It wasn’t too long ago that I revisited a childhood favorite in Can’t Hardly Wait on Netflix Instant. Why I was watching and adoring said movie at the youthful age of eight, I haven’t a clue – but there’s a nostalgic connection to Jennifer Love Hewitt that makes me alternate between not giving a rat’s ass about her skill, but also feeling defensive because she’s like an older sister. Why I feel the need to bring this up is because this was as 90s as a high school film can get – from the second-generation tier of the Brat Pack family to the blink-182 soundtrack. I was recalling scenes as they happened, but also finding another perspective – being a queer adult – that verged on the offensive. The use of homosexuality as a tool for embarrassment is handled so nonchalant in the film that it becomes degrading. But I can’t hate the film, really. If anything, it just illustrated how different fagdom was seen just seventeen years ago. It’s more a testament to that kind of thing – a sort of Birth of a Nation for that realm, if The Maltese Falcon didn’t give that message across half-a-century earlier.
That was 1998. The very year that Harvey Weinstein took a queer film by the name of 54 and tampered it beyond director Mark Christopher’s original vision. It’s illuminating to see how Weinstein feared the open sexuality of this film – which isn’t necessarily wholly queer and is quite tame by today’s standards – and felt the need to pull the scissors out and call for reshoots over the material at hand – when just last year, he exploited the sexuality of Alan Turing in hopes of nabbing gold from the Academy in a post-Brokeback Mountain American cinema. The cut Miramax released of 54 was sabotaged by critics for being without precision or for being fearful of going the extra mile into the darker territory that this pre-AIDS environment was known for – and no matter how opposed I am to the idea of the Razzie Awards, they still managed to attack the film with two nominations and send the film into the realm of “forgettable bad." While that cut of the film is rough around the edges, it’s still not a shit movie. And now that Christopher has managed to recompose his own work to a degree of directorial realization, it becomes clear that – just like the most notorious films to receive studio-tampered treatment – we could have forever lost what was actually a very strong film.
54: The Director’s Cut is extremely commendable. It may not have the gritty neo-realism of a Paul Morrissey or Andy Warhol film, nor the particular “classiness” (for lack of a better word) as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights – but it’s a film that is on its own. It is part kitsch and camp, but also quite human. Underneath the good, Hollywood-level melodrama and excessive free-spiritedness, there’s a more stern understanding of the impending doom for the lives involved. The biggest reason for applauding the film comes from the way Christopher premeditated the eventual obsession with hedonism in American cinema. Films of recent years like The Wolf of Wall Street, The Bling Ring, Spring Breakers, adaptations of Bret Easton Ellis novels and The Canyons and many others have pierced their eyes intensely on the shallowness of such behaviors. 54: The Director’s Cut did all of this in a time where even the Hollywood machine was too fearful to go through with it – since even Boogie Nights still had the delusions of fame as a theme, and 54 itself is focused on nobody’s who delude them into feeling such. It’s a pinnacle film about “fifteen minutes of [fake] fame”.
Throughout the director’s cut – there are images that look painfully ripped from a VHS tape because, well, they are. And while that wasn’t a creative decision based on the director, it gives this cut a charm and an alertness to what could have never been. It also gives some aspects of the film a timeless quality – where a film taking place in the 1970s feels potentially documented on a video camcorder. The entire world here feels devastatingly revealing, because it’s the documentation of a movement that many aimlessly fell into to give themselves a sense of meaning. Similar to Joe Dallesandro in Flesh, Ryan Phillippe in 54: The Director’s Cut feels driven to live on with his body and his sex appeal. He’s a deplorable character, but that’s okay. And now with narration from a much older Phillippe, the film itself feels even more unintentionally documenting time itself.
54: The Director’s Cut is a great film. Still a bit flawed, but in a charming way that sadly ripped from us the potential for more auteuristic capabilities from Mark Christopher. It’s visionary, and it’s got relevance for the time depicted, 1998, and today. It has Phillippe’s career-best work, Mike Myers in a role that – with this cut – would have been deserving of an Oscar nomination, and then another reminder as to why Neve Campbell should be more of a respected thespian. More than anything, though, it deserves to have that cult following – and I’m sure in today’s hedonist-obsessed culture it can find that if it hits that g-spot. It definitely hit mine.