In 1998, audiences were introduced to 54, a glitzy drama that followed handsome young busboy Shane (Ryan Phillippe) as he is tempted by the excesses of the legendary Studio 54.
But the version of 54 that hit theaters wasn’t the movie out filmmaker Mark Christopher envisioned.
Related: “54” Director’s Cut Will Feature The Ryan Phillippe/Breckin Meyer Sex Scene You’ve Been Waiting For
Instead, audiences saw a 93-minute, neutered version of the film that was scrubbed of its more complex elements—including Shane’s bisexuality.
Harvey Weinstein, then head of Miramax, was concerned by early test screenings and ordered major recuts that left the film in shambles. “It was painful,” Christopher admits to us. “But I’m not the first director to have his film recut, and I wont be the last.”
Now, nearly 20 years later, the director’s cut of 54 has arrived on digital platforms like iTunes and Amazon.
“It’s a different story,” Christopher says of the new, “old” version of the film. “It’s fundamentally a different movie. I’d say almost a half different.”
One seemingly slight moment in the film that was changed is a New Year’s Eve scene where Shane gives Studio 54’s sleazy owner, Steve Rubell (Mike Meyers), back money he has stolen.
“In the original version Shane is shirtless, but we re-shot it with a shirt on. Even something small like that changes the tenor of a scene and change alter what’s being conveyed.”
In the theatrical version, a three-way love triangle between Phillippe and co-stars Salma Hayek and Breckin Meyer was axed, and a subplot with Neve Campbell was greatly expanded (Scream 2 had just come out) to make her a love interest.
A sex scene with Meyer and Phillipe has been restored in the director’s cut. But even the sanitized version was notorious for its homoerotic undertones: “The subtext was still there,” says Christopher. “You can’t cut out subtext. You can’t cut out the way someone is lit.”
True to the pansexual playpen he was paying tribute to, Christopher presented a then 23-year-old Phillippe as everyone’s object of desire: “I tried to make him look like the Statue of David,” he recalls. “I sent him to the gym!”
The movie industry has changed greatly in the 17 years since 54 was released. Studios are increasingly banking on big-budget action franchises like the Avengers, and space for smaller films with difficult subject matter and flawed characters is increasingly hard to come by at the multiplex.
“54 would probably not get the green light from a studio now,” admits Christopher. “It walks a fine line—which would be too hard to hit right now.”
At least publicly Harvey Weinstein is happy 54 is being re-released: “I hope that a whole new generation will discover Mark Christopher’s director’s cut,” he told Vulture.
But would Christopher work with the Weinsteins again?
“Hey, if someone’s offering you money the answer is always yes.”
54: The Director’s Cut is now available on iTunes and Amazon. Watch the trailer below