South America Blog
About this blog
Wayne Bernhardson is the author of Moon Handbooks to Buenos Aires, Chile, Argentina, and Patagonia. Here he shares his vast knowledge of South America and its people.
- The Papal Cumbia
- The Uruguayan Sacraments: Tango & Mate
- Taxing the Tourist: Argentina's AFIP Aims Low
- Fortress Falklands: A Book Review
- Pope Argentinus I, The Musical: Ragtime Meets Tango
- Credit Where Credit Is Undue?
- ¿Adios Hugo?
- When "No" Is A Positive
- Chile and Its "Crazies"
- The Oscars: A Post Mortem, So to Speak
- Sacrificing the Atacama? A Chilean View of Dakar
- Chilean Oscar Faceoff? "No" v. "Kon-Tiki"
- Friday Digest: Southern Cone Nuggets
- Dancing in the Mud? The Andean Aftermath
- Floods & Mud: Summer Storms Hit the Andes
The Death of Disco: Tony Manero in Chile
In 1979, on my second visit to South America, there was a new word in the Spanish language. In Peru, I first encountered the verb travoltar, which meant to dance like John Travolta's character Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, an enormous hit around the continent. Personally, I always detested disco, but there’s no dismissing the cultural impact of that film about a working-class kid who turns into something else when he hits the dance floor.
The word itself, so far as I know, has disappeared from contemporary Spanish slang – like disco itself, it was a fad that flared out. It has its legacy, though, in films depicting the social, cultural and political milieu of the 1970s, as I learned after writing my recent post about Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s No, the film fictionalizing the successful electoral campaign against dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988.
Larraín also directed the 2008 film Tony Manero, also submitted to the Academy Awards (it was not a finalist), which I recently viewed on streaming video. Set in 1978, at the height (or should we say nadir?) of disco, it’s a dark film that explores the dictatorship era through the character of Raúl Peralta (ably portrayed by Alfredo Castro), a 52-year-old Travolta wannabe who’ll do just about anything to fulfill his fantasies.
To avoid spoilers, I won’t say anything more except that Tony Manero is an absorbing film, set in parts of Santiago that most tourists never see. With its gritty naturalism about Chilean society in the late 1970s, though, it is not a feel-good movie.
I will add, though, that I’m very much looking forward to seeing No when it reaches theatrical release in this country. Pablo Larraín, who was an infant during the Tony Manero era, is the son of Hernán Larraín, a conservative Senator from the Maule region for the Unión Democrática Independiente (UDI, Independent Democratic Union), the political party most closely associated with the Pinochet dictatorship. I expect some topics are taboo during Larraín family dinners, or that there are
at least some uncomfortable silences.
Tango by the River
As announced recently, there’s been a postponement of my digital slide lecture on Buenos Aires at Tango by the River in Sacramento, which will now take place Friday, October 26th, at 6 p.m. The date’s getting close, though – only ten days away.
Limited to a maximum of 50 people, the event will also include tango performances; admission costs $10 at the door, or $8 in advance. I have spoken here several times before, and we always sell out, so plan in advance. Signed copies of my Moon Handbooks on Argentina, Buenos Aires, Chile and Patagonia will be available at discount prices.