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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ups And Downs

 "What goes up, must come down,  spinning wheel got to go round"
--Blood Sweat and Tears

We all have ups and downs in life. Most of us get that. No matter who you are, how good you think you have it, there will be ups...and....downs.  They are unavoidable. There are things that we all have no control over. People die, people lie, natural disasters happen. Nobody is immune to that. Money doesn't give you a free pass. Nor does fame.
What most of us don't realize,  at the time that the downs are happening, is that they are mostly just a passageway to the next up. They aren't really downs. They seem like downs, but they aren't. They are just bumps. Necessary bumps on the way to the next up. 
I will explain with an example.


John Travolta, who was a very big star from 1976 to 1983,  seemed to have a meteoric rise with Welcome Back Kotter and Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Urban Cowboy. Seemed to. But he did pay his dues. He spent 3 or 4 years doing commercials and working on the theater circuit before his big break on Welcome Back Kotter.

While he was gaining a big following on Welcome Back Kotter, he also did a TV movie called The Boy In The Plastic Bubble. While on that movie he met Diana Hyland. They became real life lovers. She was more than 15 years older than him, and had been around show business for about 20 years. She knew the business and she knew it well.

Because of Welcome Back Kotter,  Travolta was able to parlay his budding star status into a 3 picture deal. But to that point, there were no actual pictures in mind.
At the urging of Hyland,  Travolta pushed himself into getting the role of Tony Manero in
Saturday Night Fever and thus became a superstar. While Travolta was beginning the filming of Saturday Night Fever,  Hyland got very sick and died of breast cancer. Of course,  these are part of the ups and downs of life. You meet someone,  you fall in love.  Sometimes you love happily ever after and sometimes they get sick and they die.  You get a great career role and then your girlfriend dies just as you are making your way. Travolta could have let this up-turned-down keep him down. Instead, he took his pain from the loss of his potential lifemate and he used that to make his character in Saturday Night Fever better and more balanced. Some would argue that he changed the nature of the film for the better.

By the time Blow Out came to the theaters in 1981 he had a very nice 7 year run. It seemed he could do no wrong.  After Saturday Night Fever , Grease and Urban Cowboy he looked like money in the bank. A film with Travolta as the star was sure to make big money. However, it was only likely that he would have a down period. But that didn't change the quality of his work.
The beginning of the decline in his popularity began with the movie Blow Out.
Most would acknowledge that Blow Out was a very good movie. As well, Travolta was very good in it. Most of the reason the movie failed has been blamed on poor marketing.

On the other hand,  a lot of what made Saturday Night Fever a popular movie was great marketing. Robert Stigwood (the producer of Saturday Night Fever) knew how to generate interest and by the time the movie premiered,  everyone wanted to see it. 

 From Wikipedia:

  "The film is the first example of cross-media marketing, with the tie-in soundtrack's single being used to help promote the film before its release and the film popularizing the entire soundtrack after its release."

It could be argued that Travolta was equally as good in both films. I would argue exactly that. I have seen both films many times and can't say that one is that much better than the other,  only that they are both fantastic films.
At the same time that movie came out, a young writer/director and producer was just getting his feet wet. Although he wouldn't make his mark for another ten years, he was learning his craft and had taken notice of Brian Depalma (writer director of Blow Out) and Travolta in Blow Out. That young artist was
Quentin Tarantino, who has consistently praised the movie, listing it alongside Rio Bravo and Taxi Driver as one of his three favorite films.
Other major critics of the time, Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, raved about it.

From Wikipedia:

Blow Out opened to generally positive reviews from critics, including several ecstatic ones. In The New Yorker, Pauline Kael gave the film one of her few unconditional raves: "De Palma has sprung to the place that Robert Altman achieved with films such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville and that Francis Ford Coppola reached with the two Godfather films—that is, to the place where genre is transcended and what we're moved by is an artist's vision.... It's a great movie. Travolta and Nancy Allen are radiant performers."Roger Ebert's four-star (out of four) review in the Chicago Sun-Times noted that Blow Out "is inhabited by a real cinematic intelligence. The audience isn't condescended to.... We share the excitement of figuring out how things develop and unfold, when so often the movies only need us as passive witnesses."

Despite positive reviews, the film floundered at the box office due to terrible word of mouth about its bleak ending. Blow Out earned approximately $8 million and was considered a flop. It was Travolta's first failure as a box office draw in a leading role. It was followed by two more, Perfect and Two Of A Kind. After those three financial failures, his stock dropped and he found it hard to get good roles. For years. Ten years.

 In many ways it could be argued that Travolta was over saturated in the market. People had seen so much of him, in basically the same role (the young upstart trying to find his way in the world) that they just got tired of him and he lost his shine. That happens to anyone and everyone. The same could be said of the Bee Gees,  for the same but different reasons.
The Bee Gees were a big act for a very long time long before
Saturday Night Fever made them iconic for all time. But, just before Saturday Night Fever came out their careers had stalled. Their brand of love ballads seemed lost in the wave of disco that started in 1974-1975. They did put out a few dance/disco songs like You Should Be Dancing, but mostly they were still pop hit makers focused on love songs.

 Barry Gibb:

 "We still had no concept of the movie, except some kind of rough script that they'd brought with them ... You've got to remember, we were fairly dead in the water at that point, 1975, somewhere in that zone–- the Bee Gees' sound was basically tired. We needed something new. We hadn't had a hit record in about three years. So we felt, Oh Jeez, that's it. That's our life span, like most groups in the late 60s. So, we had to find something. We didn't know what was going to happen."

 That is until they turned what they already did, which was make hits in whatever the popular genre of the day was into superstar status. The quality of their songs were just as good as before and just as good after,  but their peak was certainly 1977-1979. However, what gained them the greatest fame also sent them into hiding. After disco petered out, the Bee Gees then became known as the disco poster child and they could not get played on radio.

From Wikipedia:

"The Bee Gees' overwhelming success rose and fell with the disco bubble. By the end of 1979, disco was rapidly declining in popularity, and the backlash against disco put the Bee Gees' American career in a tailspin. Radio stations around America began promoting "Bee Gee Free Weekends". Following their remarkable run from 1975 to 1979, the act would have only one more top ten single in the US, and that would not come until 1989."

No matter how good their next few albums were. They had a down that became an up then became a down. But through it all, the quality of their work remained the same. And because they couldn't get played,  they just began to give their better songs to artists that could.

At the same time that Travolta's career was on the skids, so was the Bee Gees. While the Bee Gees never fully recovered,  they did just keep doing what they do best: making music that people love to listen to.
Travolta floundered for about ten years. That is until the upstart young artist Tarantino needed an actor for his movie Pulp Fiction. Luckily his first choice, Mike Madsen declined the role in favor of a role in a bigger movie, Wyatt Earp, which was a flop, Because of that, Madsen, the hot actor at the time,  went out of favor while Travolta's career was on the rise again.

"Tarantino wanted Madsen for the part of Vincent Vega - the part that went to Travolta - but in a decision he rues to this day, Madsen made Wyatt Earp instead, a dreary Western that tanked at the box office. 'It was like three hours of nausea,' he says."

Both Madsen and Tarantino had made their name with the movie Reservior Dogs. Because of that movie,  Tarantino was able to get a movie like Pulp Fiction made, while Madsen could then command bigger dollars in higher profile movies. At that same time Travolta was almost forgotten as an A-list actor.

Tarantino was none too pleased either at Madsen's choice, and for years they didn't speak. Only when he was finishing off the Kill Bill script did they become friendly again. Then, one day, Madsen was over at Tarantino's house, reading the script by his pool over a bottle of Icelandic schnapps and right there Tarantino cast him as Budd. And, as far as Madsen is concerned, that changed the course of his career.

So really, due to a set of circumstances, what seems like downs are really just bumps on the way back up. 
Even though Blow Out seemed to be a major down in Travolta's career, in fact it was a major up.  If Tarantino had not seen him in that movie, he likely never would have cast him in Pulp Fiction and he probably would have not made the 20 or so films as a leading man that he got after it. If Madsen had taken the role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, he might not have made the same impression as Travolta (who got an Academy Award nomination for it) and Tarantino might not have used him in Kill Bill, which put him back on the map.
Every down in life can be viewed as an up, if you view it from the perspective of the big picture. If you have the talent, that will win out over time. Those that recognize talent understand that and see your performance for what it is..or isn't.
Those are the normal ups and downs of life.
You are still the same person, with the same skills and goals, only the circumstances, albeit temporary,  have changed. And they will change long as you keep believing in yourself.

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