Film: You Can Tell by the Way He Walks

Twenty years after he wrote "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" for New York


The Weekly Wire: This Week's Recommended Events


Film: You Can Tell by the Way He Walks

Twenty years after he wrote "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" for New York magazine, filmed the following year as Saturday Night Fever (1977), British journalist Nik Cohn admitted he'd made most of it up. His admission was met with a collective shrug of indifference. From that fiction was born the first great movie musical of the post-rock age. The soundtrack—featuring those brilliant Bee Gees and the Trammps' timeless "Disco Inferno"—sold a gazillion copies, and the movie made John Travolta a superstar. It even briefly made disco safe for straight white males—until the notorious Chicago record-burning and riot at a 1979 White Sox game. (Disco never died, of course—it was kept alive by the gays and Madonna.) But Travolta's Tony Manero has deeper roots than a dancing fad or Cohn's fabrication; he's an outer-borough striver, a Brooklyn dreamer drawn to the bright lights of Manhattan. Tony's elegant white suit (later bought by critic Gene Siskel), wide lapels, and immaculate grooming—"Watch the hair!"—are his professional tools, and his dance moves are as much about class advancement as sex. He's the undisputed alpha leader of his tribe, and the only one prepared to leave his Bay Ridge clan behind. Sundance Cinemas, 4500 Ninth Ave. N.E., 633-0059, $10.50. Call for showtimes. BRIAN MILLER

Film: Bright Lights, Dark Hearts

"I love this dirty town." Burt Lancaster is J.J. Hunsecker, a despot of a newspaper columnist not-so-loosely based on Walter Winchell. The king of this neon jungle, he prowls it like a human panther. Alongside him, Tony Curtis delivers the scrappiest, most dynamic performance of his career as the jittery, restless press agent selling Hunsecker what's left of his soul. Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is one of American cinema's most lacerating and vicious visions of the predatory city—accomplished without a single murder, gunshot, or pulled knife. This is Broadway noir, the dark intersection of show business, politics, and the social register, in an era when gossip columnists held sway over not just some thin demographic slice, but an entire nation. The dialogue, by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, is so sharp you could cut yourself with it. With the exterior scenes shot on the nighttime streets of New York's theater district by cinematographer James Wong Howe, Sweet Smell is alive with pulsing energy. Call it a cookie full of arsenic: bitter, yes, but delicious. Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., 686-6684, $6–$8. 7 & 9:30 p.m. SEAN AXMAKER


Photography: A Posthumous Prodigy

The belated discovery of street photographer Vivian Maier (1926–2009) is one of those great stories in which an artist becomes known solely for her work. Maier, a nanny who never married, roamed postwar Chicago with her trusty Rolleiflex, often framing herself in glass reflection shots. Not until 2007 was this outsider artist discovered and her work shown; then, immediately, she was hailed as the long-lost cousin of Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Some of her shots are stolen, taken of strangers on the sly. Others are impromptu portraits; Maier was evidently not too shy to ask people to pose for her. They probably thought she was taking snapshots, and it's unclear if Maier viewed herself as an artist. Yet with her archives still being cataloged (and some film not yet processed!), many now consider Maier one of the foremost women photographers of the 20th century—right up there with Diane Arbus or Cindy Sherman. Yet sadness is part of Maier's legacy, too: Her huge cache of images, unseen by the public, was auctioned piecemeal out of storage not long before her death. Though not indigent, she didn't live long enough to enjoy profit or fame. Her career essentially sprang from the grave. Tonight, PCNW will present a talk by Richard Cahan, co-author of Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows (CityFiles, $60), with collector Jeffrey Goldstein also delivering remarks. (Through March 28.) Photo Center NW, 900 12th Ave., 720-7222, $8–$10. 6:30 p.m. (Also note opening reception: 6–8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 15.) BRIAN MILLER


Dance: Moving Across the Map

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago started life in the '70s as a jazz-dance ensemble—a no-brainer for a group based in that jazz-saturated city. But it's transformed itself over time, as contemporary dance has likewise morphed to include influences from all across the kinesthetic map. In its current iteration, Hubbard Street has looked abroad for its most innovative repertory—performing works by artists from the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company, which synthesize the energy of American modern dance with the technical facility of European experimentalists. Too Beaucoup explores the power of physical precision, while THREE TO MAX is a collage of recent works by Batsheva's prominent choreographer Ohad Naharin. The Paramount, 911 Pine St., 877-784-4849, $25–$40. 8 p.m. SANDRA KURTZ

Books: Vintage Vice

Valentine's Day comes early at the Georgetown Art Attack, where attractions will include the launch of Jacques Boyreau's coffee-table collection of old erotic movie posters, Sexytime: The Post-Porn Rise of the Pornoisseur (Fantagraphics, $29.99). After VHS, AIDS, Boogie Nights, and the Internet, the theatrical exhibition of stroke movies is but a quaint memory—something your creepy old uncle might once have enjoyed. But Boyreau has mined the '70s for the lurid old posters that faced the sidewalk—outside, say, the old Apple Theatre on Boren or the Green Parrot on First—in public view, meaning titillating but not explicit promo art. After Hef and the Pill, the sexual revolution was in full swing, with Deep Throat an unlikely cultural phenomenon. (Related, the biopic Lovelace just debuted at Sundance, with Amanda Seyfried playing the porn icon.) In Boyreau's nostalgic posters for titles like Anyone but My Husband or The Erotic Dr. Jekyll, the colors are bold, the film is often 35mm, the ratings are XXX, and there's an almost innocent ignorance of how the culture would veer rightward in the '80s. Boyreau will be on hand tonight to sign his new book, with posters remaining on view through March 6. Molly Rainey and Poppet will provide music to put you in the mood. Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 1201 S. Vale St., 658-0110, Free. Opening reception: 6–9 p.m. BRIAN MILLER


Stage: A Fresh Septet

One of the amazing things about On the Boards' recent 35th anniversary is that it's still devoted to avant-garde artists. Not many institutions reach middle age while still thinking like a rebellious teenager. One reason for this is the ongoing incubator program 12 Minutes Max, where new talent can get a break and established performers can take a chance on something different. For this edition, among the seven acts in the lineup, Linas Phillips steps away from his acclaimed 2006 documentary Walking to Werner and into a stand-up comic persona named Shawnsey Michael Thomas, who himself is looking for transformation through performance art: a show called A One-Man Show by Shawnsey. Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave., 217-9888, $8. 7 p.m. (Repeats Mon.) SANDRA KURTZ

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