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AbstractSaturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977) concludes with the protagonist, seemingly weary of the company of his delinquent friends (given over to gang violence and gang rape, and in the wake of the needless death of the youngest and most disorientated), finding a moment of peace in the apartment of his previously unenthused girlfriend. They have reconciled, a future together has begun, and “How Deep is Your Love” by the Bee Gees – a major international chart hit of 1977 – plays over the closing credits. The couple’s connection was initially based on shared disco dancing abilities, and their get-togethers on the dance floor and in the dance studio have offered the opportunity of an escape for each. For Tony Manero (John Travolta), the escape is from his underpaid blue-collar job and suffocating family tensions – where his life at home, as a second-generation Italian immigrant, seems like stepping back into the old country for family meals, in sharp contrast to the grooming he devotes to his appearance, upstairs in his bedroom. Once outside, the very streets of New York seem to have been recast as a dance floor – via mobile shots of Travolta’s feet, pacing with a cocksure swagger to the beat of the Bee Gees soundtrack. For Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney), the escape is from more obscure forms of patriarchal exploitation, enacted via her aspirations to a glamourous and independent life, which can be read as calibrated to an imagining of the nightclub Studio 54 (which opened in 1977), not least in her celebrity name-dropping and initial distaste for her uncultured suitor. The final shot of Saturday Night Fever frames the couple in her apartment: polished wooden floors, exposed brick walls, a healthy rubber plant, an acoustic guitar resting against a sofa, and a window ledge looking out across Manhattan – a much more desirable locale than the film’s initial setting of Tony’s Brooklyn (see Figure 1). In short, to return to “How Deep is Your Love”, the couple have realised that they were “living in a world of fools / breaking us down when they all should let us be / [since] we belong to you and me”, and enshrine this shared sentiment in domestication. The New York of 1977 has tested them and their success in meeting this test has allowed them to take a synchronised step forward, and establish themselves on an upwardly mobile trajectory.
CitationHalligan, B. (2019) World’s end: punk films from London and New York, 1977-1984, in McKay, G. and Arnold, G. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Punk and Post-Punk. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
PublisherOxford University Press
TypeChapter in book