Stay Gold, Ponyboy

By Judy Berman

Living life on the fringes. Always feeling like you’re on the outside looking in.

That’s the theme of the novel, “The Outsiders,” by S.E. Hinton. It’s one I can relate to, and I’ve been out of school for a few decades. The book and the movie still resonate with readers today.

Elvis, The Beatles, leather jackets, D.A.’s greased-back haircuts and madras shirts. They evoke a different time – the early-‘60s. That was when America worried about a nuclear attack and building bomb shelters. We had not yet gotten involved in Vietnam and the flower children of the mid-1960s were still a few years away.

Many look at those times as being more innocent. But it had its share of troubles, too. Like the author, I had friends who were rich, as well as those who were poor and lived “on the other side of the tracks.” A few were “hoods” and, around me, they were great guys. I knew that neither life was problem-free.

S. E. Hinton wrote about the clash of those two groups. She was 15 and still in high school when she began writing her novel. It was published in 1967,  when she was a freshman in college. She has said that the characters were not based on any one person she knew. Ponyboy, Johnny and Dally’s characters each had their own universal appeal, she said.

The movie, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is one I’ve shown to my students the past several years. They see the PG version, although I prefer the PG-13 version because the story thread is much closer to the book.

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” That’s Ponyboy Curtis’ opening line in the novel.

A few blocks later, Ponyboy is jumped by members of the Socs (or Socials, the rich kids). When he yells for help, his brothers and gang members of the Greasers, the hoods, rush to his defense.

Their next encounter is deadly. It forces Ponyboy and his friend, Johnny, to run away to avoid arrest. At one point, they’re focused on the countryside’s beauty and wish that scene could remain forever.

I recall a similar experience when I lived in the country. As I looked out our kitchen window, the whole countryside was awash in gold. Then, sadly, as the sun rose higher, the golden hues began to yield to nature’s green coloring. Ponyboy, in repeating lines from Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay:”

“Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day, Nothing gold can stay.”

When Johnny asks what it means, Ponyboy tells him that things cannot remain as they are.

Like the scene they witnessed, their innocence will slip away. What they’ve gone thru will transform them forever. Near the end of the book, Johnny told Ponyboy to “stay gold.”

Little has changed since the book was published in 1967. There are still cliques and those who are on the outside. Hopefully, as teens read this book and see the movie, they will see the harm that comes from stereotyping, from forming cliques, and how they view others who are not part of their group.

Ponyboy realized that just because he was poor didn’t mean he’d be stuck in that life. He was going to make something of himself. That’s an excellent observation. One that I hope my students take away from the story that Hinton crafted when she was a teen herself.

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* Main photo of cast in “The Outsiders”   http://www.listal.com/viewimage/1402794h

* Photo of Ponyboy and Johnny from the movie  http://www.fanpop.com/spots/the-outsiders/images/29368683/title/johnny-cade-ponyboy-curtis-photo

* Photo clips from the movie, “The Outsiders,” and Stevie Wonder singing “Stay Gold.”   http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=the+outsiders+movie+music+video&mid=BEBF8C699E909E8E2096BEBF8C699E909E8E2096&view=detail&FORM=VIRE1

* Video of Ponyboy and Johnny. Scene where Ponyboy recites Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwJ-ppxCGPk

* Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”  http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19977

* S.E. Hinton’s website: http://www.sehinton.com/

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Catching the ‘Fever’ with Travolta and The Bee Gees

By Judy Berman

 

That swagger. Those dance moves. John Travolta, as Tony Manero, turned heads and captivated an audience from the opening scene of “Saturday Night Fever” (1977).

The film brings back memories of the disco era and the music of The Bee Gees. Even today, 35 years later, any of their hit songs from the soundtrack – “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” – make me yearn for a return of mirror balls, strobe lights and bad suits made of polyester.

I’m not even a disco fan. But I loved the dance music in that movie. There’s no way I could hit the high notes that Barry Gibb did in his falsetto voice. In my mind, I came a little closer to imitating his brother Robin’s vibrato.

Their music and the movie spoke to a time many can relate to. Many guys like Tony worked dead-end jobs during the week. But, on the weekend, Tony owned the dance floor. Others would step aside just to watch his skillful, stylish moves.

Movie critic Gene Siskel praised Travolta’s energetic performance: “Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.”

Tony lives for the moment. He’s on top of his game when he’s dancing. Outside the Brooklyn disco, life is less satisfying. He bickers constantly with his parents, and he becomes disenchanted with his job and his friends.

Tony decides to enter a dance competition. He ditches his partner, Annette (played by Donna Pescow), when he sees Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney) dance. She’s not interested in a relationship with him, only in being his partner in the competition – something Tony hasn’t experienced before.

Tony begins to question his views on life thru his talks with Stephanie, who is wiser but not much older, and with his brother, a disillusioned priest. He begins to see that there is more to life than his appearances at the local nightclub, 2001 Odyssey.

Stephanie and Tony win the dance contest. But Tony feels the outcome was rigged. He believes the Puerto Rican couple performed better and suspects the judges rejected them out of racial bias. Tony hands them the prize. Outside, he and Stephanie fight. She runs away from him, and he gets in more skirmishes with his friends.

When the “Night Fever” had passed, Tony recognized that Stephanie was “More Than a Woman.” She wasn’t just another conquest. She could occupy a spot that no other girl had filled: She could be his friend.

After spending the night on the subway, Tony went to Stephanie’s apartment and apologized. She agreed to be friends with him.

It’s a bittersweet moment.

This movie and the creators of the soundtrack make me feel like I’ve got the moves like Travolta. I wish the dancing would never end, but, like Tony, we all had to move on.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

* Photo: The Bee Gees performing in 1968 (from left to right: Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Bee_Gees.png

* Photo: John Travolta (as Tony Manero) dancing with Karen Gorney (Stephanie) in “Saturday Night Fever” http://www.starpulse.com/Movies/Saturday_Night_Fever/gallery/Saturday-Night-Fever-02/

* music video: The Bee Gees performing “Night Fever” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ihs-vT9T3Q

* music video: John Travolta’s ritual preparing for dance, then dancing http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=saturday+night+fever&mid=E3A0F26506B707A8AB65E3A0F26506B707A8AB65&view=detail&FORM=VIRE7

* music video: John Travolta (as Tony Manero) dancing with Karen Lynn Gorney (as Stephanie) to “More Than a Woman” http://movieclips.com/rExg-saturday-night-fever-movie-disco-dancing/