Staying Alive

You don't even want to know

DVD Watch

Staying Alive (WideScreen Edition)

Paramount Home Video, $14.99

Remember when Matsushita originated the Digital Versatile Disc in the mid-Nineties, and cineastes rejoiced? This was a format capable of preserving the filmed image as it was meant to be seen and savored (but for the "digital" part, anyhow). The words "Criterion Collection" meant something then – there was no such edition of Armageddon – and we all longed for extensive libraries of classic titles with spiffy features. DVD was elite. Long foundering, the dream is officially dead, for Staying Alive is here on DVD at last. The stinkalicious 1983 sequel to 1977's disco drama Saturday Night Fever, the film transplants Brooklyn horndog Tony Manero (John Travolta) into Manhattan, where he dances his little heart out on Broadway while using love interest Cynthia Rhodes as his emotional punching bag. In her first starring role, soap diva (and now author, as of this spring) Finola Hughes prances around with titanic crimped hair and diaphanous handkerchief hemlines. (For her trouble, she got not one, but two Razzie nominations.) Director and co-scribe Sylvester Stallone presents without irony a grand musical finale titled "Satan's Alley" – it's a trip through hell, see? – and delivers a knockout upper cut to the career of writing partner Norman Wexler, hitherto somewhat acclaimed for his hairy-chested B-movies (Mandingo). Sly's brother Frank, a pop-rock aspirant, gets several club scenes in which to wail "Moody Girl" and duet with Rhodes on the maudlin ballad "Finding Out the Hard Way," a song so dreadful that Sly interrupts it by having Rhodes walk off the stage into a dialogue sequence with Travolta. Frank scored a hit, however, with "Far From Over," the toe-tapping opener, which appeared the following year in Martin Short and Harry Shearer's memorable Saturday Night Live skit about men's Olympic synchronized swimming. Watching dozens of Broadway babies jeté around in their neon unitards during the opening montage drives home that these poor people really can dance but are tragically obscured in a haze of boogie fog and a backstage plot creakier than the floorboards. The finale is an orgy of bondage imagery, Bob Mackie creations, and choreography that ham-fistedly suggests the struggle over Travolta's soul, which is to say that he and Hughes sort of fling each other around like fishmongers until he breaks away to solo – in his fringy caveman loincloth, of course. As Travolta's mom, consummate professional Julie Bovasso smiles and applauds politely through it all. The viewer does not. Travolta is physically invested in the demands of the part, make no mistake. He's sinewy as rawhide and seems perfectly capable of launching himself onto the ceiling. Perhaps it's gratuitous and cruel to wonder what the hell happened to his body, but let's consider that a female starlet of the era (say, fellow Scientologist Kirstie Alley) who'd let herself go like that would be pilloried in the tabloids. Add it all up, and you have – truly – the end of an era.

Also Out Now

Ride the Wild Surf (Columbia Tristar): Tab Hunter, Fabian, and TV tough guy Peter Brown battle James "Eskimo" Mitchum (son of Robert) on the big waves. Bleached-blonde Shelley Fabares. Jan and Dean theme song. Cowabunga.

Touchez Pas au Grisbi (Criterion): At last there's a Criterion DVD of this artful thriller with a seasoned Jean Gabin, a young Jeanne Moreau, one fateful last heist worth a fortune in gold bars, and Jacques Becker's elegantly subdued direction.

Upcoming

The Story of the Weeping Camel (New Line, Jan. 25): When their camel rejects her calf, a Mongolian family sends two of its brothers from the remotest reaches of the Gobi to the nearest village, where they encounter modernity while finding musicians for a ritual. An unhurried, keenly observed true story.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Paramount, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Cynthia Rhodes, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Story of the Weeping Camel, Touchez Pas au Grisbi, Ride the Wild Surf, Staying Alive

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