Sex, drugs & disco: Director’s cut of Toronto-shot ‘54’ is out

ABOVE: Watch the trailer for 54: The Director’s Cut.

TORONTO — A movie about sex, drugs and disco at New York’s infamous Studio 54 nightclub in the ‘70s is being released online Tuesday the way its director intended it to be seen 17 years ago.

Mark Christopher’s original version of 54, almost entirely filmed in Toronto in late 1997, was a commercial flop despite having a cast that included Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek and homegrown stars Mike Myers and Neve Campbell.

Phillippe played Shane O’Shea, a young man who lands a job as a bartender at Studio 54, befriends a singer (Hayek) and her husband (Breckin Meyer) and succumbs to the temptations of his new life.

Myers portrayed the club’s flamboyant co-owner Steve Rubell.

Before it was released, 54 was deemed too risqué by Disney-owned Miramax. Studio head Harvey Weinstein demanded last-minute changes to make the characters more likeable and to tone down depictions of drug use and homosexuality.

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“We thought we were making something like Boogie Nights because it was about a time of complete sexual abandon, but the studio watered it down,” star Ryan Phillippe recalled in a 2010 interview with The Advocate.

“They had Mike Myers from Austin Powers and Neve Campbell from Scream, so they felt they could make a mall movie out of material that was a lot more edgy and honest.”

Christopher was forced to cut more than 40 minutes out of his film and reshoot about 30 minutes of new scenes

Phillippe told Vulture in February the characters were “fundamentally changed” and “not even close” to what they were in the original script.

One of the scenes deleted from the film was a kiss between Phillippe and Meyer.

“There was a part of us that was a little sad nobody ever got to see [the kiss],” Phillippe said. “We did something that was relatively bold for two young male actors, and we took pride in the places that the original story went.”

In the director’s cut released on digital video this week, 44 minutes of the deleted footage — including the kiss — has been put back and the reshot content taken out.

“It’s nice that people finally get to see Breckin and me kiss,” said Phillippe.

Breckin Meyer and Ryan Phillippe, pictured in a scene from ’54.’
Breckin Meyer and Ryan Phillippe, pictured in a scene from ’54.’ Handout

The watered-down 54 debuted in August 1998 in fourth place behind Blade, There’s Something About Mary and Saving Private Ryan. It ended its theatrical run a few weeks later, having grossed a little less than $17 million.

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The movie got a second life in February when Christopher screened his director’s cut at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was followed by screenings at festivals in London, Istanbul, San Francisco, Miami and Seattle.

“The director’s cut captures the freedom of the time,” Phillippe explained, “but also the impending sobriety that would come with AIDS. It resonates.”

Miramax calls the director’s cut “the version of 54 that everyone signed up to make in the first place.”

Weinstein told Vulture he believes times have changed and audiences are more receptive to the kind of film Christopher made.

“I hope that a whole new generation will discover Mark Christopher’s director’s cut,” he said.