"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Staying Alive

July 15, 1983

Earlier in this series we talked about how PSYCHO II was a risky, unlikely sequel of ’83 that was so good it actually went over pretty well. There’s another one that did not go over well at all (though it made about $30 million more than PSYCHO II at the box office). Like RETURN OF THE JEDI, this one is a sequel to a huge hit and pop culture phenomenon from 1977.

How is it that there’s a sequel to SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and it’s directed by Sylvester Stallone, but I didn’t see it until now? I was always curious, but I knew it wasn’t about disco, it looks like he’s doing aerobics on the cover, and I’d only ever heard it mentioned as a punchline, so it stayed low on my watch list until I decided to study the summer of ’83. Only after watching it did I read up on it and realize it was pretty much a universally hated movie. Wikipedia says it’s “the earliest film to hold a score of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.” It has an average of 23 on Metacritic. World’s biggest SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER fan Gene Siskel called it “a typically weak sequel that has no legitimate artistic reason for being.” A 2006 Entertainment Weekly list called it the worst sequel of all time. I actually couldn’t find a positive review, and few that weren’t scathing, seething, disgusted.

But I’m not crazy, the world is crazy, when I tell you I genuinely enjoyed STAYING ALIVE. I’m not trying to be a show off here, I’m just coming to it with vastly different artistic values, I think. I’m not a circa-1983 critic determined to assassinate the exploiters of a sacred text of the ‘70s, or a Razzie voter avenging popular actors for being hunky, or a snarkster eager to snicker at The Worst Sequels of All Time!!! can you believe it!? How did this get made!? I come to it as a fan of Sylvester Stallone who discovered that holy shit, this is the missing link of his directorial work, not just the movie he did between ROCKY III and IV, but the stylistic bridge between them. It’s also very ROCKY-like in its content, with its ham and egger underdog chasing his dreams – a huge plus to me, but used as a criticism in every review I looked at – so it’s clearly very personal to the director.

I’m also coming to it as a guy who watched the two chapters of the Tony Manero saga pretty much back to back and not only enjoyed that they’re very different from each other, but that that they explore the idea of this character struggling, with moderate success, to not be quite as much of a piece of shit as he used to be. It’s funny to read the reviews complaining that he doesn’t fight with his family in this one, the same way they might complain if Spider-Man didn’t use his webs enough or something. They remembered that as the good part, they wanted more of that. But I think it’s also related to that thing I’ve written about before, how we grew up believing cynicism was always deeper than optimism, happy endings were selling out, etc. Tony’s dumbass friends would also be disappointed in him for apologizing to his mom. “Jesus, what are you doing? What, are you a fairy, Tony?”

Yes, the ugliness of the first film is essential to its greatness. This is another movie that does a totally different thing. Sorry, #NotMyManero nerds. I was proud of him for growing. I don’t relate to him much in the first one, but everybody can relate to wanting to stop fucking up as bad.

The Stallone-ness is immediately undeniable. The opening credits play over an ass-kicking ROCKY-III-esque musical montage as Tony auditions for a Broadway show. Kurtwood Smith plays a scowling choreographer – we never hear his voice, or see him again. Although the soundtrack has five new Bee Gees songs, the opening tune “Far from Over” sounds like something that would be in a ROCKY sequel… because it’s by Frank Stallone! And I didn’t have to look it up to know that it was written with synth maniac Vince DiCola (TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE). If you’ve listened to his score for ROCKY IV as many times as I have (particularly the training montage) you’ll recognize him too.

As the song is wrapping up Smith points to Tony, he leaves in disappointment, and the first diegetic sound we hear is the door slamming behind him. Now, in an echo of the iconic strut that opened SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, we get a dejected stroll down the sidewalk, with no music. But it’s still bouncy and cocky and he looks early’-80s-cool-as fuck with his leather jacket over v-neck undershirt.

He never mentions her, but he’s following the path of part 1’s Stephanie: moving from Brooklyn to Manhattan, trying to break into the entertainment industry however he can. He auditions as a background dancer for shows, is willing to act or model, gets rejected by every talent agency in a montage Stallone surely related to. He lives in a rathole called the Fulton Hotel, where he cleans his shirts in the shower and waits for callbacks on the lobby payphone. His day job is teaching classes at Fatima’s Danceland (“Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Disco” the sign says) where his girlfriend Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes, FLASHDANCE) also teaches.

When night comes around there’s a brilliant touch: a shot of a club. People dancing to a band. In the middle of the crowd is Tony in a white shirt and black vest, spinning around… and then the camera pulls back just enough to reveal that he’s carrying a plate of drinks, ‘cause he’s a server there. He still walks cocky, but the dance floor does not part for him anymore. Female customers talk to him kinda the way he used to talk to women. Two of them try to recruit him for a get-together but he says, “The last time I came over I almost got brain damage, you guys party too hard. You oughta be a tag team.” One of them says, “Guys like you, you aren’t relationships. You’re exercise.”

Jackie is really nice, works hard as a dancer without expecting fame, also has a regular club gig singing in a band with Frank Stallone and Richie Sambora (apparently filmed at CBGB, but doesn’t look like it). Tony is much sweeter with her than he was with anybody in the first movie, except he gets possessive of her around Frank Stallone’s character Carl (“that singer and you were harmonizin a little too well”) and he doesn’t always seem as invested in the relationship as she does. She thinks he’s jealous of her being in a show. But he goes to see the last performance of it and repeats exactly what he did to Annette: staring in awe at another dancer – the show’s star, Laura (Finola Hughes, THE APPLE) – and immediately pursuing her while brushing off Jackie’s questions about what he’s up to.

After the show, while Jackie gets changed, he follows Laura to her dressing room, bothers her for several minutes and asks her out. She disses him pretty effectively, but he tries to tell her about his new world view: “I amazingly respect your dancing talent, all right, and I respect your womanhood. I didn’t always respect womanhood but since I moved into Manhattan I got this— this new, mature outlook on life. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t curse.”

She gets him to try out for a new show she’s in, watches his audition while dressed like an old timey adventurer, and flirts with him in the hallway afterwards. They go on the classic movie date (musical montage of walking and talking through the city and various parks, plus horse-drawn carriage ride) and end up in bed together at her place. After she kicks him out at 3 am but says she’ll see him again (she’s at least as good at sweet talking as he ever was) he excitedly calls Jackie from a pay phone and wakes her up. They both end up getting parts in the show.

Laura wears fur coats and rides everywhere in a limo. She dodges questions about her wealth but “everyone says she comes from money.” She gives Tony a taste of his own medicine, acting like he’s special to her, then ignoring him in favor of other men, including Jesse (Steve Inwood, NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER, FAME), the chainsmoking, bearded, sweater-wearing director of the show. Tony keeps falling for it and keeps standing up Jackie until she breaks up with him. She pulls a The Kid in PURPLE RAIN by performing a song that’s obviously about him in front of him. After seeing him successfully walk all over Annette in the first film, I was so proud of Jackie quietly, firmly telling him that she loves him but can’t let him treat her like this anymore.

A great sequel moment is when Tony is trying to figure out what to wear to a fancy rich person party and he gets out what appears to be the suit from the first movie.

I’m pretty sure they cheat it with some tailoring at the very least, but next we see him strutting up in what’s supposed to be the suit with the lapels flipped up and a light blue v-neck underneath to be fashionable for the era between AMERICAN GIGOLO and Miami Vice. And it looks good!

He’s still wearing this when Jackie dumps him and he walks across the fateful a bridge, past 2001 Odyssey (now a strip club) and to his mom’s house. She appears to live alone, and seems happier. The next day he tries to make amends. “The way I used to act, the way I treated everybody, I was very hard on you, and I just, I just wanted to say it’s not me, all right? That wasn’t me.”

When she asks, “What, are you kidding me?” and “Apologizing for what? What are you saying, that wasn’t the real you back then?” it seems like she’s gonna go into a timeless critique of half-assed apologies. If you did it, that was the real you, Tony. But instead she tells him “This attitude you’re talkin about, that’s what got you outta this damn neighborhood. So don’t go apol— you don’t need to apologize, ‘cause you musta been doing somethin right.”

I think unfortunately Mom has rationalized being treated shitty by the men in her life as an important survival mechanism for the men. But Tony seems to get that. “So what you’re sayin is I’ve always been this bastard, but it’s all right, ‘cause it comes natural to me.” He’s serious, but they’re able to laugh about it.

It seems to me Tony has found this “real me” who yearns not to be “this bastard” by living in a new context where all the significant people in his life are women. In his youth he bounced between his asshole father and his entourage of homophobic gang rapists. I don’t think he has any male friends in Manhattan. He’s standoffish and competitive with Carl, Jesse, the other bartenders, the guy whose role he steals. I don’t think we ever see him talking to any of the other male dancers. But he has long talks with Jackie, Laura, his mom. He has a female boss, Fatima (Norma Donaldson, WILLIE DYNAMITE, 9 TO 5), who he seems to like more than she likes him, though she’s only in one scene.

Talking to his mom is a turning point that inspires his first try at a sincere apology to Jackie, saying, “Look, I know I treat you bad, and I know I got terrible manners, but the people I grew up with had terrible manners, after a while you gotta know that some of this rubs off on you.” But he’s instantly back to his old possessiveness, telling her Carl is a pervert because he plays rhythm guitar. She gets him good with the performatively sweet way she says good night to Carl. People say they laugh at this movie but I think Tony is genuinely a funny character, in the same way as before but now it’s easier to like him and laugh with him because he’s making an effort to not suck.

The sequel makes Tony Manero the thing that Stallone always was, but that Tony was too much of a bastard to be the first time around: the inarticulate lug with a passionate, artistic soul. He’s kinda dumb and has a corny sense of humor, he’s an unreformed flirt, but he made the choice to leave behind his status as royalty in Bay Ridge to live in a shitty flophouse, learn new things, and go after his dream. As the song said, his life was goin nowhere, and Jackie ends up being the somebody he’s pleading for help from. They make their relationship more real through dance, working together so he can learn the lead role, swoop in and steal it from the guy who already has it. Director Jesse goes for it because “What you have is anger, and a certain intensity, and that’s what I need to make the show work.” Getting that one in a million chance as a gimmick, like Rocky Balboa.

I think by the end of the movie Tony has become more sincere than full of shit, and I believe he really means it when he gives Jackie a better apology, though we could feel more sure about that if she didn’t reward him by inviting him to bed. But it’s her decision.

One of Tony’s shortcomings that is not addressed is all the bigotry he and the boys displayed back in the neighborhood. I really wondered what those dirtbags would think if they saw him doing this kind of dancing, with all these muscular men. I don’t think the movie needed to say anything directly, but with all the gay men in his chosen industry it would’ve been cool to see if he’s become comfortable around them. Never happens. And there’s one point where he refers to Carl as “that fruit musician.” But he says it in the context of accusing him of trying to steal Jackie. Baby steps, I guess.

I wondered if we’d see what happened to any of his friends, but the only returning characters are Tony and his mom. I read that they shot cameos for Frank Sr. and Annette, but they were cut. I got the impression Frank Sr. was dead, and that works. I would’ve liked to see Annette, but maybe that would’ve been too much of a reminder of Tony’s past sins.

To me the weakness of the movie is that following the ROCKY template in a dance context means the performance of the show (“Satan’s Alley” – opposite of PARADISE ALLEY?) takes up the last act, and it just doesn’t have the same amount of tension or suspense as a boxing match. It also seems like a cheesy and ridiculous show (Laura is some kind of devil lady tempting Tony, the others dance around like zombies in dry ice, later there’s a big S&M scene where they whip him). I don’t think I’d know what a good modern show looked like anyway, so I enjoy this excess, but I guess I can see how it was worthy of mockery at the time, and doesn’t stand up as a piece of entertainment on its own the way, say, MAGIC MIKE’S LAST DANCE might. But again, this is the way Stallone does his boxing matches – some story at the beginning and the end, but in the middle time passes through the power of impressionistic montage. I like the series of dissolves between different slo-mo shots of Tony and Laura leaping in the air.

I don’t think it’s supposed to be as funny as it is when he spins her around (spinning POV shot like in the first movie) and throws her across the stage so he can take an unauthorized solo. If I understand correctly he was supposed to be alone for his “ascent to Heaven” on a rising platform, but he convinces Laura to jump to him and then somehow lifts her above his head with one hand? I guess he gave it a new ending on the spot and shared the glory with her. I don’t know. But Jackie and Jesse are both into it. And his mom, in the audience.

That’s some Sylvester Stallone shit, and some of this stuff on stage foreshadows the pageantry of Drago’s entrance to fight Apollo Creed in ROCKY IV. Like Rocky, Tony ends it with blood dripping down his face (he kisses Laura during the show, so she pokes him in the eye). And it’s not the first one, where he just survives, it’s the sequels, where he wins. It’s a happier happier ending than the first film, because he makes the right decisions (turn down Laura, tell Jackie he couldn’t have done it without her), then he says “Know what I wanna do? Do you know what I wanna do? Strut,” and he kicks open the door and happily struts down the street to “Stayin’ Alive.” No paint bucket, and no Jackie, but still fun. Even Ebert said he liked that part. (the fan service)

Producer Robert Stigwood got the sequel ball rolling as soon as SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER was a hit, but Travolta didn’t like the script by Norman Wexler, later calling it “an anti-dance piece, very cynical.” Since Travolta didn’t budge for several years Stigwood and Wexler agreed to start over based on the actor’s ideas about Tony pursuing a role on Broadway. Then Travolta saw ROCKY III and told his agent “This is a wild idea, but if I could get the kind of energy and excitement and pacing that Stallone brought to ROCKY III, that’s where I think this movie is going.” Little did he know they would get Stallone himself to do it.

It’s interesting that John Badham took over directing SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER from ROCKY director John G. Avildsen, but Tony still had a ROCKY poster in his bedroom, and then Stallone became the director of the ROCKY sequels, which led to him directing the SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER sequel. Stallone has a cameo when Tony passes him on a crowded sidewalk, and they turn and look at each other. I’m gonna interpret that as Tony seeing his hero on the street but then telling himself nah, that can’t be him.

Travolta said that “Norman had written a more realistic ending, where Tony ends up in the chorus with a hope of someday getting something else,” but he asked Stallone to “put it in overdrive and send it into space.” Stallone – who ended up with a screenwriting credit alongside Wexler – also convinced Travolta to take out the cursing to make it PG like ROCKY. (Okay, I did think that was weird when he said he stopped cursing.)

I’ve read that Wexler was furious about Stallone’s changes; I could not find any specifics. Maybe calling it STAYING ALIVE instead of STAYIN’ ALIVE betrayed his famous street vernacular. I really do suspect Stallone rewrote the dialogue, because practically everything Tony says sounds like something Stallone would say. Can’t you imagine Rocky hearing a British accent and asking, “So, uh, exactly where are you imported from, the vicinity of England?” Or getting a door slammed in his face, turning to a random witness and saying, “Strong draft in there, huh?”

After Tony sleeps with Laura he marvels about her dancing, saying, “It’s like watchin smoke move or somethin… I don’t know, it’s like you really did somethin with your life. And I think you’re significant.” Who else would describe her with such lunkheaded artistry, then compliment her on her, uh… significance?

Not that Travolta ever seems to be doing a Rocky impression. He’s just speaking the Stallone dialogue, the way he’d later speak the Tarantino dialogue. Even setting aside the physical demands of the dancing he’s really good in this, and probly more handsome than anything else I’ve ever seen him in. He’s got a million dollar smile, and now Tony has something genuine to back it up with.

I don’t remember if I’ve seen buff Travolta before, and I figured that was Sly’s influence. Sure enough, a New York Times article published the week of the film’s release reported that “Under Mr. Stallone’s guidance, Mr. Travolta trained for almost five months, working six days a week and sometimes 14 or 16 hours a day. He lost almost 20 pounds, built up his chest, his arms and his legs in order to achieve a professional dancer’s body.” I think these days we call that dedication to a role. Back then they called it ego.

This movie is so Stallone! That was the complaint at the time, but it’s exactly what I hope for in A Sylvester Stallone Film. This is the only one Stallone ever directed without playing one of the main roles, and the only one besides PARADISE ALLEY that’s not in the Rocky, Rambo or Expendables series, yet it doesn’t feel like some unrelated for-hire gig. It’s pure Sly.

I think it’s a good looking movie. Some of the lighting reminded me of FLASHDANCE, so I was surprised that d.p. Nick McLean was the same guy who shot STROKER ACE. Production designer Robert F. Boyle is a legend, though – he did NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE BIRDS, and MARNIE.

Maybe more significant players are choreographers Dennon & Sayhber Rawles (VOYAGE OF THE ROCK ALIENS) and editors Peter E. Berger (HOT POTATO), Mark Warner (ROCKY III, 48 HRS.) and Don Zimmerman (also ROCKY III, and he must’ve been Stallone’s favorite since he later did ROCKY IV, COBRA, and OVER THE TOP). I think this is where my biggest disagreement with those early ‘80s critics comes, and this also applies to FLASHDANCE, HIGHLANDER, ROCKY III and especially ROCKY IV. If you read contemporary reviews of any of those movies there’s a high probability you’ll see them dismissed as being too much like music videos. The conventional wisdom was that music videos were a lower artform, empty bullshit to rot the brains of your stupid teenagers, not worthy of the big screen. Instead of getting excited about a new style, they thought somebody was doing it wrong. That’s not what movies are supposed to be like! Keep it the old way! So they rejected anything they thought was slick in that MTV way, that had stylish lighting, propulsive momentum, quick edits to the beat of a modern soundtrack. Things that Stallone pushed really far in those movies, and did a great job at.

Ebert said STAYING ALIVE would probly be divided up into clips to show on MTV and called it “a Walkman for the eyes,” the reference to a current technology used by the youths meant to sting. People thought Stallone was dating the movies with these choices and making them instantly obsolete – in fact he was making them stand out from the movies of their time and from later movies that share the same influences but don’t generally do it as well or as with as much energy of the new. It’s amazing to me how many people will complain that this music and dance movie gets carried away with all the music and dance. But again, it wasn’t what they expected, since that’s not what the first movie was.

I’m certainly not gonna convince anybody that this is a great movie, or that it fulfilled their needs for a SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER sequel, if there was ever any chance of being open to such a thing. But the controversial point that I must stand firmly behind is that this is a legitimate movie on its own merits. Its mix of earnest cheesiness (some of the songs, Satan’s Alley) and technical excellence (the acting, the work of the dancers, and especially the editing of musical montages), plus its heart-on-its-sleeve passion for this macho dipshit trying to treat women better and make a living with his art, are essential to what I love about Stallone, and a natural fit with where Travolta wanted to take his signature character as disco faded in memory and his thirties were approaching.

It’s all right, it’s okay, and you may look the other way, but fuck it, man: I love STAYING ALIVE.

Signs o’ the times: An E.T. marquee during the strutting scene.

Where are they later: Second unit director Thomas J. Wright went on to first unit direct Hulk Hogan in NO HOLDS BARRED.

p.s. There are reports that a dancer in white suspenders glimpsed in some shots of the Satan’s Alley rehearsal montage is the great Patrick Swayze. I tried pausing and it looks like it could be him at times, other times it really doesn’t look like him. Here’s one of the more like him frames:

It’s not listed on his IMDb, and he would’ve been busy around this time, since THE OUTSIDERS, the TV movie and six-episode series The Renegades, and UNCOMMON VALOR all came out in 1983. Would he really be able to fit in an intensive but uncredited bit part at this stage in his career? It’s possible, but I’m not as convinced as other people that it’s him.

p.p.s. Seeing STAYING ALIVE made me wish it had gone over better so there could be a part 3. I thought about it for a while and I decided this is the part 3 I wish existed: Travolta uses his newfound PULP FICTION clout to set up YOU SHOULD BE DANCING, released in 1995. It’s a one crazy night movie where Tony goes back to Brooklyn to attend his 20th high school reunion, visiting all surviving characters. Then he convinces them all to come into the city with him to go to an underground rave. Stylistically in league with ‘90s indie movement, awkwardly script doctored by Tarantino, soundtrack by Chemical Brothers.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 13th, 2023 at 3:29 pm and is filed under Reviews, Drama. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

32 Responses to “Staying Alive”

  1. Needless to say, while I understood this was not the sequel Saturday Night Fever fans wanted, the think it’s magnificent. I loved how over the top it is.

    The first time I ever got to interview stallone I asked him if he could do Staying Alive over again what he’d do differently, He gave me a really thoughtful answer, that he was really into the prep and getting Travolta in shape, but got bored and disconnected once filming began. That might be a little retroactive humility as Sly tends to badmouth his failures to re-endear himself to his fans. But now I wonder if this isn’t exacerbated the movie he intended to make. Either way I’m glad he did.

  2. This review sums up how I feel about John Boorman’s EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC. Reviled by fans of the movie it’s meant to be a sequel to, but very much of a piece with the cult classics the director made before and after it (in his case ZARDOZ and EXCALIBUR). And it too has a cheesy but entertaining dance sequence.

    ROCKY and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER are so similar in their basic setup – working-class guy in gritty 1970s urban America trying to pull himself up in a competitive pursuit – that it seems natural for Stallone to get involved in the sequel to the latter.

    I’ve actually never seen STAYING ALIVE but am now curious to check it out.

  3. That imaginary 90s sequel would’ve been interesting.* I wouldn’t be surprised if in recent years the idea for a legacy sequel has been floating around in Hollywood, probably only prevented by either Travolta’s lack of willingness to return to this character, Travolta’s current state as box office poison (again) or just the lack or actual nostalgia for these movies, outside of the soundtrack. The misperception of SNF as goofy disco musical would probably make a modern day sequel a pretty difficult sell. And it would probably portray Tony as a sad old man who lost everything, but now tries to mentor a hip young dancer (who gets most of the screentime) and tries to prevent him (or her) from doing the same mistakes that he did (with mixed results).

    *Although I doubt that the Chemicals would’ve scored it, considering that they had just released their first album in 95 and I think the less pop-ish part of electronic music was still too underground to greenlight a movie with such a score. Maybe a soundtrack album. I mean, HACKERS and MORTAL KOMBAT came out the same year. Would’ve been interesting to see Travolta dance to Utah Saints and Orbital.

  4. I quite liked this when I saw it in the 00s and liked it even more when I rewatched it last year, pleasantly surprised to see Vern seems to like it even more than I do.

    I get that doing PG sequels to R-Rated films is always going to represent a kind of watering down, but I think it does make a degree of thematic sense for a young Catholic man of those times like Tony to want to clean up his act, even swearing. And it’s funny that his scene with his mother he’s basically saying “I’m sorry I used to be so R-Rated ma”. The direction had already been kind of decided with that PG Cut of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER I mentioned yesterday.

    Oddly GREASE 2 also had a maybe-Swayze/maybe a lookalike cameo; it was eventually confirmed to be someone else though. Speaking of Swayze if you want to see a fun/campy Disco movie that is maybe closer to what people imagine SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER to be, SKATETOWN, U.S.A. is a fun watch.

    Interesting this did so well despite its reputation. People by and large weren’t as self-conscious or defensive about liking movies that had poor reviews before the Tomatofication of film culture of course. It’s a rookie mistake to think just because a movie made money people like it, but this did make more than 5 times its Opening Weekend Gross, so it seems the word of mouth may not have been that bad.

    Did people universally perceive that Disco was dead in 1983? I’m sure trendy people did, but most people aren’t trendy. There are certainly some pretty big Disco hits that came out long after Demolition Night, and if you weren’t up on your labels certain (for example) Luther Vandross, Hall & Oates and even Duran Duran songs that were big in the early-mid 80s could sound like Disco, right? Not to mention artists associated with disco like Donna Summer and Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang continuing to have big hits. Of course Hollywood moves a lot slower than the music business (wasn’t Dubstep “dead” long before Deadpool asked if it will be in the future?), but a hit sequel to the iconic Disco film and named after one of the cannon songs suggests history was, as always, perhaps a little less neat than we remember it.

    There’s a 1986 G.I. JOE episode where Cobra Commander insults an underling’s plan for being “deader than disco”. Perhaps it was he who brought the final blow.

  5. This just isn’t my kind of movie and no amount of Stalloneisms can change that. There are some good lines and some Grade-A ridiculousness but overall it’s too cornball for me to enjoy that much, even ironically. I’m surprised they didn’t have to put on a show to save the rec center. You expect me to buy this A STAR IS BORN bullshit, especially on the heels of the depressing but well done realism of SNF, you better have a better climax up your sleeve than whatever the fuck that final dance number is.

    As dumb as it though, it’s still better than the entirety of CATS, an actual Broadway musical that millions of people paid to see. So maybe it’s not so unrealistic after all.

  6. For the record, this review attracted an automated comment that began “RE: ‘I’m not crazy, the world is crazy’ – Right, everyone ‘knows’ the world is crazy (which always ‘conveniently’ means the world/OTHER people, usually the governing authorities, are crazy but not they themselves, of course). Yet, curiously, no one typically offers an good explanation on why the world is crazy,” then blathered on with incoherent faux-intellectual bullshit for a couple paragraphs before providing “COVID is a hoax” links.

  7. Fuckin illuminati always be tryna suppress our freedom loving patriot spambots.

  8. There’s a quote floating around Twitter–my failing mind can’t even recollect which auteur said it–about how Hollywood has as much talent as ever, it’s just that audiences aren’t sophisticated enough to support that talent over… well, Google Snow White for the example du jour.

    That seems a little pseudointellectual to me, but hearing that there was a lighter and softer sequel to a gritty, R-rated original that played to all the pop culture perceptions of that original and gave the asshole a redemption arc… and that society soundly rejected it…

    Well, geez, wouldn’t it be great if we were able to muster up as sound a “fuck off!” to J.J. Abrams? Wouldn’t it?

    Box office bomb Super 8.

  9. #MyManero straight up murdered a projectionist for playing GREASE and not SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE; This guy, though? poser!

    (Great review!)

  10. Wait, what is wrong with Snow White and which version of it is he or she talking about?

  11. Disney’s rebooting it in live-action; instead of seven dwarves, there’s one dwarf and six random RenFaire workers.

  12. That has been revealed to be a hoax, as a cursory glance at the supposed pictorial proof should make obvious.

  13. As noted earlier the film was a hit; it was popular enough that (warning; hacky joke about easy target coming) the main song from the film was a Top 10 hit even though it was by Frank Stallone. I wasn’t there, so I could be wrong, but it seems to me if we’re saying this was rejected by society so was RISE OF SKYWALKER.

  14. So were most Transformers movies pre-Bumblebee. You do get the odd movie that’s both widely despised and makes mad money.

  15. It’s a classic dichotomy: You CANNOT have a movie that’s BOTH widely despised and makes mad money.

    I heartily despise THOR LOVE AND THUNDER. I consider it to be cinematic excrement of the first order, the absolute nadir of an already hyper-disappointing post ENDGAME MCU.

    It’s worldwide gross: US760Million. And WITHOUT playing in the lucrative China Market.

    So…I despised it, some of the Perpetually Online MAY have heartily despised it. A whole bunch of people didn’t.

    BvS: DAWN OF JUSTICE, supposed to a CRIME AGAINST CINEMA in many corners of the Internet, a view shared by some commenters here as well.

    Worldwide Gross: USD873 Million.

    So maybe, it’s time to acknowledge that these cozy Digital Echo Chambers we like bouncing our passion for movies off of, frequently don’t align with real world perceptions of audiences who just want a slice of escapism for 2 hours while munching on heavily salted popcorn washed down by heavily sweetened beverages who respond to a movie we would consider to be a Life Altering Event and analyze in novel-length treatises with a “Yeah, guess it was ok”

  16. I mean, that is a factor, but there’s a reason the “it’s not supposed to be Shakespeare” defense exists. People will (or at least used to) go see a movie like Armageddon or Attack of the Clones, not expecting it to be good, but because it’s an event and they don’t want to be left out of the conversation. Haven’t you watched a Transformers sequel, not expecting it to be good, but just out of morbid curiosity?

  17. See, a Transformers example wouldn’t be the right one for me, as I own all the Bay Era ones on blu-ray. Being a fan of the cartoons, I’m just hard-wired to check out every big budget Summer Tentpole version of one. So, in spite of my annoyances with the more egregious offences of the franchise (once again targeting the Bay ones) such as the obnoxiously loud performances and lazy stereotypes, on the whole I like them as mindless but glossy and well executed entertainment. Robots go Smashy Smashy…Me Likey!

    I am sure there are people who check out a movie just because it’s been so heavily hyped, but are they in significant numbers though? Wouldn’t the bulk of the paying audience be those who are already fans of that particular genre/actor/director/franchise? (I’m fully prepared to be proven wrong in this instance, by the way)

    Also, coming back to the idea that a widely despised movie can also make big bucks, this also ignores the Word Of Mouth effect. That First Wave swept in by the Hype who sees the movie, it does nothing for them but then each one proceeds to tell 20 of their friends not to waste their time and money. That’s a potentially diminishing audience for the subsequent waves. But those who still go see it aren’t swayed by the negative opinions because they’re already super fans of whatever the film is offering.

  18. I have no idea what the bulk of a paying audience for an egregiously bad movie would be. I doubt they’re either true-blue fans or hate-watchers. Probably they don’t go to the movies often and when they do, they want to see the MOST movie that they can get for their movies’ worth. Not the best, but the MOST. Transformers movies are generally two-plus hours of things happening and extremely high production values, and you never get an A21 situation where they promise you a monster and you get sad dads having bad dreams.

    Also, not that it’s relevant, but it turns out those Snow White photos are real after all (

    Disney now says those Snow White photos are simply "not official"

    The photos that sparked conservative backlash were initially shared by British tabloid Daily Mail


  19. I’m not a Snow White expert, but I seem to remember movies without dwarves before, so I don’t really know what the problem is (as always).

  20. You get articles these:

    Peter Dinklage criticises Disney for ‘backwards’ remake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

    Actor who has a form of dwarfism says the studio’s pride in casting a Latina Snow White is undercut by stereotypes retained elsewhere

  21. I’m not the boss of anyone, but could I humbly request this not become a culture war or modern movies are bad thread? This is the STAYING ALIVE thread. Show some respect!

  22. I agree with Pacman.

    (That said, are we calling modern audiences dumb because Disney tries to not offend little people or because others are upset that there won’t be seven dwarves in the movie? I still don’t really get what the controversy here is and what it has to do with the sophistication of audiences, but I guess at that might be the point.)

  23. Chill, Man Of Pac Ver 2. Just attempted to answer a question, which I failed in doing anyway. Back to your regular programming….

  24. Haha, yeah. I am officially out of energy to get grumpy at Disney. It’s a big mostly creatively bankrupt content mill that lives off the blood of its older, better ideas and the properties it has acquired. Via sheer numbers and lack of counter-programming, it occasionally puts out something I want to watch. All I can give is the senior citizen’s dismissive hand swat. God bless, Bob Iger, keep on synergizing backward overflow. In the meantime, I hope the people on strike shake as many concessions out of these suits as possible!

  25. At first, that scene with Stallone might seem as if it should push “Staying Alive” into what these days would be (is?) called the “Rocky cinematic universe” – however, considering Stallone’s characteristic look in it, his demeanor, the time period, and the bleaker tone of this film, I declare that it is actually Marion “Cobra” Cobretti, during an undercover police operation.

    STAYING ALIVE - Scena con Sylvester Stallone

    Scena con il cameo di Sylvester Stallone (se stesso), l'uomo in strada che si urta con Tony Manero (John Travolta). http://www.slyitalian.com

  26. A story related to this movie: there was a kid in my high school that was homeless so my family sort of took him in for a few years. He was obsessed with pro wrestling, Krush Groove, Xena and anything connected to Stallone. He introduced me to this as well as Over the Top, Nighthawks and Rocky IV. He loved this movie and explained the various plot points as it was playing on the VCR. The most relatable thing for me was ditching your friends when you get a little attention from someone up the social food chain, especially if that person is talented and in the field you are trying to get ahead in. I really regret some up my behavior as I was trying to work my way up the ladder at UCB. On the other hand, the message that once you get some success you forget about your friends and need to be taken down a peg seems a little basic. Isn’t this the nature of getting ahead? Are all successful people bad because they don’t have time for the old things in their life? Just a little food for thought because I have very little say about the movie itself.

  27. Very nice review Vern, as always.

    One quibble though – he doesn’t walk over “the fateful bridge” from Saturday Night Fever in this. He walks over the Brooklyn Bridge (from Manhattan), the bridge in Saturday Night Fever is the Verrazzano, which connects Staten Island to Bay Ridge Brooklyn.

    This movies does kind of imply that he walks all the way to Bay Ridge from Manhattan though, which would certainly be a very long walk!

  28. KayKay and Kaplan, I apologise if I was being a bit humourless and/or selfish and/or dictatorial, I get where you guys are coming from and I certainly think those conversations are worth having, but there have also been a fair number of threads that have gone on and on in circles debating this kind of stuff, and I personally thought it would be a shame if that were the fate of this thread. Again, I’m not making the rules here, can’t stop anyone, just saying how I feel. There will be a lot of opportunities, here and everywhere else on the internet, to talk about the pros and cons of modern Hollywood and Disney in particular, there will only be so many opportunities to talk about STAYING ALIVE. It’s one film they don’t own! Yet.

    Having said that I should follow this up with some fascinating insight about the film but I got nothing.

    Uhhhh… I like this song

    I Love You Too Much

    Provided to YouTube by Universal Music GroupI Love You Too Much · Bee GeesStaying Alive℗ 1983 Barry Gibb, The Estate of Robin Gibb and Yvonne Gibb, under exc...

  29. No prob, Pac, I was really only trying to do a topical reference to Hollywood drek, which I think we can agree live-action remakes like The Lion King and Cruella are. I don’t want to debate it further, even if this were the proper forum, and I don’t have anything more to say about Staying Alive.

    Except I suppose I admire the discipline it takes to hold back the biggest bit of fanservice until the very end.

  30. Don’t sweat it Pacman. All good.

  31. Thank you for this fresh-eyed look. I love Staying Alive, for a somewhat alternative reason: as someone who was once a struggling actor in NYC, this movie so accurately describes what that was really like. No “happened to find this ground floor brownstone apartment in the West Village,” no tons of friends having coffee and hanging out while watching TV. Tony was poor as s#it, doing a million side jobs, working til 3am, but still managing to get up at 5am to be on line for the cattle call audition at 6am (since he had no agent, a condition that many of us shared). He lived in a shared-bath transient hotel, which many of my friends did (as recently as the early 2000’s).

    AND…the opening sequence is the best of an audition that I’ve seen. Surviving cut after cut, getting smaller, more focused…you allow your hopes to raise a level. But suddenly you’re cut. You grab your stuff, the door slams on you, and you’re further away from Broadway than when you started. Brutal. Then you just start walking, and match the rhythm of the street.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>