Sunday, December 31, 2017

54 (1998), Both the Theatrical Cut and the Director's Cut

The late 1990s and early 2000s were a wild time where the same group of actors continuously appeared in movies and television shows about teenagers or young adults.  Sometimes the movies were horror, sometimes comedy, and sometimes they were Cruel Intentions.  Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. were two of the biggest contributors to that era.  Another couple of actors to have their biggest career moments in that time were Ryan Phillippe and Breckin Meyer.

Both of the latter actors were in a movie called 54, which came out in 1998.  It was about Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe), also known as Shane 54.  He began working at Studio 54 in the late 1970s after going one night and falling in love with the nightclub lifestyle.  He worked alongside Greg Randazzo (Breckin Meyer) and Anita Randazzo (Salma Hayek), under the employment of Steve Rubell (Mike Myers).  They went through the dark (or light, depending on the cut of the movie) nightclub lifestyle until the arrest of Steve Rubell put the club’s future in jeopardy.

There are two different cuts of 54 that drastically change the feel of the movie.  Director Mark Christopher had a vision of what his story would be, based on research into the actual Studio 54.  There were fictionalized elements to his script, for sure, but he had a story he wanted to tell.  Miramax took the movie, recut it, did a bunch of reshoots, and released their version.  The people involved weren’t too happy with the movie they had invested their time in.  More recently, Mark Christopher got his own edit done, which included many of the things that were cut out, and drastically changed the tone of the film.

I saw both versions, leading into this week.  Neither of them were great films.  There was a noticeable difference between the Theatrical Cut and the Director’s Cut, however.  I’ll get into those soon.  When I sat down to watch the movie, I didn’t know that there were two different cuts.  I was about half an hour into it when someone asked me which version I was watching.  After realizing there were two cuts, I decided to check them both out because of how extensive the differences were.  It was definitely worth it, to see two versions of the story that changed so many things.  Characters, storylines, and even the club were changed between versions.  It was crazy.
Let’s begin with the Theatrical Cut.  It was not only the first cut of 54 that was released.  It was also the first one that I watched.  The main thing about the Theatrical Cut was that it tried to glorify the 1970s Studio 54 atmosphere.  The colours were bright, the club was fun, and everything ended up okay for everyone.  Everyone was alright in the end.  Except for one character, but I’ll get to that later.  The Theatrical Cut of 54 made the nightclub scene look good.

The main romantic story of the Theatrical Cut was that Shane was pining after soap opera actress Julie Black (Neve Campbell).  There were other romances that he experienced, but it always came back to Julie Black.  He went to Studio 54 hoping to find her.  He left Studio 54 with her.  She was the woman that he wanted and he would do anything to get her.

Studio 54’s downfall was in Steve Rubell, who had been skimming money from the club to make himself rich.  The success of Studio 54 had given him lots of money.  Near the end of the Theatrical Cut, the IRS raided the nightclub and took away Steve Rubell.  This was thanks to Anthony (Jason Andrews), a man who was involved in some of the shadier dealings within the club.  He was questioned by the IRS and cracked under the pressure.

There was some narration throughout the Theatrical Cut of 54 that spelled out everything that was happening on screen.  It was needed in some moments to set up certain story beats.  In most cases, though, the narration was explaining what was happening on screen even though it was happening on screen.  It was telling instead of showing, which goes against how movies should work.  A visual medium should work based on the visuals or how the visuals incorporate the audio.  The narration didn’t work with the visuals.  It discussed what the visuals were, which was an unnecessary redundancy.

The biggest change that Miramax made to 54, however, was in the ending of the film.  The main four characters came together after Steve Rubell’s release from prison to spend one more night at the infamous club.  They put aside any of their conflicts for a final night at Studio 54.  They said things would never be the same again.  It was because their lives were better now.  Studio 54 had led them to better lives.
The Studio 54 of the Director’s Cut did not lead the characters to better lives.  Instead of the glorified, bright Studio 54, the Director’s Cut was darker.  The drugs were more apparent.  The negative sides of the club were no longer in the background.  They were the story.  The story was how Studio 54, though a wild ride for the characters, wasn’t the best route for their lives to take.  It was a dance club that everyone enjoyed at the time.  It was a lifestyle that everyone enjoyed.  That didn’t make it a good place.

Julie Black was no longer the interest of Shane’s desires.  Mark Christopher’s cut of 54 showed how promiscuous Shane was with both women and men.  He would sleep with anyone if he could, and in most cases, he could.  He had a reputation as a guy who would have sex with you until you passed out.  His main romance was a love triangle with his best friend Greg and Greg’s wife Anita.  All three of them shared romantic moments with each other throughout the film.  Shane with Anita, Greg with Anita, and Shane with Greg.  I should make note that this wasn’t a negative aspect of the club.  This romantic triangle was due to Shane’s close friendship with the couple.  It was nice to see this play out without the homosexuality being a huge deal.  That’s a big step for a 90s movie.

Back to the negative side of the club that was more apparent in the Director’s Cut than the Theatrical Cut.  Just like with the Theatrical Cut, the Director’s Cut saw Steve Rubell get arrested by the IRS near the end.  The big difference with this moment in the Studio 54 story was who caused it.  Instead of having someone simply crack under pressure, the cause of Steve Rubell’s downfall was himself.  He had fired his accountant, or someone who had a job like that at least, and that person went to the IRS with information about his skimming.  We don’t see that interaction with the IRS, but the character was present during the raid which said everything.  It fit with the movies overall themes being that though the club brought people together, their actions within it would be their downfall.

The Director’s Cut veered a different direction with its ending.  Where the Theatrical Cut had the happy ending that brought everyone together for one final night of the glorious Studio 54, the Director’s Cut ended with each of the characters being forced out of the club that they had discovered themselves in.  Steve Rubell was arrested.  Shane was fired as a result of actually caring about the people who visited the club.  Greg left after a close call with the police over the drugs he was dealing.  Anita left with her husband.  They had each been removed from the world in a sudden, whirlwind night of action.
Before I get into my overall impressions about each of the movies, I want to point out one important plot beat that was strangely a big moment for both cuts.  Disco Dottie (Ellen Albertini Dow) was one of the regulars at Studio 54.  She was a senior citizen who loved the atmosphere of the club.  She wanted to dance and do drugs.  At the same New Year’s Eve party where the IRS raided the nightclub, she died of an overdose on the dance floor.  Shane got mad at Steve Rubell for saying the show must go on when one of their regulars had just died, and that led to his firing.

This moment fit well into the Director’s Cut of 54.  It was the moment where Shane realized that though people cared about the club, Studio 54 would never care about them.  Their lives had become the club and it was going to chew them up and throw them out.  He also knew that he had to live the life he wanted to live, like Dottie had lived the life she wanted to live, right up until her death.  That was the turning point for the character, showing him that Studio 54 wasn’t great.

That same moment went against everything that the Theatrical Cut of 54 was setting up.  The club was set up to be this great place where everyone wanted to be.  The narration stated it as much as the visuals showed it.  Everyone wanted to be in the club because the club was a great place to be in.  Studio 54 was THE place to be.  Everything that the movie presented was that it was a great place.  Until the death of Disco Dottie.  And even then, once the arrest happened, the movie immediately went back on these two negative things and had the characters reliving their glory days one more time.  It was the most important moment in the entire movie, and felt like a contradiction of everything that the Theatrical Cut was putting forward.
In the end, there are two decent cuts of 54 that are out there.  The Theatrical Cut feels like a mess because of how compromised the vision is.  It’s still an entirely watchable film, making the scene fun and vibrant.  It was simply holding back on what could have been something special and great.  The Director’s Cut tried things that pushed the mainstream boundaries of the time and was silenced because of it.  In the end, that true vision came out and there’s a lot to like about it.  Mark Christopher wasn’t afraid to show homosexuality as something normal.  He wasn’t afraid to show that Studio 54 wasn’t the high pinnacle of greatness.  He showed how dangerous that life was with corrupt money makers, drug dealers, STDs, and fractured relationships.  Yet, it always felt like he was rushing through the story.  Every scene was abrupt, clearly pushing the story forward but not allowing the situation to breathe a little bit.

Both cuts had their weaknesses, though they shared the strength of Mike Myers’s performance.  It’s the most dramatic performance he has given in film and one of his best performances because of it.  I wish he had done more dramatic work because Mike Myers could have put in some great performances.  At least we have two cuts of 54 that showcase his talent.

54 was an interesting, albeit not great, look at Studio 54 and how it affected the people involved.  The Director’s Cut was better than the Theatrical Cut, but both had their issues.  They were messy, much like the Studio 54 life, and much like this post.  But they earned their place in movie history.  They aren’t only an artifact showing Studio 54, they show how much influence the Weinsteins had upon the movies they put out.  It’s a time capsule of 1990s films told through the filter of 1970s clubbing.  And now it’s part of a 2010s blog.
To finish things off, like usual, I have some notes:

  • First, I just want to say Happy New Year.  It might not have been a great year overall, but it was a solid year for movies.
  • 54 marked the third Sunday “Bad” Movies appearance of Ron Jeremy.  He was in the Troma films Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV.
  • Both Mike Myers and Mark Ruffalo were in 54.  They were also in a movie called View From the Top.
  • Skip Sudduth returned to the Sunday “Bad” Movies in 54 after previously being featured in Money Train.
  • 54 brought Nick Stellate back to the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  It’s been a while for Nick, who was last seen in 200 Cigarettes.
  • Did you notice Anthony Reynolds in 54?  He was an actor who appeared in Fant4stic.
  • Tony Devon was in 54.  He was also in The Happening.
  • One of the actresses in 54 was Lauren Hutton.  She was previously in a health club based movie called Perfect.
  • Finally, Justin Bartha played one of the extras in 54.  He was a club goer.  He had one of the main roles in Gigli.
  • Have you seen either cut of 54?  What did you think of the one you saw?  If you saw both, which one did you think was better?  Write your answers in the comments.  I want to see what you think.
  • I would also appreciate suggestions for future movies to watch.  If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.  It’s always good to find movies I might not know about.
  • I have a snapchat (jurassicgriffin) where I sometimes share clips of the bad movies I watch.  If that sounds interesting, add me.  If it doesn’t, whatever.
  • Here’s the most important note out of all of them.  This is the part where I tell you what next week’s movie is.  Coming up in seven days, I will be covering Nothing But Trouble.  That’s right.  The Dan Aykroyd directed weird movie will be featured next week for the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  I’ll see you then.

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