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!

Musical Sequence of the Day: “You Never Can Tell” from Pulp Fiction


With the passing of Chuck Berry, today’s musical sequence of the day is a bit of a no-brainer.  This scene, from 1994’s Pulp Fiction, is already one of my favorite dance scenes and, today, it takes on a special poignance.

It’s funny.  Whenever there’s a montage of classic dance scenes, we always get at least a few seconds of John Travolta and Uma Thurman dancing at Jack Rabbits Slim.  In fact, I’ve seen this dance featured in so many montages that it’s easy to forget which song they were originally dancing to.  I’ve seen this scene scored with everything from Sinatra to punk to Britney Spears to EDM.  And, every time, it’s worked beautifully.

But really, “You Never Can Tell” is the perfect song for this scene.  Pulp Fiction is so many thing that I think people sometimes forget that, at heart, it’s truly a celebration of Americana.  Seeing John Travolta and Uma Thurman dancing to Chuck Berry serves to remind us of this fact.

Back to School Part II #10: Grease (dir by Randal Kleiser)


Grease_ver2

When it comes to reviewing Grease on this site, the film and I have a long and twisted history.  There have been several times when I was tempted to review Grease but one thing has always stopped me:

I absolutely hate this film.

Grease is one of my least favorite films and, to be honest, just thinking about it causes me pain.  Just about everyone that I know loves Grease.  They love the songs.  They love the music.  They love the performances.  They want to see it on stage.  They want to see it on the big screen.  They watch every time it pops up on AMC.

Growing up as a theater nerd means being surrounded by people who love Grease.  I cannot begin to count the number of times that I forced to watch this movie in school.  So many theater teachers seemed to feel that showing Grease in class was some sort of reward but, for me, it was pure torture.  And the fact that I was usually the only one who disliked the film made the experience all the more unbearable.

Back in 2014, when I was doing the first set of Back To School reviews, I was planning on reviewing Grease.  But I just could not bring myself to voluntarily relive the film.  Instead of putting myself through that misery, I decided to watch and review Rock ‘n’ Roll High School instead.  It was the right decision and I stand by it.

Jump forward two years and here I am doing Back to School again.  And again, for some reason, I had put Grease down as a film to review.  It’s just a movie, right?  And yet, after I finished writing my excellent review of Animal House, I again found myself dreading the idea of having to even think about Grease.

So, I said, “Fuck this,” and I promptly erased Grease from the list and I replaced it with Skatetown USA.  Then I watched Skatetown and I’m glad that I did because that was an experience that I can’t wait to write about!  And yet, I still had this nagging voice in the back of my mind.

“You’re going to have to review Grease at some point,” it said, “If not now, when?”

The voice had a point.  However, I was soon reminded that there was an even more important reason to review Grease.  A little further down on my list of Back to School films to review was a little film called Grease 2.  How could I possibly review Grease 2 if I hadn’t already reviewed Grease?  My OCD would not allow it!

And so, here I am, reviewing Grease.

Grease, of course, is a musical about teenagers in 1958.  Danny (John Travolta) is in love with Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Sandy is in love with Danny.  But Danny’s a greaser and Sandy’s Australian!  Will they be able to work it out, despite coming from different worlds?  Of course they will!  Danny’s willing to dress up like a jock in order to impress Sandy while Sandy’s willing to wear black leather to impress Danny!  Yay!  They go together!  And they’ve got a flying car, too!  YAY!

Screen-Shot-2013-07-12-at-13.51.48

And then Satan arrived…

Of course, there’s other subplots as well.  For instance, Frenchy (Didi Conn) nearly drops out of school but she’s visited by Satan (Frankie Avalon) and he manages to change her mind.  And Rizzo (Stockard Channing) might be pregnant because Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) hasn’t bought any new condoms since the 8th grade.  Comparing the sensitive way that teen pregnancy was handled on a show like Degrassi: The Next Generation with the way it’s handled in Grease is enough to make you want to sing “O Canada” every day for the rest of your life.

Here’s what I do like about Grease: Stockard Channing is great as Rizzo, though it’s hard not to feel that she deserves better than a doofus boyfriend like Kenickie and a boring bestie like Sandy.  I also like You’re The One That I Want.  That’s a fun song.

But as for the rest of the movie … BLEH!  I mean, it is so BORING!  It takes them forever to get to You’re The One That I Want.  Olivia Newton-John is so wholesome that she literally makes you want to tear your hair out while John Travolta pretty much acts on auto pilot.  As for the supporting cast, most of them appeared in the stage production of Grease and they still seem to be giving stage performances as opposed to film performances.  They’re still projecting their lines to the back of the house.  Worst of all, it’s obvious that director Randal Kleiser had no idea how to film a musical because the dance numbers are so ineptly staged and framed that, half the time, you can’t even see what anyone’s doing with their feet.  If you can’t see the feet, it defeats the whole purpose of having an elaborate dance number in the first place!

So, no, I don’t like Grease.

Sorry, everyone.

However, I’m sure I’ll enjoy Grease 2….

Love you, Canada!

Love you, Canada!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #74: Perfect (dir by James Bridges)


PerfectOkay,before reviewing the 1985 film Perfect, I have three things to say.

Number one, I nearly captioned the picture above “John Travolta, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Little Xenu.”  And then I laughed and laughed.  But, in the end, I resisted temptation because I’m an adult now.

Number two, Perfect came out in June in 1985, a few months before I was born.  As a result, I have no idea what the 1985 reviews looked like.  However, it still seems to me that you’re taking a big risk when you give a movie a title like Perfect, especially when the movie itself is far from perfect.  How many reviews opened with, “Perfect fails to live up to its name…”

And finally, as a result of seeing both this film and Staying Alive, I have to say, “What the Hell, John Travolta?”  Seriously, what the Hell was going on?  John Travolta gave a great performance in the 1970s, with Saturday Night Fever.  And then in the 1990s, he was good in Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, Face/Off, Primary Colors, and a few others.  (For our purposes here, we shall pretend that Battlefield Earth never happened.)  Even though most of Travolta’s recent films have been forgettable, his performances have generally been adequate.

So, seriously, John — what was going on in the 80s?  Because judging from both Perfect and Staying Alive, John Travolta apparently totally forgot how to act during that decade.  When I reviewed Staying Alive, I said that Travolta’s performance managed to create a whole new definition of bad.  But he’s actually even worse in Perfect.  It helped, of course, that in Staying Alive, Travolta’s character was supposed to be stupid.  In Perfect, on the other hand, he’s actually supposed to be a brilliant reporter.

Or, at the very least, he’s supposed to be brilliant by the standards of Rolling Stone.  Travolta plays Adam Lawrence, an award-winning reporter for Rolling Stone.  The magazine, by the way, plays itself and so does its publisher, Jann Wenner (though his character is technically named Mark Roth).  What’s interesting is that the film itself doesn’t necessarily paint a flattering picture of Rolling Stone or Jann Wenner, though admittedly a lot of that is due to the fact that Wenner himself gives a performance that is even worse than Travolta’s.  It’s impossible to watch Perfect without thinking about the fact that Adam is writing for the same magazine that would eventually put Dzokhar Tsarnaev on the cover and publish the UVA rape story.

Anyway, if I seem to avoiding talking about the exact plot of Perfect, that’s because there’s not really much of a plot to describe.  Adam, a hard-hitting investigative journalist, is doing research on a story about how people are hooking up at gyms.  Wenner agrees.  “We haven’t done L.A. in a while!” he says.  Adams joins the a gym called the Sports Connection, which he is soon calling “The Sports Erection” because he’s a super clever reporter.  He falls in love with an aerobics instructor, who is played by Jamie Lee Curtis.  She doesn’t trust reporters but is eventually won over by Travolta’s … well, who knows?  Mostly she’s won over because the plot needs some conflict.  She gets on Adam’s computer and she types, “Want to fuck?”  Adam says sure but then tries too hard to dig into the dark secret from her past.  “You’re a sphincter muscle!” she shouts as him.  Adam writes a compassionate and balanced article about the Sports Connection.  Wenner edits the article and turn it into a sordid hit piece.  (And again, you wonder why Wenner agreed to play himself.)  Feelings are hurt, issues are resolved, and eventually everyone takes an aerobics class.

Honestly, the entire movie is mostly just a collection of scenes of Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta working out.  And, in all fairness, Curtis does about as well as anyone could in this terrible film.  Travolta, on the other had … well, just check out the scene below and maybe you’ll understand why I had a hard time concentrating on Travolta’s acting.

Perfect fails to live up to its name.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #70: Staying Alive (dir by Sylvester Stallone)


StayingaliveOh my God, this is so bad.

The 1983 film Staying Alive is a sequel to Saturday Night Fever.  That’s right, Tony Manero’s back!  And, if possible, he’s even dumber than before.

Actually, that’s not fair.  The whole point of Saturday Night Fever was that Tony really was not that dumb.  He was poorly educated.  He was a prisoner of his culture and his economic situation.  If he acted stupid, it was because he lived in a world that distrusted intelligence.  If he was selfish, it was because that was his way of dealing with his own insecurities.  If we got frustrated with him, it’s because we knew he was capable of more than he realized he was.  In Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta gave such good performance and Tony was such a carefully drawn character that we forgave him for the many times that he let us down.

But, in Staying Alive, Tony is just an idiot.  Somehow, he’s managed to escape Brooklyn.  He now works as a waiter and a dance instructor and goes on auditions for Broadway shows.  He has no contact with his old friends.  (He never even mentions the night that one of them jumped off a bridge.)  He lives in one of those scary New York flophouses — apparently the same one that Travis Bickle called home in Taxi Driver — but otherwise, Tony’s doing pretty well for himself.  The only problem is that Tony is now a complete and total moron.

That really is the only conclusion that one can draw from John Travolta’s performance here.  It’s not just that Travolta gives a bad performance in a role for which he was once nominated for an Oscar.  It’s that Travolta gives such a bad performance that he actually transcends the accepted definition of bad.  He resurrects all the tics from his Saturday Night Fever performance but he goes so overboard with them that you feel like you’re watching someone do an imitation of John Travolta playing Tony Manero than actually watching John Travolta.

Speaking of self-parody, Staying Alive was directed by Sylvester Stallone.  Now, I know that when you think of the ideal director for a dance movie, Sylvester Stallone is probably the first name that comes to mind.

As for the film itself, Tony gets a job working in the chorus of a Broadway show called Satan’s Alley and, wouldn’t you know it, he eventually replaces the male lead.  Tony finds himself torn between the bitchy (and, somewhat inevitably, British) star of the show (Finola Hughes) and his long-suffering, on-and-off again girlfriend Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes).

Jackie, incidentally, is also the lead singer in a band.  The band’s guitarist, Carl, is in love with her.  Guess who plays Carl?  Frank Stallone!  That’s right, the director’s brother.  There is a hilarious scene where Carl plays guitar while shooting a death glare at Tony.  Frank really nails that death glare.

But, ultimately, the main appeal of Staying Alive is that we get to see Satan’s Alley, which is probably the most unintentionally hilarious fake Broadway show to ever be immortalized on film.  Satan’s Alley is about one man’s journey into Hell and… well, that really sums it up, doesn’t it?  If you asked someone who has never danced, never listened to music, and perhaps never actually stepped outside of their bedroom to write a Broadway musical, chances are that they would come up with something like Satan’s Alley.

And they’d probably cast Tony Manero as the lead!