Sunday, 19 July 2015

54: Director's Cut: NZFF Review

54: Director's Cut: NZFF Review

70s Disco excess gets the big screen treatment once again with the new version of 54.

With 40 minutes of footage excised from the original 1998 release at the ordering of the Weinstein head honcho so that it wasn't quite the deviant flick that director Mark Christopher had envisioned.

Sure, the original vision may now be in tact and restored, but 54 has lost none of the thrill that it held the first time around.

For those not in the know, it's the story of Ryan Phillippe's wannabe Shane who lives in New Jersey but longs to outgrow his roots and be part of the New York scene. Stumbling one night into the path of Studio 54, Shane's plucked from the crowd by 54's svengali Steve Rubell (on the condition that he removes his shirt).

Inside the world of excess and disco music, Shane discovers his true raison d'etre as a busboy, but begins his social climb to bartender via ego and arrogance. Falling in with Breckin Meyer's Greg and Salma Hayek's Anita, he seems to have it all. But as the decadence of the club's excesses dig their claws deep into him, he starts to lose his humanity and decency, stopping at nothing to get to the top.

The director's cut of 54 may have lost none of the excess (in fact, it's probably even added some of it back in) but it certainly feels like more of a narrative flow than the previous outing. Even adding in one of the more notorious scenes where Shane tries it on with Greg, Christopher's vision for the film appears to have been restored to the glory that was originally envisaged.

Though, it's not all entirely successfully shoe-horned back in.

A few moments, coming as they do from source VHS, stand out on the big screen and the quality lapses are perhaps shockingly inevitable. And the sequences with Neve Campbell's soap star and potential love interest for Shane doesn't quite hang together or flow as the self-destructive Shane tries to summit the heights of his ambition.

But despite these minor niggles, 54: The Director's Cut brings a string of familiar faces in early roles (Heather Matarazzo, Mark Ruffalo) and reinforces that Mike Myers' take on Rubell was a tragic figure subtly personified and equally under-explored.

A paean to the excesses of the 70s it may be, but 54: The Director's Cut is still a trashy blast, a last hurrah for the disco era and a guilty pleasure nonetheless.

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