Sunday, June 10, 2012

Manero / Balboa

It's by no means unusual for a successful film to spawn imitations, along with the inevitable official sequels, prequels, remakes, and re-imaginings...happens all the time.  So it was that the phenomenon that was Rocky inspired music impresario Robert Stigwood to quickly develop and produce his own urban, working class fable, optioning Nik Cohn's New York article "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" and enlisting Serpico scribe Norman Wexler to write the screenplay version of what would eventually be called Saturday Night Fever.  It's fitting that Rocky director John G. Avildsen was the original helmer of Saturday Night Fever before having "creative differences" with Stigwood and star John Travolta, leading to his being replaced by John Badham during pre-production.  I can only assume that the Rocky poster on Tony Manero's wall is a remnant of the production design overseen by Avildsen (additionally, there's a Serpico poster in Manero's bedroom; incidentally, Serpico is another film that Avildsen was attached to at one point).  Prior to their near-collaboration on Serpico, Wexler and Avildsen teamed on Joe, another blue collar cinematic icon of the '70s, which J. Hoberman wrote about here on its 30th anniversary.

Even with that not so unusual production history in mind, it is interesting to see the mythos and cultural impact of a film, right down to the Rocky poster prominently displayed on Tony Manero's wall, so quickly and openly acknowledged and absorbed, in part, by another film; to put this in perspective Saturday Night Fever was being produced while Rocky was still in theatrical release.  It's this relationship between Rocky and Saturday Night Fever, Rocky Balboa and Tony Manero, that I play with a bit in this short video essay:

Continuing this Balboa - Manero strand, Rocky writer and star and Sylvester Stallone would direct Saturday Night Fever's inferior sequel Staying Alive (complete with theme song by Stallone frere Frank). 


Completing this circle, over thirty years later, Saturday Night Fever would inspire the fascinating Chilean film Tony Manero, darker and more disturbing than anything on screen in either Rocky or Saturday Night Fever.


Nathan said...

Very cool. I'd love to see the Chilean film, but Saturday Night Fever is already quite dark - more, I'm sure you'll agree--than most give it credit for.

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks, Nathan! TONY MANERO is pretty great...Kino put out the DVD.

Yes, I'm also of the opinion that SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is dark and disturbing on its own.

TONY MANERO, which is certainly not for all tastes, is a totally different beast of a film...its protagonist, a homicidal maniac in Pinochet-era '70s Chile, happens to be a Tony Manero / SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER fanatic.

bill teck said...

Ned, I'm trying not to become what AM talk radio refers to as a 'chronic' - those regular callers that turn off others from calling, but I had to chime in: this is great man.

As a kid, I really identified with the way these characters looked, and I dug your video essay. From walking down the street to staring in the mirror, two guys trying to figure out who they're supposed to be. Or rather, one guy who can't help but be himself, and one sorta lost cat.

To me, SNF borrows colateral from the real world, one that loves Serpico and Rocky and, as you point out, it borrows from Rocky as well - Badham, cribbing from Sly (in my opinion a real original and a real character, especially in his 70s flicks). Loved your essay and never thought about those flicks together before. Didn't like Stayin' Alive but I thought Stallone's cameo, bumpin' shoulders with Tony M, was really cool, and the film was right about how crappy and front-running guys can be. Maybe an honest film in its own crazy 80s way? And Manero (the film) is great.

Full disclosure: I think Rocky Balboa is kind of a masterpiece so what do I know? Girl to Tony in SNF, "oh my God, I've been kissed by Al Pacino!"

Ned Merrill said...

bill teck,

You are, as usual, too, too kind. Thanks for the mucho encouragement and illuminating feedback.

I dig ROCKY BALBOA as well...much, much better than IV or V. I personally think Stallone should have stopped after ROCKY III; it was IV, especially, and V that made the series a punchline.

It's a shame that he had to connect Rocky to the regrettable Reagan-era politics in ROCKY's an entertaining film to be sure and the man knows how to put together montage sequences like no one else, but it's a cartoon, phony and empty and feels like nothing more than the money-grab that it is.

III was a shrewd sequel that took the character in a new, interesting direction, but which also retained some of the integrity of the first 2 films in the series.