Hosted by Barry Norman
Reviewer: Rahul Rose
With a galaxy of Hollywood superstars descending on the West End for the BAFTAs on Sunday night, the arrival of one veteran of the silver screen went completely unnoticed. Just a stone’s throw from the Royal Opera House, where the likes of Brad Pitt and Leonardo Dicaprio had convened for an evening of back slapping and award giving, John Travolta took to the stage to discuss his career with Britain’s most noted film critic, Barry Norman.
The troops of fans who gathered to bask in the glory of their idol, John Travolta, were more adoring and more fanatical than anybody in the swollen ranks of BAFTA red carpet stargazers. One women declared onstage that she had written letters to the movie star for 20 years. Not to be outdone another revealed she had changed her surname to Travolta. It was mostly women in the audience – the occasional husband or partner could be seen wincing in embarrassment at the more overdone and diehard declarations of love for the Hollywood icon.
Barry Norman, who replaced Jonathan Ross at the last moment, lent a certain poise and composure to proceedings. Less brash and loud than Ross would ever have been, his interviewing style was deceptively good, buoyed by many decades of experience as a film critic. There were no awkward moments, no difficult topics broached. Scientology and flop films were only discussed in the gentlest, most un-abrasive terms. This was never going to be an inquisition – the assembled fans who had payed anything between £50 and £300 would not have wanted that.
There was much to talk about – the all singing, all dancing twinkle eyed, dimple chinned heart-throb of the seventies; the fallow soul searching years of the eighties and the nineties revival starting with Travolta’s turn as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. The evening was punctuated by a steady stream of famous names, reminders of the longevity and stellar stardom of Travolta’s career. Muhammad Ali, Steven Spielberg, Barbara Streisand and Marlon Brando have all flown in one of Travolta’s five jets. The actor also declared Bill Clinton is still his close friend, despite Travolta playing the sexually voracious Jack Stanton in Primary Colors, a character closely based on the Democratic president.
In a moment of rare criticism Barry Norman confessed his dislike of Staying Alive, the much lambasted sequel to Saturday Night Fever. But this was just about the only instance of candid criticism from the famous film critic. It was a shame. After all, Travolta did make a series of disastrous career moves. He turned down American Gigolo, Chicago and Days of Heaven, all of which went to a very grateful Richard Gere. Unfortunately, Travolta does not believe in regret or dwelling in the past, both admirable qualities but not conducive to revelatory and compelling interviews.
The crowd did not care one iota though. They wanted to see their idol dance, and there was plenty of that. A stream of women took their turn to boogey with the heart-throb on stage, and many left swooning after re-enacting dances from Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction. These were the three films that got the crowd going more than any other. They mark the inception of Travolta’s stardom and its nineties revival. But they also show the supreme variety of his career from dancing king to villain. Only the most churlish and begrudging critic would deny the great contribution John Travolta has made to Hollywood cinema.
Reviewed on Sunday 16th February