Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Thursday, June 29, 2021

disco art
July marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Nik Cohn’s “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” in New York Magazine. The article, which served as the direct source material for Saturday Night Fever, was presented as a non-fictional frontline report on what was going down with New York clublife in 1976. The rest is Tony Manero/white-suit-dancin’ history.

Funny how such an era-defining cultural artifact was based on fabrications on Cohn’s part:

…a combination of New Journalism extrapolating and deadline-pressure riffing. “At the time,” Cohn later wrote, “if cornered, I would doubtless have produced some high-flown waffle about Alternative Realities, tried to argue that writing didn’t have to be true to be, at some level, real. But, of course, I would have been full of it.”

But hey, weren’t large chunks of that decade, essentially and conceptually, made-up anyway? Like they say: If you can actually remember the Seventies, then you weren’t really there.

James McMullan was really there, though. He accompanied Cohn on some field research, and remembered enough to come back with photos, sketches, and paintings of the club scenes in those Brooklyn discos (detail from one featured above). He also caught the underlying mood, relaying the reality that Cohn couldn’t/wouldn’t:

What [McMullan] saw was a world not of disco glitter but of melancholy yearning. The real [Bay Ridge disco 2001 Odyssey] “was like a tired old supper club,” he says, “that had quickly, but not entirely, been converted to a dance club.” (In the paintings, much of the club’s floor is covered by a dingy, rec-room-style carpet, so vividly captured you can practically smell it.) He used a flash for the photos, and “the flash revealed all this stuff that in the dim light you weren’t able to see. Particularly in the backgrounds. You saw people’s non-party faces, as it were.”

The paintings now stand as a kind of unofficial storyboard for the film: the real film, the gritty, vaguely hopeless one, not the smoke–and–Bee Gees cartoon that persists in memory.

The dance floor never looked more somber in literal portrayal. Which, in a way, makes the sunnier nostalgic memories somewhat inevitable.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 06/29/2006 11:32:08 PM
Category: Publishing, Pop Culture, Movies, History | Permalink |

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