Posts Tagged 'A Tribute to John Travolta'

Travolta Fundraiser a Smash Success!

Filmmaker John Waters interviews actor John Travolta at “A Tribute to John Travolta” in MICA’s Brown Center on 11/10. Photo credit: Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun.

Thank you to everyone who came out for our Fall Fundraiser,  “A Tribute to John Travolta” on Saturday night at the MICA Brown Center! By all accounts it was a legendary evening.   Check out Chris Kaltenbach‘s coverage of our event in the Baltimore Sun.

Also, check out John Waters‘ recent interview on WBAL in which he talks about Travolta and describes Maryland Film Festival as  “…one of the best things that we have in this town!”  Click here for the podcast.


John Travolta in URBAN COWBOY

As John Waters pointed out a Baltimore Sun piece this weekend, “John Travolta can play a hit man, a mobster or a woman; not many people can say that.” Travolta’s versatility as an actor has proven one of his greatest strengths. Closely related to his comfort in diverse roles is the ease with which he jumps from genre to genre – heady drama with Malick, psychological thriller and horror with De Palma, comedy with Heckerling, high-octane action with Woo —  inhabiting each to the fullest.

Unquestionably, his career is one very closely linked with song and dance. From the worldwide sensation of Saturday Night Fever (which we discussed here last week), the career-reinventing Pulp Fiction (which we screened in glorious 35mm two weeks back), and the joyous musical spin on WatersHairspray, the name Travolta will always jolt iconic memories of soundtrack and movement perfectly merged. Only in a career as storied as Travolta’s, in fact, could two other musical smashes, Urban Cowboy and Grease, seem like hidden gems.

James BridgesUrban Cowboy, viewed some 30 years later, stands as one of those fascinating movies where the 1970s collide with the 1980s. The story of ‘Bud’ Davis (Travolta), who moves from a small Texan town to the outskirts of Houston to work for an oil refinery, the film finds its center in Bud’s tumultuous relationship with Sissy (Debra Winger). Some of the film’s most intriguing moments come early on as the characters are established. We’ve never seen Travolta like this before. Sure, he’s suave and youthful; but here his look is of a bearded, rugged country boy in full cowboy regalia, cutting a figure an alternative universe away from his Tony Manero three years earlier. The notes these early scenes strike, as well as many of the realistic blue-collar details set around the oil refinery, would seem as at-home in a 1970s drama like Five Easy Pieces as they would in a 1980s romantic drama. That it’s co-produced by one of the names most closely associated with 70s Hollywood, Robert Evans, also conjures certain rich associations.

In comparison to Saturday Night Fever and Grease, it’s easy to forget just how big a musical hit Urban Cowboy was in its own right. If Altman’s Nashville was a take on country music made largely by outsiders (and one that it took its titular city ages to warm up to), Urban Cowboy was a film made for real country fans—and one that created a new generation of fans, credited as it is with jumpstarting the pop-country craze of the 1980s. Set in a sprawling, real-life honkey-tonk bar co-owned by singer Mickey Gilley (who appears as himself), and featuring bona fide country stars such as Charlie Daniels and Bonnie Raitt, Urban Cowboy was the real deal for its time and place. It makes a fascinating time capsule today.

So what about Grease? It’s hard to think of a film more eminently watchable. Grease has stood the test of time as a pure pleasure machine, ranking alongside American Graffiti and Back to the Future as one of Hollywood’s most entertaining and lovingly crafted looks back at the 1950s. It’s also a deeply funny film, one that at times approaches the over-the-top dark comedy of Waters’ Cry-Baby, skewering its era’s postures and styles at the same time that it pays homage. Certainly, the film also takes full advantage of the 1970s’ ability to frankly discuss sexuality in a way a 1950s film, even in the coded language of the day, never could.

If you want to see Travolta’s skills in full display, look no further. His dance moves here, a brilliant amalgamation of pure early rock-and-roll styles with splashes of disco, speak to the form’s highest capabilities, feeling expertly choreographed yet free and liberated all at once. And it’s on Grease’s soundtrack where we hear Travolta at his very best. The hit “Summer Nights” remains winning and fresh, but the climactic performance of the worldwide smash “You’re The One That I Want” steals the show. I personally rewound this sequence three times, it retains so much giddy-making charm; I was then stunned to see it so quickly followed by “We Go Together,” a song that I vividly remember my sister and her friends singing time and time again when we were kids (yet had somehow forgotten that it originated here). Chances are you’ll also have a giddy and personal experience if you rewatch Grease, too: it’s that deeply embedded in the fabric of our culture.

As is Travolta. To name another actor easily identifiable with so many major moments of song and dance in film history, we’d have to go back to the classic era of, say, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. That in Travolta’s case these iconic musical films are just one aspect of an acting career spanning five decades is simply incredible.

– Eric Hatch, Programming Director


L to R: Ben (Aaron Johnson), DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) in SAVAGES. Photo credit: Universal Pictures.



The Maryland Film Festival is pleased to announce a unique tribute to Hollywood legend John Travolta on Saturday, Nov. 10 at the MICA Brown Center. The main event, a fundraiser to support the work of the Maryland Film Festival, will bring Travolta together with noted filmmaker John Waters for the fifth annual edition of the Maryland Film Festival’s annual signature “Open Conversations.”

Maryland Film Festival Presents “A Tribute to John Travolta:” An Open Conversation with John Travolta and John Waters
Saturday, November 10th
MICA Brown Center
1300 West Mt. Royal Ave.
Baltimore, MD

John Travolta‘s career represents an astonishing range of work, right up to his work in Oliver Stone‘s 2012 release, SAVAGES, which should garner Travolta a series of Best Supporting Actor nominations,” said MFF Director Jed Dietz. “In Maryland, we feel a special attachment to his career, and are grateful for his generosity to the community when he was here filming LADDER 49. We are proud to be able to welcome this unique artist back to Baltimore.”

Honorary Co-Chairs of the event will be Johns Hopkins President Ron Daniels and his wife, Joanne Rosen, and Maryland Institute College of Art President Fred Lazarus and his wife, Jonna Lazarus.

Travolta, who has appeared in more than 60 films, launched his career in 1972 with a variety of television roles and rose to national prominence with his featured role in the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter.” He secured his position as a leading man with a pair of musical blockbusters – SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER in 1977 and GREASE in 1978. His career was rekindled with a star turn in PULP FICTION in 1994, after which he continued to stretch his skills in a wide variety of starring roles. In 2004, Travolta came to Baltimore to film LADDER 49 with co-star Joaquin Phoenix. Three years later, Travolta returned to musicals, donning a house dress and a Baltimore accent to star as Edna Turnblad in the HAIRSPRAY, the film of the musical adapted from John Waters‘ 1988 film of the same name.

John Waters has directed sixteen movies in the city of Baltimore, including HAIRSPRAY, SERIAL MOM, CRY-BABY, POLYESTER and PINK FLAMINGOS, and he is the author of six books including 2011’s Role Models. He also serves on the Maryland Film Festival’s Board of Directors and has screened his films at numerous festivals around the world, including Cannes and Sundance. Waters has selected a film to present to audiences at each Maryland Film Festival since the festival’s launch in 1999; these titles have varied from offbeat comedies to cult classics and challenging art films. Their power to entertain and challenge viewers is always heightened by Waters’ unique humor and insight.

The Maryland Film Festival Open Conversations are designed to bring our community of supporters closer to movies and the people who make them. Launched in 2007, the Open Conversations have opened a variety of windows on the filmmaking world, including an exploration of the careers of actor John Rothman and his brother, studio executive Tom Rothman, an exploration of documentary film as journalism with Meredith Vieira, and a celebration of the 30th anniversary of DINER with Barry Levinson and cast members Ellen Barkin, Daniel Stern, and Michael Tucker.


1977: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (Oscar & Golden Globe Nomination)
1978: GREASE (Golden Globe Nomination)
1994: PULP FICTION (Oscar & Golden Globe Nomination)
1995: GET SHORTY (Golden Globe Win for Lead Actor)
1997: FACE/OFF (MTV Award for Best Duo)
1998: PRIMARY COLORS (Golden Globe Nomination)
2004: LADDER 49 (Filmed in Baltimore with Joaquin Phoenix)
2007: HAIRSPRAY (Golden Globe Nomination)
2012: Lifetime Achievement Award, Zurich Film Festival
2012: Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award, San Sebastian Film Festival


FRIENDS OF THE FESTIVAL EARLY BIRD ACCESS! Starting NOW through Wednesday 10/10, tickets on sale to current Friends of the Festival ONLY by calling 410-752-8083.  Tickets go on sale to general public 10/10.


$75* – Conversation-Only Tickets    

$300* – All Access Passes (includes preferred seating for Conversation followed by intimate post-Conversation dinner with John Travolta and John Waters).

*All tickets include access to MFF screenings of Travolta films at the Charles Theater, 1711 N. Charles Street: GET SHORTY on 10/23, 9pm and PULP FICTION 10/24, 9pm.

Not a Friend of the Festival or has your membership lapsed?  You can still get early bird access if you join or renew over the phone when you call our office to purchase tickets!  Presenter-level memberships start at just $50.  Click here to find out more about Friends of the Festival membership levels and benefits. This event WILL sell out – get your tickets now – why wait?

For more information about the event and Maryland Film Festival visit our website at