According to movie director John Maggio, two varieties of executives run the leisure business – one far rarer than the opposite. “The overwhelming majority of them don’t know what’s good, or what will probably be successful, till ten different folks inform them,” he mentioned. “However just a few can inform you immediately. They’re the visionaries.”
For an prolonged time, one of the crucial clairvoyant was Robert Stigwood. But nobody had made a characteristic documentary about him till now. Mr Saturday Night time lays out the rocket-like trajectory of this supervisor turned producer turned impresario who scored hits within the worlds of music, theater, live shows and movie. Stigwood’s initiatives ranged from managing the Bee Gees to operating a report label that includes artists like Eric Clapton to producing two of the largest films of all time – Saturday Night time Fever and Grease, in addition to the profitable film model of the Who’s Tommy – to bankrolling smash performs like Jesus Christ Celebrity and Evita. “For a time, he was the Wizard of Oz of leisure,” mentioned Maggio, who directed the movie, to the Guardian. “Between 1970 and 1978, he couldn’t not make successful.”
True to the documentary’s title, it focuses on the interval when Stigwood developed a 1976 article in New York Journal titled Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night time into the multimedia cultural phenomenon that was Saturday Night time Fever. The story of its creation options unbelievable twists and innumerable roadblocks exemplifying the high-risk dramas that outlined probably the most eventful a part of Robert Stigwood’s life, which resulted in 2016 when he was 81. The movie doesn’t cowl his adolescence in Australia as a result of, mentioned Maggio, “this wasn’t imply to be straight biography.”
As a substitute, the motion begins within the colourful London music scene of the Nineteen Sixties. Stigwood’s first consumer was John Leyton, a TV teen idol who pined for a singing profession. Stigwood linked him with Joe Meek, the famously eccentric producer who, in 1961, turned Leyton’s single Johnny Bear in mind Me right into a No 1 UK hit. By the mid-60s, Stigwood grew to become the reserving agent for the Who in addition to the supervisor of one among rock’s first super-groups, Cream. He additionally found the Bee Gees and suggested them on their early Edwardian hits beginning in 1967. Like a lot of rock’s seminal managers, together with the Beatles’ Brian Epstein and the Who’s co-manager Package Lambert, Stigwood was homosexual. Whereas the boys have been all out inside their milieu, they remained closeted to the bigger world, a necessity in an period when gay acts have been nonetheless outlawed within the UK. In accordance with Maggio, the straight managers of the day “positively used the identification of the homosexual managers in opposition to them. They have been disparaging about their sexuality behind their backs,” he mentioned. “Don Arden (who managed acts like Small Faces and the Transfer) would discuss with “that fruit Stigwood”.
On the similar time, sexual identification supplied a bond between Stigwood and Epstein. Shortly earlier than Epstein’s dying in 1967, he requested Stigwood about serving to to take over administration of the Beatles since that position had begun to put on him down. However the Beatles hated each Stigwood and the Bee Gees. “They thought they have been a pop act who have been to not be taken critically,” Maggio mentioned. On the similar time, the Beatles have been turning into more and more enterprise savvy. After Epstein’s dying from an unintended overdose of tablets, Stigwood boasted that he was going to purchase the band for half 1,000,000 kilos. “That simply appeared vulgar to McCartney,” mentioned Maggio.
Undaunted, Stigwood moved his operation to New York, the higher to keep away from then sky-high British taxes. There, he rapidly discovered a brand new enterprise of be aware. The untested group of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had written and recorded an album of songs with the blasphemous title Jesus Christ Celebrity, which they hoped might be produced for the stage. Recognizing its potential, Stigwood put collectively a live performance tour that includes the music, then developed it right into a profitable Broadway musical. “Stigwood noticed issues others didn’t,” mentioned Maggio.
He confirmed equal foresight when the fortunes of the Bee Gees started to falter within the early 70s. “For God’s sake, take heed to what’s occurring on the earth in the present day,” he’s quoted as telling the Gibb brothers in a classic clip featured within the movie. Paying attention to the rhythmic hits of the Common White Band, Stigwood put the Bee Gees along with that band’s producer, Arif Mardin, who helped form a wholly new sound for them. The outcome led to No 1 hits like Jive Speaking and You Ought to Be Dancing, each of which have been later repurposed for the Saturday Night time Fever soundtrack. In the identical interval, Stigwood developed the Who’s Tommy into a movie, casting Tina Turner, who was adrift after she left Ike, in a cameo.
Within the documentary, Nik Cohn, the author of the New York Journal story that birthed Saturday Night time Fever, talks about what first drew him to the disco scene within the extraordinarily retro space of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. To him, that demi-monde had the identical impetus and impact because the youth cultures he had noticed in UK, just like the teddy boys and the Mods and Rockers. “Nik was fascinated by the craving of teenage angst, by the sensation of wanting to flee,” mentioned Maggio. “He was additionally within the male peacockery of the scene, all of the stuff that adolescent boys do to strut and attempt to discover their place in a world that’s tribal.”
However the way in which this explicit tribalism expressed itself introduced a jarring irony inside the context of disco historical past. Although the style started in Black and homosexual golf equipment, the scenes in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst couldn’t have been extra racist or homophobic. Within the movie, Cohn recollects bringing a Black dancer to the membership the place his piece was set and watching in horror as the group violently chased him out. Cohn’s unique article, an exemplar of “new journalism”, contained no scarcity of drama, sweep and un-journalistic gadgets (together with the wholesale invention of its central character, Tony Manero). But, solely Stigwood envisioned it as a smash characteristic. He additionally acknowledged that it might be an ideal car for a star who had but to seem on the silver display. Earlier than he got here throughout the New York journal article, Stigwood signed a three-picture cope with John Travolta who, on the time, had energy solely within the worlds of TV and teenage idols. “It was an enormous threat to signal him,” Maggio mentioned. In spite of everything, on the time TV stars nearly by no means offered on large screens. “I’m a gambler,” Stigwood says within the documentary. “I work instinctively.”
He took equal dangers with the folks he employed to run his burgeoning film firm. They have been all younger males, barely of their 20s, who tended to be superb wanting. But, they have been no boy toys. Although that they had no expertise, “they turned out to be superb at their jobs,” Maggio mentioned.
It was all the way down to the novice Kevin McKormick to someway discover a director for Saturday Night time Fever. Miraculously, he got here up with John Alvidsen, who had simply shot Rocky. However when that director balked at utilizing the Bee Gees’ music within the movie, Stigwood fired him, which left McKormick flummoxed and scramblingfor one other director. The one he got here up with, John Badham, knew nothing about musicals and had just one movie directing credit score on the time. Likewise, when Stigwood requested Barry Gibb to jot down 5 new songs for the proposed film, the musician hadn’t learn the script, not to mention seen a single body of movie. Regardless, he wound up writing a string of pitch-perfect items, all of which grew to become smash hits, together with Stayin’ Alive, Night time Fever, How Deep Is Your Love, Extra Than a Girl and If I Can’t Have You, the final one sung within the film by one other Stigwood consumer, Yvonne Elliman.
Regardless of that trove of riches, a lot of those that labored for Stigwood fretted that they have been coming to the disco development too late. By that point, it had begun to indicate indicators of tapering off and there have been already indicators of the approaching the “disco sucks” motion, whose title tipped off its implicit homophobia. In the identical vein, Paramount, the studio that launched the movie, had no concept what that they had, regardless of the brilliance of the Bee Gees’ songs, the dynamism of Travolta’s efficiency and the sociological acuity of Norman Wexler’s script. Executives like Barry Diller and Michael Eisner hated the darkness within the movie in addition to the prolific use of the “f” phrase by its characters. True to kind, Stigwood used their cluelessness to barter a better share of the earnings for himself, almost 50%, in addition to complete possession of the soundtrack. In an excellent advertising and marketing transfer, he additionally insisted that the soundtrack come out earlier than the film. As soon as the songs of the Bees Gees hit radio, they shot up the charts, making a ready-made viewers when the movie arrived. Powered by that synergy, the film generated a worldwide gross of greater than $282m whereas the soundtrack grew to become one of many mightiest sellers in music historical past.
Stigwood’s transformation of the play Grease into one other film monster was equally unbelievable. The present had been a middling Broadway success with little broader resonance. However the film, the second in Travolta’s cope with the producer, generated a world gross even better than Saturday Night time Fever’s, topping $396m. With that one-two punch, the Stigwood empire grew to become a digital Venn diagram of popular culture within the 70s. Extra, his imaginative and prescient set off a protracted development of blockbuster film soundtrack tie-ins, together with initiatives like City Cowboy, Soiled Dancing, Flashdance and Titanic.
Naturally, the herculean scale of all of it necessitated a backlash, first hitting the Bee Gees earlier than spreading to Stigwood, who by the daybreak of the 80s not solely misplaced his Midas contact, however primarily inverted it, leading to a few of the most spectacular bombs of all time, from the appalling Sgt Pepper film to Travolta’s belly-flop Second by Second. “It occurs to everybody: you get to a sure level the place you lose your contact,” Maggio mentioned. “Additionally, for a man like Stigwood, who was making more cash than we will even conceive of, it takes off the sting.”
Despite the fact that he was simply in his late 40s, Stigwood wound up retiring to his tax haven within the Bahamas to get pleasure from his cash. He spent a great a part of his time on his yacht, entertaining younger males and consuming closely. Maggio believes a few of Stigwood’s consuming will be attributed to the truth that he by no means got here out. “That has to weigh on you,” he mentioned. “It speaks to the unhappiness in him.”
He additionally believes that, regardless of his huge wealth, Stigwood “by no means felt that sense of success”.
On the similar time, Maggio mentioned, “Robert Stigwood’s life captured a second in time. It was a revolt in opposition to the high-mindedness of the 60s tradition, which gave method to the excesses of the 70s. Robert rode that wave in a spectacular method to develop into one of many final nice curators of popular culture.”