Chosen to premiere at Berlin (home of Cabaret), Mark Christopher’s 54: The Director’s Cut recreates a bygone age of synth-infused hedonism.
Disco Infernoby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
17 years in the (re-)making, Mark Christopher’s 54: The Director’s Cut is first and foremost more than just a director’s cut. With a voiceover re-recorded by Ryan Phillippe (now fortuitously at the right age), more than 40 minutes of reinserted edits and footage specifically shot for this edit, it’s finally Mark Christopher’s vision of the film he wanted to make, and a stark warning against the meddling of Hollywood studios. Gone the protracted romance with Julie Black (Neve Campbell) and the drugs-are-bad puritanism, and in their place the story of a modern New York “family” – barman Shane (Ryan Phillippe), busboy Greg (Breckin Meyer) and hat-check girl Anita (Salma Hayek). Liberated from its studio shackles, Studio 54 is a place of unbridled hedonism – where sex, both gay and straight, drugs and IRS fraud go hand in hand. And Shane is at its epicentre – loosening up from his Jersey background to the point where he’s selling drugs over the bar to make extra cash and going with both guys and dolls. Looking back it seems strangely conservative that the studios should make such a fuss; 54: The Director’s Cut is simply the story of a rush of pleasure that gets a hangover and sobers up. And while by today’s standards 54: The Director’s Cut makes for an exceedingly enjoyable flick, it’s certainly not an auteur film. But when its only predecessors for homosexuality on film were arthouse, independent or foreign (with the notable studio exceptions of Philadelphia, The Birdcage and Wilde – read AIDS, drag and lit flick), it’s perhaps no wonder that the Hollywood producers decided to stop the show. Perhaps it was ahead of its time, but if the studios had released Mark Christopher’s cut 17 years ago, then 54 may just have been enough to get the party started.
54: The Director’s Cut is now showing at the 65th Berlin Film Festival