Saturday Night Fever (1977) is about young people in New York during the late 70s. They use sex, alcohol, and disco to keep their minds off of their less than promising futures. The main character Tony Manero (John Travolta) who works at a hardware store to make enough money to hang out with his friends at the local disco. Dance is the one bright spot in Tony’s life. When Tony is on the dance floor, he is dominates and is totally cool. Tony uses dance as a form of escapism, but escapism in itself is not cool. The rest of Tony’s life pretty much sucks (that’s why he feels the need to escape from it).
Save the Last Dance (2001) is a modern day Saturday Night Fever. Both films are set in poor neighborhoods in New York, where dance is the most important thing in the eyes of the youth. Save the Last Dance and Saturday Night Fever are not plot heavy, but they lead up to a dance finale like most dance films. The films focus on the everyday lives of their characters. Racism plays an important role in both films. It can be seen that in over twenty years the race situation has improved, but not dramatically. Save the Last Dance shows people overcoming racism through the relationship of Sara and Derek. Saturday Night Fever shows the same thing by Tony’s realization that the Puerto Rican couple deserved to win the dance contest. Although these films parallel in many ways they have vastly different endings. Sara finds success in the end when she gets accepted to Juilliard, and her future looks bright. Although Tony makes the decision to move to Manhattan with Stephanie, he has no education beyond high school and no skills that would be useful in finding a better job. His future is still questionable.
One of the most important aspects of a great dance movie is great music. The best dance movies use popular music from the current time period, and make these songs even more popular. I had never seen Saturday night Fever until last week, but I had heard most of the songs from the soundtrack hundreds of times. Who hasn’t heard “Disco Inferno, “Stayin’ Alive,” and “Boogie Shoes”? There is usually a dance movie every few years that gains great popularity because of the music. Some examples are Footloose, Dirty Dancing, and Step Up.