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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Knight at the Movies: '54' and more
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2015-06-03

This article shared 3361 times since Wed Jun 3, 2015
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The movie 54—out writer-director Mark Christopher's fictional portrait of Studio 54, the glittery, heady disco palace that epitomized the hedonistic party scene—was a flop when it was released in 1998.

Although Christopher's film certainly had its strong points ( Mike Myers' performance as giggling, drugged-up club's gay owner Steve Rubell was perfection ), it also had many flaws. The biggest was the disappearance of the bisexuality of its leading character, Shane, a gorgeous blonde Adonis with a "Joisey" accent ( portrayed by hunky Ryan Phillippe ) whose body finds him work at the club as a shirtless barback.

Screening audiences strongly responded to Christopher's somewhat darker vision, which focused on Shane's discovery that his hot bod and angelic looks have appeal for both men and women and are his ticket out of his working class roots. They also loved the sexed-up love triangle between Shane and his new best friends ( Breckin Meyer and Salma Hayek ), a married couple who are, respectively, another barback and a hat-check girl at the club. But as Christopher has explained in recent interviews, after filming completed, several of the movie's young cast ( which also included Neve Campbell in a minor role ) started blowing up. What had been intended for urban audiences now seemed to have mainstream appeal.

With that in mind, producer/distributor Miramax ponied up more money and ordered a batch of new scenes, lightening the overall tone of the film and replacing Shane's bisexuality with an improbable romance with the character of the rising young actress that Campbell played. But the tampering pleased no one and the film died a quick death upon release with both audiences and critics. For some—myself included—the tantalizing prospect of what might have been kept interest in 54 alive.

Now, after strong word-of-mouth reaction to a top-secret screening of a version with outtake footage cobbled together from various sources, Christopher has had the opportunity to recut the film, adding back in 36 minutes of excised footage and deleting the other scenes forced on him. The unapologetic bisexuality of Shane, his less-than-innocent motives and the restoration of the love triangle ( which feels like a disco-era version of the one between Liza Minnelli/Michael York/Helmut Greim in Cabaret ) make for a much more interesting movie. One of the restored scenes includes a passionate kiss between Phillippe and Meyer, which the actor has applauded in interviews.

Both versions of the movie artfully caught the "anything goes" atmosphere of the period, and the restored scenes and edgier tone have made for a much more satisfying cinematic experience—no less because the film is now openly queer. 54: The Director's Cut is available now on HD digital. www.miramax.com/press/54-directors-cut/ .

Pride releases

A nice assortment of LGBT-themed films will debut in June—a nice way to celebrate Pride at the movies.

They include Flawless, out director Joel Schumacher's 1999 dramedy with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a flamboyant drag queen enlisted to help his less-than-liberal neighbor ( Robert DeNiro ) overcome a stroke. David Au's 2014 queer film festival fave Eat with Me is about an Asian mother coming to terms with her son's sexuality.

Eastern Boys ( 2013 ) follows the surprising romance that ensues when a middle-aged Frenchman hires a gay hustler. She Must Be Seeing Things is an intriguing 1987 lesbian romance with a fair amount of twists, and Tiger Orange ( 2015 ) focuses on two, estranged gay brothers ( one played by Frankie Valenti aka Johnny Hazzard ) struggling to reconnect after their father's death.

Dylan

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Elizabeth Rohrbaugh is releasing her short film Dylan, about a transgender man finding freedom in self-love and acceptance. Based on an interview with Rohrbaugh's childhood friend Dylan Winn Garner, the film has played at LGBT film festivals and now, in order to inspire and celebrate Pride, is available for complimentary viewing at the film's website, DylanMovie.com .

Upcoming movie calendar

Highlights from films opening in Chicago, June 5 and 12 ( or available digitally )

Entourage ( 6/5 )—The HBO series centered on the antics of a rising young movie star and his three best friends ( including his brother ) makes the leap to the big screen. Adrian Grenier plays the movie star ( based on the life of Mark Wahlberg, who produced the movie and makes a cameo ), Jeremy Piven plays caustic agent Ari Gold ( based on Rahm Emanuel's brother ) and out actor Rex Lee returns as Lloyd, the gay man who is Gold's one-time flustered assistant.

Spy ( 6/5 )—Melissa McCarthy's latest comedy finds her as a nebbish CIA analyst who volunteers to infiltrate the organization of a nefarious arms dealer and thwart a plot to create a global disaster. Rose Byrne and Jason Statham co-star.

Purple Sea ( 6/8 )—Based on a true story, this Italian-made LGBT film-festival favorite is the story of the illicit love affair of Angela and Sarah, who must go to great lengths ( think Albert Nobbs ) in 19th-century Sicily in order to protect their romance. A free screening will be presented by the Queer Film Society and the Bezazian branch, 1226 W. Argyle Ave., of the Chicago Public Library on Monday, June 8, at 6 p.m. queerfilmsociety.org/pages/events.html .

The Farewell Party ( 6/12 )—A drama with comedic overtones, the movie follows a group of senior citizens in a nursing home in Israel ( including a gay couple ) who help end the life of a terminally ill friend and who suddenly find themselves asked for similar help by others. Opening at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., and the Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park. www.landmarktheatres.com/chicago/film-info/the-farewell-party .

Jurassic World ( 6/12 )—Decades after the tragic and hair-raising events chronicled in the first three movies, Jurassic Park has become the renowned tourist attraction founder John Hammond envisioned. But with visitors and profits declining, a new attraction is brought back to life and, naturally, new tragic and hair-raising events are about to occur. Chris Pratt, Judy Greer, Ty Simpkins and Bryce Dallas Howard star.

Testament of Youth ( 6/12 )—This is based on the true story of a young British woman who leaves her studies at Oxford to become a nurse during WWI, following in the footsteps of her brothers and fiancée. Based on Victoria Brittain's post-WWI memoir, the film stars Swedish actress Alicia Vikander ( The Fifth Estate, Ex Machina ).


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