There are quite a few films on my to-watch list this summer, most of them being films from the 1970s in order to better situate myself in the period of Altman’s golden period of filmmaking. The goal in watching these films is to view and analyze women’s roles in the films and how they are portrayed. This, in effect, will either help support or disapprove my stance that Altman’s portrayal is much more pro-woman than any of the other films or filmmakers in the New Hollywood period. So keep that in mind as you read this write up and any of my write ups on films from the 1970s; these write ups are essentially references for me when I write my paper.
On the social realism aspect, Saturday Night Fever was fantastic. This film is anything but a simple and fun dance movie. You think there will be a typical, formulaic romance between Tony (John Travolta) and Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney)? Wrong. Stephanie sees herself as older and a bit better than Tony. Despite her warming up to Claire De Lune in the dance studio, Stephanie does not know a thing about high class culture. Instead she aspires to it and pretends to be it whenever she is with Tony. Obviously this is not Tony’s area at all, a 19 year-old Italian boy living in Brooklyn who goes to the disco every Saturday night.
It is clear to the viewer that Stephanie is not one of the Manhattan people. Her lower class dialect is just one of the giveaways that she is a wannabe. Later she admits to Tony that she was living with the guy she works with because he could help her “get somewhere” in the office. Before that she was alone and didn’t know what she was doing. This brief scene shows that this woman who says and pretends to act like she is older and more independent than Tony isn’t. She has to rely on a man to help her in the office, rather it is an exchange for sex. Essentially she is not a positive portrayal of women.
Even though Stephanie tells Tony that she does not want to date him, Tony still thinks that he will someday win her. The night they win the contest, Tony blames Stephanie for taunting him. He ultimately takes her into the car and tries to rape her. Fortunately Stephanie escapes and goes home. Early the next morning Tony goes to her place in Manhattan to apologize. She tells him that she doesn’t usually let her attempted rapists come in her home, but eventually lets him in to talk. The film ends on a note that could indicate romance or friendship, but I believe it communicates more of a friendship.
While Tony lusts after Stephanie, Connie lusts after Tony. She is the push aside girl who Tony is not nice to. Throughout the movie she wants to date Tony and ultimately sleep with him. The time she gets her chance, she doesn’t have any protection because it is her first time. This indicates that she is uneducated about sex and birth control. Tony stops everything and she loses her chance. Towards the end of the film, Connie is drunk and with Tony’s friends. She says that she wants to sleep with them; Tony tries to keep his friends from her but they tell him that he could care less about Connie. So Connie gets in with Tony and his friends and they drive to the bridge. In the backseat Connie and Tony’s one friend start to have sex; it is obvious Connie is only doing it to make Tony jealous. When she sees he doesn’t care, she yells that she doesn’t want to do it anymore. Yet Tony’s friend says that he’s going to do it and does. Connie continues to cry and yell that she doesn’t want to do it anymore; once the one friend is done, the other goes in the back to rape her. Once they’re done they go play around on the bridge. It is very obvious that Connie is disturbed and upset. All Tony does is turn and ask her if she’s proud of herself because now she’s a c-word.
That scene and the scene where Tony tries to rape Stephanie did it for me. In terms of women in the film, they are not humans but sex objects. When they don’t get permission, they keep going (or try to, at least). This film came out the same year as 3 Women, the main film of my paper, and in comparison to Saturday Night Fever, 3 Women is much more positive. In here women are very much stuck in patriarchy, in the city, whereas 3 Women the women break from the system and are located in the desert. Whenever I think of 3 Women, I can’t help but think of Varda’s comment about 3 Women being dangerous to women. Perhaps Altman is not exactly in sync with exact second-wave feminist criteria but in terms of what is being released in the same year (Saturday Night Fever, Looking for Mr. Goodbar), it is a huge step from the representations of women in those films.