Staying Alive (1983)


Staying Alive is the unusually tardy sequel to 1977’s iconic disco film Saturday Night Fever.   They waited six long years to make it, and if Saturday Night Fever was the movie that brought the disco movement back from the brink of death, then Staying Alive was the movie that beat it’s bloody corpse into the ground.  In 1983 The Bee Gees, heavily featured in both films, weren’t relevant anymore, and John Travolta was washed up in public opinion.  The disco dancing was largely replaced with 80s contemporary interpretive dance, but Staying Alive was still considered an outdated turkey at the time of it’s release.  Even the fact that the movie was co-written, produced and directed by Sylvester Stallone didn’t do it any favors at the box office.

Travolta once again plays Tony Manero, a Brooklyn-born dancing Italian jackass out to make a name for himself in show business.  Six years ago Tony was the star of the biggest discotheque in Brooklyn.  Now he waits tables in Manhattan and his dreams of becoming a famous dancer are deflated daily.  The Tony Manero of Staying Alive is in the throws of a crippling mid-20s malaise and he is constantly unsatisfied.  He treats his steady girlfriend like crap, he lies and cheats and looks at other girls right in front of her, he even goes so far as to ask her if the other girl he’s interested in is seeing anyone.  He’s a complete dick but we still have to root for him, because, in his own words, “I’ve always been this kinda bastard but it’s ok ‘cause like it comes natural to me.”  Plus he’s just a damn good dancer.  But is he good enough?


Most sequels are a thinly veiled attempt to cash in on some previously successful film, and Staying Alive is no exception.  However, this is one of those rare occasions where the sequel is actually more entertaining than the first movie. The dancing in Saturday Night Fever is fun to watch, but it’s weighted down with a lot of serious, socio-economic commentary. Staying Alive doesn’t try so hard to have a sobering message, it’s really all about the dancing.  For every awesome disco scene in Saturday Night Fever there are three awesome 80s dance montages in Staying Alive.  Basically it’s the Rocky of dance movies.


This is a great one to have on in the background at a dance party, but it’s worth sitting through, too.  Whether you’re marveling at his dance skills or his dickish behavior, Travolta is entertaining the whole way through.


All the sex and violence in Staying Alive is done in cheesy 80s interpretive dance-form, which sounds a lot more hilarious than it actually is.  This is one area where the first movie is superior, with the forced backseat sex, pregnant teenage girlfriend and unfortunate bridge accident.


This is the part John Travolta was born to play.  I just don’t believe him in any role where he doesn’t get to bust a move or act like a hulking jackass.  It’s what he’s good at.  And that dumb thuggy accent really suits him.


There were sweat bands and leotards everywhere.  Staying Alive definitely out-leotarded Perfect (previous post).  Tony and his girlfriend both have the same huge 80s almost-mullet, and there are enough neon lights to give all of NYC cancer.


The writing for Staying Alive falls into the so-bad-it’s-good category (thanks in no small part to Stallone’s influence, I’m sure).  Here are just a few of my favorite lines:

“I just wanna say that if I never see you again, you got beautiful legs.” – Tony, to his GF, right before cheating on her.

“I don’t have time for meaningful relationships right now.” – Tony
“…Guys like you aren’t relationships.  You’re excercise.” – Older slutty acquaintance

The new love interest slams a door in his face in response to his come-ons and he tells her, “I thought I was being charming!  You know, you did try to damage my head.  But look, the thing is, I have amazing respect for your dancing talent, alright?  And I respect your womanhood.  I didn’t always respect womanhood but since I moved to Manhattan I got this new mature outlook on life.  I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t curse…” He says all this to the girl with whom he will cheat on his girlfriend.

“I wanna say somethin’ to you but it’s hard ‘cause I’m just not used to sayin’ nice things to you.” – Tony, to his GF


At first this film seemed to promise some real, true life-lessons.  It’s 6 years later and Tony’s not a big star, he’s waiting tables.  That’s as relevant as it gets for anyone who has ever wanted to be famous.  There usually comes a point when a person finally has to give up their grandiose, youth-fueled dreams.  That’s one of the most important and humbling lessons life has to offer.  Of course, there would be no movie if Tony was a waiter the whole time, so that lesson is only relevant for the first half of the movie.
The other important point this movie makes is that while it is exciting to meet and fuck new prettier, richer and more talented people, eventually you have to settle for someone you’re comfortable with.


It’s a classic story, and it’s a sequel, but there are unique aspects.  After all, letting Sly Stallone direct a faggy dance movie is a pretty unique idea in the first place.


I literally lost count of the intense dance montages.  Then there were all the non-dance-related montages, like the one where Tony walks from Manhattan to Brooklyn at night.  That’s the “I got some serious thinking to do” montage.   The final dance performance montage is the best, though.  Extreme close-ups of John Travolta’s sweaty face punctuate slow-motion shots of dancers leaping through smoke and colored lights; they’re spinning, sweating, muscles flexing and the guitar is screaming like coked-up prehistoric mosquito.


The set and costumes for the stage show in the movie were hilarious.  I loved the flaming boob and crotch leotards that the back-up dancers wore.  I don’t think it was meant to be funny, either, so that makes it even better.

TOTAL:  63

Like changing a baby’s diaper every day until it’s potty trained, but then letting that baby continue to piss and shit on you for years until one day it finally grows up and treats you like a human being.


Dear John,
My mother once told me that people ought to do what they’re good at, and if you’re not good at something, leave is for the people who are.  Now I understand that, as an actor, you like to experiment with your range and try different kinds of roles in different kinds of movies, and that’s fine.  The thing is, your track record shows that trying new things is not usually a good career move for you.  You found your niche early and had tremendous success with Saturday Night Fever and Grease because there are two things that you’re really good at: shaking your ass and acting like a dick.  You strayed from that formula and ended up in garbage like Moment by Moment and Look Who’s Talking.  I thought finally you’d come to your senses when you did Pulp Fiction.  You were a regular dancin’ asshole!  That movie put you back on the map, but then you turn around and try to play a telekinetic farmer or a big hairy alien and see what happens?  Everyone thinks you suck again.  There’s nothing wrong with doing what you’re good at.  It is important to grow and change as an actor but sometimes it’s important to know your place as well, and I am urging you to find that place again.  Please don’t take any more roles that don’t highlight your special talents.  We want to see you gettin’ down and being insensitive, or we don’t want to see you at all.
The Caring Crew of Coprocinephelia


~ by mgjk on September 15, 2010.

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