Bobby C (Saturday Night Fever’s Tragic Tag-along)

He’s perhaps the single most mistreated character in a film. Yet, you won’t often hear people in the film buff or artistic community acknowledge Bobby C (or this movie in general). I was very frustrated in High school trying to get some of my friends to watch Saturday Night Fever with me. They laughed at it because “ew disco sucks lol” as if there’s anything wrong with upbeat soul & dance music from the 70’s. (Or like there’s literally nothing to the film except its soundtrack anyway.) That reputation as merely a disco movie has kept one of the greatest (and grittiest) coming of age stories from receiving the proper respect. Even on IMDb, its score is a mediocre 6.8 at the time of this writing; ratings are subjective but that strikes me as far lower than it deserves. (John Travolta’s career-making performance alone warrants a rating in the high 7’s if you ask me.) In a sense, the film’s lack of proper appreciation is the perfect embodiment for Bobby C himself.

Bobby C is a stand-in for everyone who’s ever just wanted to fit in, who desperately needed support at a critical moment, and just never got it. Nobody could be bothered, in the entire course of the film (several weeks at least, maybe months) to listen to him vent about his serious problem. Despite using his car all the time, none of his “friends” ever took him out and treated him to a fun afternoon, or even just told him they cared. That’s literally all he wanted the entire movie, just for Tony to give him some kind of encouragement (or even simply defend him to Double J in the hospital scene.) That’s not asking much; people need to be loved. It’s not hard to just reach out once in awhile when you can tell someone’s in a bad place, but it can have massive effects on the receiver if it is or isn’t done. It can literally mean life and death.

Look at all the moments where someone said something shitty to Bobby for no reason. I’m sure each one of them excused it to themselves somehow “oh I just told him he’s weak”/”I just made fun of his taste in music”/”I just told him he sucks at dancing”/”I just blew him off when he was expecting my call”/”I just told him I’d rather get an abortion than marry him”/”I just laughed and turned away when he tried to confide in me” but for the person on the receiving end it all adds up pretty quickly. One mean comment isn’t a big deal, but when that’s most or even all of what you hear every day it’s hard not to internalize it. That’s why you need to think before you speak and don’t give someone else undue grief in their life. You never know what they’ve been going through up to that point, how close they might be to the edge already. You don’t know if they’re one more mean, unnecessary comment away from doing something drastic.



3 Comments

  1. Wise words, as always. And what a magnificent film, with one of the best soundtracks ever.

    There you go, Cassandra, rooting for the underdog again! If everyone were as kind and considerate as you, the world would not be in the unholy mess it’s in right now.

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  2. Dear Cassandra,

    As much as I hate to disagree with such a generous-hearted and well-intentioned sentiment, the “artistic community” (and what little of it is left these days) really hasn’t been as ignorant of the Bobby C. character in “Saturday Night Fever” as you may have assumed. Over just the last decade, the film has gone on to be heavily re-examined and revisited by many present day film critics, magazine articles, books, and academic film courses, and the importance of the character has been raised to extraordinary new heights of appreciation. An example: ” Bobby C. is at the very heart of the film’s most crucial thematic machinations, his sad and existential smallness blazingly apparent and emotionally naked, ruthlessly crushed by both the intimate cruelties and institutionalized oppression he pretends to accept but can no longer withstand, and which acts as a distorted mirror of the main character’s inability to free himself from his own illusions. Without that specific dynamic, the movie may well have never achieved it’s particularly unique impact”. The film as a whole, which has only recently achieved it’s status as a canonical work of important 1970’s American cinema, has finally come to be recognized for it’s explicit anticlericalism, as well as it’s all encompassing critique of modern society having triumphed over any lingering cultural reductionism of it to mere “disco nostalgia” festivals, Bee Gees hits, or Travolta’s long-ago ascension to movie stardom.

    And to get that understanding from such an obviously brilliant young woman (and fellow Aquarian) such as yourself is especially gratifying.

    Respectfully,

    Barry Miller

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