I’ve always loved to dance. In fact, many times when I’m cleaning and Paul isn’t home, I’ll put on some dance music and dance around the Lost Apartment while I’m cleaning. If it’s a song I particularly love, I’ll slip into Drag Queen mode and perform as I sing and dance along to the music. It brings me joy, and there’s nothing I love more than a dance jam. One of the things I tried to imbue in the Scotty books–especially Mardi Gras Mambo–was the joy that can be found in dancing and dance music; some of the best times of my life were on the dance floor.
When I was a kid I used to watch Soul Train and American Bandstand, and tried to copy the way the young people on the show danced. I loved going to high school dances. Of course, gay bars are often all about the dancing. I was also a child of the 1970’s, very much, and so I lived through the popularity of disco, which I loved because it was dance music. And while I sadly never went there, you also couldn’t live through that period without knowing about Studio 54.
So, you can imagine my disappointment when I saw the movie 54<; it was a glossy “boy from Jersey moves to the city gets caught up in the glitz but then walks away from it and learns from his experience” type movie. And while I may have never gone to Studio 54, I knew enough about it–and lived through that time–to know that this movie was deeply, deeply sanitized.
When I heard there was a director’s cut, that was much better because the studio had redone almost the entire film, I thought–I want to see it. Paul went to a play Friday night, so after I was finished with my daily work I got in my easy chair with Scooter and rented it from Amazon.
Seriously, it was amazing.
The only resemblance this movie has to the studio release is the cast and it’s about Studio 54.
This movie is bleak, dark, and realistic–I would say it’s just as dark as Saturday Night Fever, which is an incredibly dark movie.
Shane, the main character, played by Ryan Phillippe in all of his stunning young beauty, lives in Jersey City with his father and two younger sisters. This is blue collar America in the 1970’s in all of it’s realistic bleakness. He works as a pump jockey at a gas station; the hostage crisis in Iran is going on; the economy is in the toilet, and he is uneducated but wants something more–like so many people did from that background (like Tony in Saturday Night Fever, for that matter). He has a crush on Julie Black, an actress on All My Children, and after one wretched night in a bar where he meets a girl, they have mutually unsatisfying sex in the backseat of his car, and when he asks her if she want to go out sometime, she dismissively says, “I’m from Montclair and you’re from Jersey City. I don’t date guys from Jersey City”–he gets the big idea to cut off his long frizzy hair into a more stylish look and convince his two buddies to go into the city with him and try to get into Studio 54, where he might have a chance to meet Julie Black.
Shane catches the eye of Steve Rubell, played by Mike Meyers, in the crowd outside and is picked to go inside–his two buddies aren’t–and Meyers tells him, “Not in that shirt”–forcing him to take it off as the price of admission. Once he is inside, though…and this is very important–he is dazzled by the inside: the people, the decor, the music, the dancing, the celebrities.
Before long, he’s hired to be a busboy, which requires him to wear those hilarious little running shorts that were in vogue back then–the bartenders are all gorgeous and shirtless–and he befriends another barback, whose wife works in the coatroom, and he moves in with them after his father throws him out for working at ‘that freakshow.’
The director’s cut doesn’t shy away from anything–the sexuality, the hedonism, the drugs. Everyone is smoking pot, snorting coke, popping Quaaludes. And of course, gorgeous as he is, Shane is getting laid left and right and using his body as his commodity. Shane also explores his own bisexuality; the movie never really makes it clear whether he is hustling when he is with wealthy men, or if he genuinely is fluid sexually. He often sleeps with people that Steve tells him to, and even gets some modeling gigs.
But the relationship with his married friends–Anita and Greg, played by Salma Hayek and Breckin Meyer, is also at the heart of the movie. They genuinely love and care about each other, but it’s never clear whether Shane is just close to them or if he’s part of the relationship. He definitely has sex with Anita–but after his initial anger Greg forgives him because they’re family.
There is also an incredibly awkward moment when Shane misreads a cue from Greg–now supplementing his income by dealing drugs–and they kiss for a moment before Greg freaks out and runs away.
I am not kidding when I say the director’s cut is a completely different movie from the theatrical release. There are characters in this version that don’t even show up–or if they do, it’s a small scene–in the theatrical version; there are whole stories and plots that vanish from this to the ‘original.’ This movie is very much in the tradition of Saturday Night Fever and Cruising (both of which I need to revisit now), and in its darkness and complexity, is equal to–and in some ways, superior–to both. This was the 1970’s I remember.
And the music! Oh, the music is so fantastic.
I highly recommend it.