Whenever I look at or cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, I can not help but reflect on the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta, who plays the lead character, Tony Manero, a 19-year-old Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, resident. This coming-of-age story is laden with metaphors, with the Verrazano Bridge being, literally, the largest one. It is also the location of a tragic suicide of one of Tony's friends, Bobby C, who cannot cope with his girlfriend's pregnancy. In one climatic scene, Tony and his friends engage in a series of acrobatic antics on the Verrazano Bridge. Feeling hopeless and hungering for attention, Bobby C. falls to his death in a final display of one-upmanship.
The bridge is an apt metaphor for the link between juvenile and adult behavior. The Verrazano also serves as a visual metaphor for the pejorative slang expression, bridge and tunnel, an elitist phrase used by Manhattanites to characterize those as "lesser class," who commute in from the outer boroughs, New Jersey and Long Island for cultural or social reasons. Appropriately, this term first appeared in print in the same year as the making of the film, 1977, in the New York Times.*
In the final scenes of the film, Tony confides in his girlfriend, who lives in Manhattan, that he wants to make a break with his past and move there also. Tony's recognition of his behavior and redemption is a refreshing break from what at times feels like a monument to misogyny.
If you have not seen this film, I recommend it. It was both a mirror of and an influence on the culture of the time. The film is steeped in New York City imagery as well as clothing styles, disco, and the Italian American subculture of New York City (specifically Brooklyn) of the time.
Saturday Night Fever is really quite a dark film, with teenage pregnancy, rape, suicide and Tony's brother doing the unthinkable - leaving the priesthood. The year was 1977, and the crowd was bridge and tunnel...
*"On the weekends, we get all the bridge and tunnel people who try to get in," he said.
Elizabeth Fondaras, a pillar of the city’s conservative social scene, who has just told Steve Rubell she had never tried to get into Studio 54 for fear of being rejected, asked who the bridge and tunnel people were.
"Those people from Queens and Staten Island and those places," he said.