We’ve seen documentaries focusing on a record executive or entertainment mogul more enthralling than The Ringer’s latest entry in their Music Box series, Mr. Saturday Night (2021), by director Joe Maggio – though no issues are stemming from Joe Maggio’s vision. And a part of the issue comes from Bill Simmon’s description of the series and how true it turns out to be. These films, to Bill, were made to play like a record that you can visually revisit like your favorite vinyl. However, most of these films have predominately missed the mark. Like others, Mr. Saturday Night (2021) focuses on a larger-than-life icon in music; unfortunately, it leaves you hungry for more.
Mr. Saturday Night (2021) tells the story of the cheeky and intelligent music mogul Robert Stigwood, the man responsible for managing some of the best rock bands of the 60s/70s and revitalizing Disco after the initial decline in the mid-70s. With Stigwood’s highs that ran through the late 60s to mid-70s, there are multiple angles one could have taken to give us a portrait of Stigwood. But it became disappointing as I saw that the portrait started to lack details, and instead, it looks like a semi-half-assed master’s degree thesis that matches the rules. It delivers cookie-cutter facts that tell a consistent story of a man who consistently fought, despite being over his head.
What it tells you: Robert Stigwood has delivered projects that have lived on through centuries, from managing legendary bands like The Who and Cream to shaping and invigorating the careers of the Bee Gees and John Travolta. And yet, Mr. Saturday Night (2021) aims at making sure we get through 1965 -1980 in 83 minutes, as if it is enough time to deliver enough details to keep you seated, as opposed to giving you a layout for you to continue learning. So if Mr. Saturday Night (2021) is supposed to play like a record, there should be enough details hidden within crevices to have you returning in case you missed something – alas, it’s as straightforward as a new BMW on cruise control. There is nothing to reflect unless it is your introduction to the entertainment mogul or cares to see how Stigwood “made” Saturday Night Fever, then there isn’t much here.
One positive comes from Joe Maggio’s artistic direction. He uses cutout photos of the specific speaker who they interview – directly or indirectly – depending on its current direction. It’s interesting to hear from Rock Journalist Nik Cohn and Stigwood partner Kevin McCormick, amongst others, while interestingly bringing in audio recordings of Brian Epstein speaking firmly about the current topic. For this specific situation, they were speaking swiftly about the merger in 1967 – it is there that we get a quick reference to Stigwood’s and the Beatles’ rocky relationship as a means to parallel with inherent critic and box office bombs for the film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978). However, as it begins to unravel, we only see one-third of the man.
Robert Stigwood has a decorated history in music and entertainment, giving us some of the incredible memories in film and broadway, but it picks out ticky-tacky topics to attract simple audiences, like those who care for Saturday Night Fever and The Bee Gees. But there is more detail in The Bee Gees: How Can One Mend A Broken Heart. It sweeps through Stigwood’s monstrous time on Broadway from Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, only leaving a waning memory that you question why they tell it in this manner. Stigwood is more than just than meets the eye, and frankly, 83 minutes isn’t enough to tell his story. My earlier notion about these films in the Music Box series having to come across as replays allows it to suffer from getting a good product out.
The thing is, Mr. Saturday Night (2021) has the structure of a thesis paper – a comparison that I made previously. It has a decent intro, a semi-strong first argument, a phenomenal second, and a lackluster third where they skip a conclusion, and the film just ends. You get information about the creation of Saturday Night Fever and the mentality Robert Stigwood has throughout the business meetings, unfortunately dwindling into mediocrity. It’s bothersome because there are films that capture the essence of Pop and the Disco era that Stigwood dominated in with more care and detail, and the simple timeline model dissuades us from getting a character study. It’s by the numbers that you’re better off watching Studio 54 and reading up on Stigwood as his hands have been part of many phenoms, like Evita, Tommy, and Sweeney Todd, the latter of which he helped produce a show on the West End in London’s Theater District.
Though a producer’s tag can be vague, it adds perspective to the kind of stories we could have gotten. Robert Stigwood is the soundtrack producer for Fame and The Empire Strikes Back – separately from his other works – some of which could have spent some more time on, like Grease and Evita. The film wants to talk about Stigwood, who had an impact equivocal to The Black Godfather or Clarence Avant, but it goes off into becoming a run-of-the-mill documentary. And there are no issues with that as documentarian filmmakers try to add finite details you’ve missed the first time, which in turn, makes you want to return. If you return to Mr. Saturday Night, there won’t be much to return to, as it reads like the first few paragraphs of a Wikipedia article. It is missing components, which in hindsight, come from aligning with the guidelines.
As a fan of the era and the sound, Mr. Saturday Night was something that should have been up my alley. But frankly, despite the good and the bad, I found myself to be bored. It goes by swiftly with the Wikipedia/Spark Notes rendition. You’re better off watching films like Studio 54, Dons Of Disco, or Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco, which explore intricate topics and areas of Disco, from the music to the club scene to fashion, which Mr. Saturday Night fails to explore dimensions of. So unless you’re too curious, I’d recommend skipping.