This Day in History: December 16th- The Fever

This Day In History: December 16, 1977

the-fever“Would ya just watch the hair? Ya know, I work on my hair a long time and you hit it. He hits my hair.” – Tony Manero

At first, all you see are highly-shined shoes and swishing black flared pants strutting down a New York City street in perfect rhythm to the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” Then the camera pans up to a swinging paint can held by an impossibly cocky and good looking young man. He is 19-year-old Tony Manero, hardware store employee by day, undisputed king of the 2001 Odyssey disco at night.

Saturday Night Fever, which opened in theaters on December 16, 1977, told the story of Tony Manero, played by John Travolta, who escaped the harsh realities of his life – dead end job, crummy family life, loser friends, unrequited love – by wowing ‘em at the disco with his killer dance moves. He did it in a pristine white polyester suit to one of the best movie soundtracks of all time, making disco a worldwide phenomenon.

The movie and its soundtrack both proved to be incredibly successful. The tie-in single (“Stayin Alive”) was released before the film to drum up interest, and the movie bolstered sales of the soundtrack when it hit the shelves, which turned out to be one of the top-selling albums in history.

Funny enough, the man that provided the inspiration for the movie was completely clueless about the disco scene. Although his 1976 article in New York Magazine called “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” ignited the spark that became “Saturday Night Fever”, Nik Cohn was British, and he based Tony Manero on a mod friend.

Many critics considered the movie to be one of the best of 1977. Film critic Gene Siskel went on record as saying “Saturday Night Fever” was his favorite film, and reportedly saw it at least 17 times. He was particularly impressed by Travolta’s performance, saying, “Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.” He even bought that famous white suit Travolta wore in the movie at a charity auction; Siskel was seriously hardcore.

“Saturday Night Fever” touched on all aspects of popular culture of the late 1970s – the emphasis on symphony-orchestrated dance music, the pre-AIDS sexual free-for-all, the I-can’t-believe-we-really-wore-that-crap fashion, and line dancing before country music took it over. The Library of Congress agreed, deeming the movie “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” in 2010, and it will be preserved for all time as part of the National Film Registry. The movie soundtrack has been given the nod by the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress as well.

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