Dubbed the “ultimate party movie,” this freewheeling dive into the debauchery days of New York’s Studio 54 has been resurrected with 44 minutes of never-before-seen material. Sexy Ryan Phillippe stars as a Jersey boy who gets sucked into this world of sex and drugs alongside Salma Haye, Breckin Meyer, Sherry Stringfield, Neve Campbell and, of course, Mike Myers as the disco mecca’s icky co-owner. (In the clip below, Phillippe gets his first taste of the sweet life.)
Miramax and Harvey Weinstein demanded reshoots before slashing the film down to a lean, sanitized and altogether messy 100 minutes in 1998. But the new version, which includes a key bisexual subplot left on the cutting room floor, won heaps of praise on the festival circuit this year. (Vulture has a great story on the history of the film here.)
The love triangle is back in the movie, including a scene in which Phillippe comes on to Meyer in the club’s basement, shortly after having sex with his wife. Where “55” had featured Shane sleeping with a montage of sexual partners, all of them female, he now alternates between men and women. Here, it’s Shane who steals the money that gets Rubell’s longtime accountant fired, and it’s that accountant who ultimately turns him in to the authorities, who swoop in and arrest Rubell — all of it capped, a bit inexplicably, by Ultra Nate and Amber’s hit disco-style cover of “If You Could Read My Mind.”
A handful of shots rescued from videotape have a degraded texture, but even that only enhances the air of melancholy. The subject matter of 54 was always bound to make it feel bittersweet. Now its own beleaguered history has fed back into that. It’s hard not to wonder how many other near-successes were killed in their cribs by callous producers. For now, “54: The Director’s Cut” represents an act of jubilant resurrection. It will finally get its day in the spotlight, or beneath the glitterball.
The film also screened at Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta Film Festivals as well as the BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival. 54: The Director’s Cut will continue to screen at festivals around the world.