Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 16
Ordinary People September 19, 1980
Ordinary People released

The star of such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Way We Were, and The Great Waldo Pepper, Redford, with his iconic, particularly American good looks, was actor, matinee idol, and social activist throughout the 1960s and '70s. In 1980, he added "director" to his resume with Ordinary People, a searing drama of familial discontent for which he won Oscars for both Best Picture and Best Director. Based on the novel by Judith Guest, Ordinary People wasn't the usual sort of actor's directing debut. For one, Redford didn't appear in the film. It also wasn't something handed to him by an awed studio executive. Redford optioned the novel and developed the screenplay himself, working with screenwriter Alvin Sargeant. The film tells the story of a husband (Donald Sutherland), wife (Mary Tyler Moore) and son (Timothy Hutton) in the days following the son's failed suicide attempt. The son tries to work through his emotional turmoil -- caused in part by his guilt over a sailing accident that claimed the life of his older brother -- with a sensitive psychiatrist, played by Judd Hirsch. Seen now, 30 years later, it's amazing how influential the film has been. Its traces can be seen in films as diverse as American Beauty, The Ice Storm, and this season's Rabbit Hole. Wrote Roger Ebert of its nuanced look at suburban tragedy, "Director Redford places all these events in a suburban world that is seen with an understated matter-of-factness. There are no cheap shots against suburban lifestyles or affluence or mannerisms: The problems of the people in this movie aren't caused by their milieu, but grow out of themselves. And, like it or not, the participants have to deal with them. That's what sets the film apart from the sophisticated suburban soap opera it could easily have become."


More Flashbacks
Dec. 16, 1977
Saturday Night Fever opens

When Saturday Night Fever was released on December 16, 1977, the movie made John Travolta a star and prompted the start of a global disco revolution.

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December 16, 1967
America catches Saturday Night Fever

In December 1977, people lined up to see newcomer John Travolta dance his way into American history as Tony Manero, the paint-store clerk with a white leisure suit, a major attitude and the dance moves back it up. The idea for the film began as a 1975 investigative article in New York Magazine called “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by British rock journalist Nik Cohn. Interested in the emerging disco scene, Cohn detailed a group of Bay Ridge working-class kids who lived to dance on the weekends at their favorite disco. Unfortunately, just before the film came out, Cohn came clean that he had made up the whole story. But such a confession could not stop the juggernaut that was about to become Saturday Night Fever. Media mogul Robert Stigwood saw the film as a perfect cross-promotional vehicle between his music company RSO (Robert Stigwood Organization) and his emerging film productions. The idea paid off, as both film and movie seemed to reinforce the other’s popularity. Travolta shot into stardom, and the album sold over 20 million copies, becoming the top selling album in history until Michael Jackson's Thriller six years later. The dance/music concept was repeated with John Travolta: first in a 1980 country version, Urban Cowboy; and then in a less than successful 1983 sequel Staying Alive, directed by none other than Sylvester Stallone.

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