Yesterday I was zapping when I spotted a very familiar movie – the famous (at least to my generation) Saturday Night Fever, that made John Travolta famous, turning him into the idol of all teenage girls. Myself included.
I decided to watch it from the beginning, and I loved every minute, recalling the long-ago day of December 78 when I went to movies to see it. I could never forget that date – not only because it was the movie everyone wanted to see but also because it was the first time I was allowed to go to a movie with my friends, even if chaperoned by my younger brother. By that time, we already knew all the songs of the magnificent soundtrack by heart, dancing at parties, from the energetic “Stayin’Alive” and the great rhythm of “Night Fever” to the irresistibly romantic ballad “How Deep Is Your Love”.
Back then I loved it unreservedly, from the first scene when you can see John Travolta walking on the street at the sound of “Stayin’ Alive”, with his mid-heel boots and bell bottoms that showed off his lean figure. You simply had to fall in love with him, with his blue eyes and black hair, his dimpled chin and his lost boy look mixed with that of a Don Juan; as for his dancing scenes, they still leave me breathless, as they did back then.
Forty-two years later I discovered the movie’s success is certainly not due to the story. Even if it portrays some of the dilemmas that generation – my generation – faced: repressive parents who barely understood us; sex as a taboo, where virginity was an issue for girls – they were either “good” (when they were still virgins) or “bad” (when they no longer were). And boys talked; after the deed was done everyone knew about it, so there was no escape. It also broaches the subject of abortion (utterly forbidden, but the only way to escape marriage in case of a teenage pregnancy) and, last but not least, the anguish of the main character about his future. He has a job in a hardware store he doesn’t care about, just for the money, and what he enjoys doing – and everybody says he does very well – is dancing, but he really doesn’t know what to do with it.
It’s not even a love story – not a proper one, at least – between him and the girl he dances with. He fancies her but she’s slightly older – a year or two matter when you’re eighteen, almost nineteen – and she is already working and seems to live in another world, but somehow you feel she makes up most of the stories she tells him about herself.
Then, I wonder, how does this movie become one of the biggest hits of all time, an unforgettable movie for a whole generation? Because it has magic in it. Somehow, the mix of Travolta’s blue eyes and his dancing, the story of a bunch of teenagers who only wanted to enjoy life and have a future, and the music, the irresistible music, create something very special; not a story that unfolds to a happy ending, but one you enjoy every moment of. In this movie it’s not reaching the end that counts, but how you enjoy the trip.
After Saturday Night Fever, life was never the same again for teenagers. Certainly, dancing wasn’t, as for a long time everyone imitated Travolta’s steps on the dance floor, raising your arms as you danced – and this had a name. It was called Travoltamania.
No wonder I spent a great hour and a half watching the movie yesterday. I laughed, I danced, I sang, and I was happy, and sad, with John Travolta and his friends. And I remembered – oh yes, I remembered – the very meaning of the words “Stayin’ alive”. That was how we felt then. Alive, so alive, with our whole life ahead of us, enjoying each moment intensely, so full of dreams. And while we waited for those dreams to come true, we made the most of life, and we danced.
After all, didn’t one of the songs -also by the Bee Gees – say, “You Should Be Dancing”?