Film Review, 54: The Director’s Cut at BFI Flare

In 1998 Mark Christopher’s 54, a film about New York’s legendary disco club Studio 54, was released to dismal reviews.  The film Christopher originally wrote and shot was a gritty behind the scenes exploration of pre-AIDS hedonism in New York, the centre of the universe.  The studio that released the film Miramax, ordered 40 minutes removed from the film and 30 minutes worth of reshoots.  The result not only sanitized the film, but fundamentally changed the characters.  We the public were expecting something alike Boogie Nights, wild and a representation of the late 1970s time period.

Despite Miramax loving the initial cut of 54 that was presented by Christopher, it became apparent that the test audiences were not receptive to the excessive drug use and bisexual story line of Shane – played by the then upcoming teen idol, Ryan Phillippe.  A studio editor was promptly assigned to re-cut 54, and writers were hired to create new scenes in an effort to make the film characters more likeable. The result, all traces of Shane’s bisexuality was removed, the film centred on a blossoming romance between Shane and soap-opera star Julie Black, played by Neve Campbell.

Following the film premier of 54 in 1998 Christopher returned to the editing room to reassemble his own private cut of his intended version for his own personal file copy.  A VHS bootleg of the rough cut submitted to Miramax had also began to circulate amongst film fans.  Despite its poor quality, petitions to Miramax to release 54 as Christopher had intended began to appear online in the early 2000s.  Christopher’s own version of 54 only existed in low quality on VHS, without time codes to indicate where each shot began or ended.  There was also no edit decision list.

Christopher and his team needed to recreate the director’s cut from the original footage using the film’s dailies, which were rescued having been marked to be destroyed.   36 minutes of the original 40 minutes cut was reassembled and added back into the film.


54: The Director’s Cut follows Shane (Ryan Phillippe) as he trades Jersey City and his friends (watch out for a young Mark Ruffalo playing Ricko) for the sex-drugs-disco allure of Studio 54.  Stripping to the waist to gain club entrance, Shane goes on to charm Steve Rubell (Mike Myers) into giving him employment.  Shane parades the type of naked ambition that makes me wonder if director Mark Christopher had come into contact with Madonna at Danceteria in the early 1980s, and inspired this character.

And who could resist Studio 54, what a nightclub.  I for one wanted to jump up into the screen and immerse myself into the hedonistic delirium that Studio 54 offered the viewer a glimpse of.  Where else can you dance on screen with Sheryl Crow, Cindy Crawford, Sophie Rousseau, Heidi Klum and Donald Trump, who all make appearances.

Shane sleeps his way through clientele, co-workers of both sexes, and remarkably when one conquest passes out he simply carries on thrusting by focusing on his own reflection, in the mirror.  He becomes embroiled in a love triangle with married co workers Anita (Salma Hayek) – a coat check girl who will do anything to achieve a singing career; and busboy Greg (Breckin Meyer) – seeks bartender status but won’t allow Club boss Steve (Mike Myers) to perform a falacio on him.

Steve, despite his dependence on chemical substances (he loves everyone) is using Greg to hide bin bags fall of cash from the IRS and his accountant, who he eventually fires due to her paranoia (pot, kettle, black).   He doesn’t like identity labels, but Mike Myer’s performance shines as the grotesque drooling twink loving Steve Rubell.

The restored footage almost feels like a camera feed from a reality television show.  The footage feels intimate; it invites the viewer to taste the atmosphere.  You watch as Shane walks through 54 through two different looking glasses one you see everything, the other – only a hint of decadence.

A pill popping angelic Disco Dottie (Ellen Albertini Dow) nurtures Shane and attempts to keep him grounded albeit from afar.  Her timely death on New Year’s Eve herald’s judgement for Steve as the IRS lock down Studio 54, and Shane is shaken back into reality and the weight of what he has created as Shane 54 bears it’s weight on his young shoulders.  Like birth and death, the ending is as the beginning, a topless young man walking along West 54th Street in winter, wrapping a black bin bag around his chiselled torso in an effort to keep warm.

4 Stars

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Alexander Ryll
When I couldn’t find a gay themed romantic film online via search engines or on any websites in early 2014, I created Gay Essential. launched in June 2014 we regularly promote rare and new gay-themed titles. Gay Essential is the first independent film website to categorize gay-themed films making it easier for visitors to learn about films based on their mood preference. Together with an incredible writing talent, we promote films and we make it easy for you to purchase them based on your location. Please add your support and purchase one of our incredible gay themed film T Shirts , unique and full of attitude.
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