Saturday, July 12, 2008

FILM: 54

This month is Outfest, the Los Angeles gay and lesbian film festival, and we caught one of the screenings on Friday night. It was a "secret screening" which turned out to be a special director's cut of the 1998 film "54", about the wild heyday of the New York disco Studio 54. Unlike many director's cuts, where there are just a few extra minutes of footage here and there (the seriously overblown re-release of Close Encounters comes to mind), this director's cut had nearly 45 minutes of previously-unseen footage, and by the accounts of those who had seen the original release (we hadn't), it was a substantially different film. (Apparently, Ryan Philippe's character Shane was much more straight-laced in the released version. In the director's cut, he gets quite immersed in the sex and drugs scene.) The real Studio 54 was before my time, but now I feel as though I got a taste of it from this film. The glamour, the decadence, the music, the lights, the drugs, and the sex. Mike Meyers gives a great performance as Steve Rubell, the club owner, choosing his crowd, both rewarding and exploiting his employees, and passing a ton of cash through the operation in garbage bags out the back door to evade the IRS, and high as a kite through it all. Ryan Philippe is good as the young Jersey boy who gets chosen to be a bartender, rises high on his good looks, and loses most of his innocence before the party comes crashing to a harsh end between a drug overdose and an IRS bust. The party was sure fabulous before the drugs wore off, and seeing this film was the second-best thing to having been there (and certainly a healthier way to experience it). This was definitely a rough cut, but thanks to director Mark Christopher for sharing his original vision with us.

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