Decades after it was deemed too deviant to release, 54: The Director’s Cut delivers the full decadent glory of legendary Manhattan disco Studio 54 as its makers intended. With Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek and Mike Myers.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2015
Seen at last in next-to-original form, Mark Christopher’s 1998 movie plugs us into late-70s discorama at its most delirious. Ryan Phillippe, 22 and shirtless in virtually every scene, is the starstruck Jersey studmuffin who becomes a busboy – delivering drugs and sexual services – at Manhattan’s legendary Studio 54. Mike Myers’ impersonation of club co-owner Steve Rubell is brilliant – an uncanny mix of swish and swagger, sour wit and predatory guile. Salma Hayek is both touching and alarming as a coat-check girl making impulsive grabs at stardom. Alas, it was all too deviant for producer Harvey Weinstein. He cut 40 minutes and ordered reshoots, eliminating the hero’s bisexuality, toning down his amorality and creating a redemptive romance starring actress Neve Campbell. The resulting travesty rates 13% on Rotten Tomatoes. Meanwhile, thanks to bootleg VHS copies, Christopher’s original cut garnered cult status. Now, Miramax has funded him to reinstate the tasty bits, not to mention the narrative arc, and treat us to the tragicomic celebration of pre-plague decadence he always had in mind.
“With the original footage restored, the film now is a gritty masterpiece, a classic of bored excess and existential longing, framed by sweaty abs, jeroboams of quaaludes and the pulsing beat and recreated performances of music’s most celebrated and reviled era. Phillippe is Shane, an ambitious Jersey boy who Steve Rubell admits to his club once he throws away his nasty rayon shirt. Thus begins his ascension from busboy to bartender, from ingenue to bisexual hustler and from beer drinker to drug dealer.” — Noah Cowan, San Francisco International Film Festival