sniping about Shatner is coming across as being just a little bit petty.  Move on, George!  People love you, too.)

As I watched Shatner land back on Earth, I found myself thinking about The Devil’s Rain, a film from 1975 that starred William Shatner as a man whose exploration of the unknown led to a far less triumphant result.   

In this film, Shatner plays Mark Preston, a youngish man who lives on ranch with his father (George Sawaya) and his mother (Ida Lupino).  For some reason, the Preston family owns a book that is full of evil magic.  Satanic high priest Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) wants the book and when the Prestons refuse to hand it over, he makes it his mission to destroy them.  He gets things started by turning Mark’s father into a weird, waxy zombie who melts in the rain.  Not wanting the same fate to befall the rest of the family, Mark grabs the book and heads to a desert ghost town that has been taken over by Corbis and his followers.  Mark never returns.

Mark’s older brother, Tom (Tom Skerritt) then shows up in town, searching for Mark.  Accompanying him are his wife (Joan Prather) and a paranormal researcher (Eddie Albert).  Tom discovers that Corbis is transforming his followers into zombies who have no memories and who exist only to …. well, I’m not sure what the point of it all is but I guess it basically comes down to Corbis needing something evil to do.  Not only has Mark become one of his Corbis’s followers but, if you keep an eye out, you might spot a very young John Travolta in the background.  This was Travolta’s film debut.  According to the end credits, the character he plays is named Danny.  Danny Zuko, perhaps?  That would serve him right for making Sandy doubt herself.

The Devil’s Rain is one of the many low-budget movies that William Shatner did between the end of the Star Trek TV show and the start of the Star Trek movies.  It’s a bit of an disjointed film, as I think any film starring William Shatner and Tom Skerritt as brothers would have to be.  Skerritt gives a very laconic performance, playing his character as if he was the star of a Western.  Shatner, meanwhile, does that thing where he randomly emphasizes his words and gets the full drama out of every sentence and facial expression.  But, as much as Shatner overacts, you can’t help but enjoy his performance because he’s William Shatner and that’s what he does.  The same is true of Ernest Borgnine, who overacts in his role just as much as you would expect Ernest Borgnine to overact when cast as an evil cult leader.  For that matter, Eddie Albert isn’t exactly subtle as the paranormal researcher.  Don’t even get me started on Keenan Wynn, playing yet another small town sheriff.  Let’s just say that, with the exception of Tom Skerritt, the cast of The Devil’s Rain is not necessarily full of actors noted for their restraint.  That said, there’s something rather charming about everyone’s attempts to steal every scene in which they appear.

The Devil’s Rain is a deeply silly film but that doesn’t make any sense but it’s hard not to get caught up in it.  Even if the fact that this film is perhaps your only opportunity to see John Travolta melt on screen isn’t enough to make you watch, Shatner vs. Borgnine with Skerritt approaching in the distance is just too entertaining to resist!  Thankfully, Shatner survived appearing in this film and revitalized his career through a combination of Star Trek movies and Canadian tax shelter flicks.  He’s a survivor.  In fact, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that, even at the age of 90, Shatner has no trouble going into space.  William Shatner’s going to be around forever.

Book Review: Saturday Night Fever by H.B. Gilmour

About two years ago, I came across a paperback sitting on the shelf of a Goodwill in Dallas. It was the novelization of the 1978 film, Saturday Night Fever. Naturally, as soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to buy it.

Novelizations of popular films are always an interesting read. Since they’re usually based on the early drafts of a film’s screenplay, the novelization will often include extra scenes or details that may have not been apparent in the film itself. Often, things that may have been left unclear in the completed film will be cleared up in the novelization. At the same time, as a writer, I always find it interesting to see whether or not the author of a novelization can succeed at putting their own spin on familiar material.

Take the Saturday Night Fever novelization. There are two things that everyone automatically thinks about whenever they think about Saturday Night Fever as a film. They think about the Bee Gees soundtrack and they think about the scenes of John Travolta dancing. Obviously, with the novelization, there is no soundtrack. The Bee Gees aren’t even mentioned in the book. As for Travolta’s dancing, the book doesn’t go into a great deal of detail beyond acknowledging that Tony Manero is a good dancer and that everyone wants to join him out on the dance floor. But Gilmour wisely doesn’t try to describe any of Tony’s dance moves. Instead, he focuses on how Tony feels when he’s the center of attention.

Indeed, the entire novelization focuses on Tony as a character. We spend a lot of time inside of Tony’s head and it’s not always a pleasant place to explore. At the same time, we also discover that Tony isn’t quite as clueless as he sometimes comes across as being in the movie. From the start, he knows that he’s going nowhere and he knows that his friends are losers. Without Travolta’s charismatic performance or Staying Alive playing as he struts across New York, Tony often comes across as being an even bigger jerk in the novel than he does in the movie. And yet, we still sympathize with him because the novel makes clear that Tony understands, more than his family and his friends, that he’s trapped in a life that doesn’t provide much hope. Saturday Night Fever is a dark film, even with the music. In novel form, it becomes downright existential in its portrait of Brooklyn as being a Hellish prison, both a location and state-of-mind from which there is little chance of escape.

Tony’s family is a bit more abusive in the novel, which makes the film’s famous “watch the hair” dinner scene a bit more difficult to laugh at. The novelization spends a lot of time on Tony’s brother and his decision to leave the priesthood. In the movie, Frank, Jr. just kind of vanishes. In the book, it’s explained that he went to a sort of halfway house for former priests. I assume this was all stuff that was in the screenplay but cut from the actual film. One can see why it was cut but, at the same time, it was still interesting to learn a bit more about Tony and his family.

In the end, it’s not a bad novelization. At 182 pages, it’s a quick read and it not only does a good job of showing what exactly Tony is escaping from when he gets out on the dance floor but it also provides some new insight into the story. (Of course, the majority of that insight deals with Tony being a misogynistic homophobe but, then again, that’s pretty much who he was in the film too. The book just makes it even clearer, as well as showing that Tony’s prejudices are largely due to where he’s from and how he’s been raised.) It’s a good companion piece to the film and a good collector’s item. The copy that I found still had a pull-out poster of John Travolta in the middle of it!

Scenes That I Love: The Opening of Staying Alive

We’re still in the process of recovering from last week’s winter storm down here and I have to admit that, for me personally, it’s been a bit of a struggle to actually maintain my focus.  Last week’s combination of power outages and freezing weather threw me off of my usual rhythm and I’m still getting it back.

Fortunately, I have a little help from my friends.  Earlier tonight, a group of us watched the 1983 film, Staying Alive.  Staying Alive is the somewhat notorious sequel to Saturday Night Fever.  If Saturday Night Fever was actually a dark and gritty coming-of-age story disguised as a crowd-pleasing musical, Staying Alive is …. well, it’s something much different.  It’s a film about dancing and Broadway, directed and at least partially written by Sylvester Stallone.  Why exactly would anyone think that Sylvester Stallone was the right director to make a movie about dancing and Broadway?  Your guess is as good as mine but, in the end, the important thing is that Stallone wrote a key supporting role for his brother, Frank Stallone.  Frank not only performs several songs but he proves that he can glare with the best of them.

As for the film itself, it opens with Tony Manero (John Travolta) having left behind Brooklyn and the world of disco.  Now, he lives in Manhattan, he teaches a dance class, he humiliates himself looking for an agent, and he’s struggling to make it on Broadway.  (Basically, he’s turned into Joey from Friends.)  When Tony’s lucky enough to get cast in a lavish musical called Satan’s Alley, Tony has a chance to become a star but only if he can …. well, I was going to say control his ego but actually, his ego isn’t that much of a problem in Staying Alive.  Actually, there’s really nothing standing in Tony’s way, other than the fact that — in Staying Alive as opposed to Saturday Night Fever — he’s portrayed as kind of being an irredeemable idiot.  If Saturday Night Fever was all about revealing that Tony was actually smarter and more sensitive than he seemed, Staying Alive seems to be all about saying, “Whoops!  Sorry!  He’s just as obnoxious as you thought he was.”

Staying Alive is a notoriously ill-conceived film, though it’s also one of those films that’s just bad enough to be entertaining when viewed with a group of snarky friends.  That said, the opening credits montage — which features Tony dancing while Kurtwood Smith glares at him — is actually pretty good.  Travolta smolders with the best of them and the sequence does a good job of capturing Tony’s mix of desperation and determination.  It’s unfortunate that Kurtwood Smith pretty much disappeared from the film following the opening credits.  Judging from what little we see of him, Smith would have been pretty entertaining as a permanently annoyed choreographer.  Finally, how can you not love the neon credits?  This a scene that screams 80s in the best possible way.

So, while I continue to work on getting back to my usual prolific ways, why not enjoy this scene that I love from Staying Alive?

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #23: Gotti (dir by Kevin Connolly)

Few recent films have been as misunderstood as Gotti.

When this film was first released in 2018, it was slammed by critics and it flopped at the box office.  On Rotten Tomatoes, it managed a score of 0% from the critics.  At the same time, the opening day audience score was 80%.  (Over subsequent days, the audience score would drop to 46%.)  This disparity was blamed on studio employees inflating the audience score, though I think it’s more likely that, after months of negative press about the film’s troubled productions, critics were already looking forward to slamming the film before they even had a chance to see it.  At the same time, the buzz on Gotti was so bad that the opening day audience was made up of a combination of John Travolta die-hards (whoever they may be) and people who were expecting such a trainwreck that all Gotti had to do to surpass their expectations was to occasionally be in focus.

Then again, it could be that some members of the audience understood what I instinctively understood when I first watched GottiGotti is not really a film about John Gotti, the flamboyant New York mob boss who ruled the streets with an iron fist and who eventually ended up dying of cancer in prison.  Instead, whether it was the filmmaker’s actual intention or not, Gotti is a film about the audience’s fascination with not only gangsters but also the movies that have been made about them.

It’s true that John Travolta may be playing someone namned John Gotti but the film goes out of its way to remind you that he’s not the real John Gotti.  The film is full of archival news footage of the real John Gotti, either laughing it up with reporters or smirking while sitting in a courtroom.  Every time that we’re shown footage of the real John Gotti, we’re reminded of the fact that, at not point during the film, does Travolta look anything like John Gotti.  Add to that, the real Gotti is always smirking whereas Travolta always looks somewhat grim.  At the time this film came out, many claimed that this was evidence of lazy filmmaking but I viewed it as being a Brechtian distancing device.  Whenever the real Gotti makes an appearance, we’re reminded that we’re just watching a movie and then we’re encouraged to ask ourselves why we would want to watch a movie about such a disreputable figure.

The movie opens with John Travolta standing next to the Brooklyn Bridge and speaking directly to the camera.  Though Travolta is meant to be speaking to us as John Gotti, the sight of him standing near a bridge in New York will automatically remind some viewers of a previous Travolta film, Saturday Night Fever.  The character that Travolta played in Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero, has come to epitomize New York in the 70s.  The film suggests that, in much the same way, Gotti epitomized New York in the 80s and 90s.  Gotti, the film is saying, is as much of an icon of the popular imagination as Tony Manero dancing in a white suit.

Why is Gotti speaking directly to us in that scene?  It may seem like a framing device until, a few minutes later, we see a bald and sickly Gotti in a prison meeting room, telling his life story to his son, John, Jr. (Spencer LoFranco).  Gotti talking in prison is then established as the narrative’s other framing device.  So, why was Gotti speaking to us on the bridge and why did he look so healthy and have a full of head of hair when the film has made it clear that the newly bald Gotti is going to die in prison?  When I first saw the film, my initial thought was that the Gotti who speaks directly to the audience was meant to be a ghost.  But then it occurred to me that he’s actually not meant to be John Gotti at all.  Instead, the Gotti who talks to us on the bridge is meant to be our popular conception of what gangsters like John Gotti as like.  He’s what we imagine gangsters to be — i.e., tough-talking, well-dressed, and played by an iconic actor.  As such, the film’s narration is not being provided by John Gotti.  Instead, it’s being provided by the person that we imagine someone like Gotti to have been.

Is the imprisoned Gotti meant to be the real Gotti?  Perhaps.  However, it’s hard not to notice that, over the course of the film, Gotti’s son never ages.  Though several decades pass, Gotti’s son always looks like he’s in his mid-twenties.  When he visits his father in prison and talks about having teenage children of his own, it feels odd because he barely looks old enough to be out of high school.  That may seem like lazy filmmaking but again, I would argue that this is a distancing device.  It’s a reminder that we’re not watching reality.  Instead, we’re choosing to watch actors pretending to be gangsters.

Once you accept that Gotti is a film not about John Gotti but instead about those of us in the audience who are watching, the film makes a lot more sense.  The film’s cliches about life in the Mafia are revealed to be not so much the result of an uninspired script as they’re an homage to American folklore.  Of course, there’s going to be a scene where Gotti tells his children never to rat on their friends.  Of course, there’s going to be random shootings and burly men demanding respect.  This is a gangster movie, after all.  By populating the cast with people who you normally wouldn’t expect to see playing members of the Mafia — Stacy Keach, Chris Mulkey, Pruitt Taylor Vince — Gotti continually reminds you that you’re watching a movie.  The real mafia isn’t like this, Gotti is saying, but the mafia of the popular imagination is.  Why are we horrified by real-life crime and yet we flock to movies that claim to recreate it for our entertainment?  This is the issue at the heart of Gotti.

Gotti’s flaws are there to remind us that we’re just watching a movie.  They’re also there to make us wonder why we’re watching that particular movie.  Gotti asks us why audience idolize killers like John Gotti.  Why do we turn them into folk heroes?  Is it because we imagine them to be characters in films as opposed to actual human beings?  Whether or not one feels that the film succeeded in its goal, this is an offer that you cannot refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface (1932)
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.
  18. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
  19. Scarface (1983)
  20. The Untouchables
  21. Carlito’s Way
  22. Carlito’s Way: Rise To Power

Scenes That I Love: Winston Wolfe Says Goodbye In Pulp Fiction

Today is Harvey Keitel’s 81st birthday.

Harvey Keitel is one of those actors who has given so many great performances that it’s difficult to pick which one is his best.  He’s almost always great, even when the film sometimes isn’t.  That said, I’ll always have a lot of affection for the character of Winston Wolfe, the cleaner that Keitel played in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

Keitel doesn’t show up until the final third of Pulp Fiction but once he does, he pretty much takes over the entire film.  For me, though, my favorite Winston Wolfe moment comes at the end of his story, when he says goodbye to John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson and essentially reveals himself to be kind of an old-fashioned, almost dorky (if impeccably dressed) guy.

Happy birthday, Harvey Keitel!

Scenes That I Love: The Opening Credits of Saturday Night Fever

Saturday Night Fever (1977, dir. John Badham)

Today is John Travolta’s birthday!

In honor of this day, here’s a scene that I love, the opening credits of Saturday Night Fever.  Watch as John Travolta, playing the role of Tony Manero, walks down the streets of Brooklyn, not letting the fact that he’s carrying two cans of paint do anything to lessen his strut.  Watch as Tony puts a down payment on a pair of shoes!  Thrill as Tony buys two slices of pizza!  Cringe as Tony bothers a woman who wants absolutely nothing to do with him!

This is one of the greatest introductions in film history.  Not only does it set Tony up as an exemplar of cool but it also subverts our expectations by revealing just how little being an exemplar of cool really means.  I always relate to the woman who gets annoyed with Tony and tells him to go away.  I know exactly how she feels, as does any woman who has ever been stopped in the middle of the street by some guy who thinks she has an obligation to talk him.  It doesn’t matter how handsome he is or how much time he obviously spent working on his hair.  He’s still just some guy carrying two buckets of paint and acting like she should be flattered that he spent half a minute staring at her ass before chasing after her.  For all of his carefully constructed attitude, Tony comes across as being a rather ludicrous figure in this introduction.  He carries those cans of paint like he’s going to war and you secretly get the feeling that he knows how silly he looks carrying them but he’s not going to allow anything to get in the way of his strut.

The rest of the film, of course, is about presenting who Tony actually is underneath the disco facade and it’s not always a pretty picture.  I actually discussed this with some friends this weekend while we were listening to combination of disco and punk music.  Saturday Night Fever has a reputation for being a fun dance movie but actually, it’s an extremely dark and rather depressing movie.  The opening song isn’t lying when it says that “I’m going nowhere.”  Tony is lost and, despite what happens in the sequel, he’s probably never going to escape his circumstances.  Even though he clearly wants to be a better person, you’re never quite convinced that he has what it takes to truly do that.  At least he can strut a little while waiting for the world to end.  It takes guts to give an honest performance when you’re playing as imperfect a character as Tony Manero but Travolta pulls it off.  (We won’t talk about some of the films that he made in the years immediately after this one.  Eventually, he did make a comeback with Pulp Fiction and spent several years again appearing in good films.  And then somehow, last year, he ended up starring in The Fanatic.  Oh well.  66 is not that old and I’m sure Travolta has more than one comeback within him.)

Anyway, happy birthday to John Travolta!  And here is today’s scene that I love:

Horror Scenes That I Love: Carrie Destroys The Prom

Today’s horror scene that I love comes from 1976’s Carrie.

This scene starts out on a note of happiness with Carrie (Sissy Spacek) and Tommy (William Katt) being named as Queen and King of the Prom.  Things, however, get a bit ominous when Sue (Amy Irving) notices that bucket of pig’s blood and Nancy Allen and John Travolta hanging out underneath the stage.  Things get even worse when the coach (Betty Buckley) refuses to listen to Sue and tosses her out of the gym.

And then suddenly, there’s blood everywhere and Piper Laurie’s chanting, “They’re all going to laugh at you …. they’re all going to laugh at you….”

Is everyone really laughing at Carrie?  I believe some of them are.  Norma is definitely laughing because I think the shot of the coach laughing is included to let us know that some of the laughter is strictly in Carrie’s mind.  Nothing about the character would lead us to suspect that the coach would laugh.  In fact, seeing as how the coach just threw out Sue, it’s debatable whether she would even be back among the crowd by the time the pig’s blood came down.

(Plus, would everyone be laughing even with Tommy, the most popular kid in school, lying dead on the stage?)

Anyway, regardless of whether they were all laughing or not, we all know what happens next!