“54” – The Director’s Cut” Is The Film That Should Have Been Released

The movie opens with a very hunky bare chested young man in a New York street late at night trying to cover up and keep warm. You can hear him start to explain. “I’m not going to bullshit you, it was the greatest party in the history of the world.  My boss said the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. Maybe it did. One thing for sure it was the ultimate escape from a fucked up city in a fucked up time.   But like any great escape, it never lasts”

He’s talking of course about the infamous Studio 54 which was THE dance club in Manhattan, that for a few short years in the late 1970s was where all the celebrities hung out and partied whilst all the desperate would-be’s were kept outside behind the velvet ropes begging Steve Rubell the co-owner and ringmaster to be let in. Their efforts were all in vain as you had to have either a certain look or a gorgeous body for him to relent and admit you in to mingle with the stars. Shane a rather gormless New Jersey boy who was as cute as hell was in the latter group. This is his story, which started off when Rubell told him to remove his shirt and after he stripped to his waist he got invited into more than just the Club, and he stayed until the party ended.

What naïve Shane encounters inside the Club quickly blows his mind. Hedonistic excess and debauchery with people openly having sex whilst bare-chested glitter-painted waiters nimbly passed around the packed dance floor with silver trays carrying drinks laced with vials of coke. There are bodies everywhere and all of them behaving badly. Hesitant at first he soon joins in and as he discovers that he loves being the center of attention he learns to parlay that into getting what he wants. He is very soon a regular fixture and asking a somewhat besotted Rubell for a job. He starts at the bottom as a lowly bar boy but literally fucks his way to becoming the next new hottest bartender which is one of the most coveted jobs in the place.

Rubell’s self-indulgent rapacious greedy lust for money and power knows no bounds and the seemingly unstoppable raging success of the club means endless drug-fuelled sleepless days and nights as he lures Shane and his other young staff into satisfying his sexual needs with the promise of promotion or a handful of cash. His creepy persona (a startlingly wonderful dramatic performance from Mike Myers) influences the once innocent straight Shane who readily now jumps in bed with older celebrities of both sexes as he earns a reputation of being able to literally fuck them unconscious. His now insatiable appetite has him also making passes at both his married best friends who are also his roommates.

For Shane it’s simply a case of rags to riches story and when the IRS finally takes heed of Rubell’s pubic boasting of tax-avoidance and raids the Club, it back to rags again. He’s had his trip to the dark side and now its time get back into a light that is not just from the refection of a disco glitter ball.

Written and directed by Mark Christopher, this new Directors Cut fulfills an ambition he has held since the original movie was released some 17 years ago. He’s added some 36 sparkling minutes which makes a great deal more sense of Shane’s story and it also re-instates all the sex and the morally ambivalent characters that frightened the distributors way back then. All’s well that ends well and Christopher’s love letter to the heady days of the New York disco seen is now a sheer joy.

With the exception of Myers the cast were relatively unknown. Newcomer Ryan Philippe, whose experience prior to this had been playing a gay teenager on ‘Days Of Our Live’ (the first gay character on US daytime TV), played Shane so passionately. He not only looks the part …. be prepared to swoon like Rubell when he first takes off his shirt to reveal THAT chest … but he imbues his role so perfectly with such convincing innocence. Playing alongside him were a very young Salma Hayek, Neve Campbell, and almost totally unspottable in his very first movie role Mark Ruffalo. Christopher has scattered quite a few celebrities playing themselves as regular habitués of the Club, some of whom you may not even recognize until the credits role at the end.

As Shane so adroitly summed up the whole scene ‘one moment it is all around you and the next its gone for ever’. Very true, but now thanks to this excellent entertaining movie we can relieve part of it again for at least 90 minutes.

The film will be shown at Frameline 39 San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival Friday, June 26 at 9 p.m. at the Castro Thetre.