The Last Days of Disco, from director Whit Stillman, is a cleverly comic look at the early 1980’s Manhattan party scene from the vantage point of the late nineties. At the center of the film’s roundelay of revelers are the icy Charlotte (Kate Bekinsale) and the demure Alice (Chloe Sevigny), by day toiling as publishing house assistants and by night looking for romance and entertainment at a Studio 54-like club. Brimming with Stillman’s trademark dry humor, The Last Days of Disco is an affectionate yet unsentimental look at the end of an era.
The Last Days of Disco is Whit Stillman’s (Metropolitan, Damsels in Distress) dry and scathing look at the turn-of-the-decade nightlife. Disco is the music of choice or as the title implies, the last days of disco – yet our compatriots don’t have an inkling that it’s coming to end. Why would they? They’re so self-absorbed about their routine and mundane lives to care about anything that’s going on around them. As previously stated, Charlotte (Beckinsale) and Alice (Sevigny) are friends (if you can even call them actual friends) who work at the same publishing house as assistant who dream of climbing the corporate ladder to juicy assistant editors.
That’s what they do during the day, but by night they put on their fabulous, but transitional outfits (new decade and all, this is the very early 80’s) and head off to the club. Since they’re both hot enough to get in as they are there won’t be any need to wait in line or tip the doormen to get in. They get in just by looking the way they do. We can’t say the same of some of the folks waiting line. Once inside they’re taken away by the glamor, sounds, alcohol, and the trivial. Rinse and repeat.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a “rinse and repeat” type of film if done right. I’d say that Stillman has succeeded in creating a largely vapid world of uninteresting but very interesting characters. Sure they muse about everything and nothing at all, but this was during the rise of the “yuppy.” Young and successful professionals who lived for every excess that their money could buy, whether they needed it or not. It was all about being seen and talked about. This was also at the beginning of the decade, so there was a bit of breathing room.
Charlotte and Alice are not really likable characters in the traditional sense, because Charlotte is extremely shallow and Alice isn’t, but doesn’t do much in the way of defining herself. She’s more of a spectator even though her story-arc doesn’t call for her being totally passive. Good thing the film and soundtrack were very entertaining otherwise I probably would have hated the film. Several cameos litter the film, some with speaking parts and others without. See if you can recognize Drew Barrymore’s mother in there. Wow!
If you’re at all curious about the yuppified beginnings of the 80’s nightlife then The Last Days of Disco may be the vodka tonic you are looking for.
P.S. Kate Beckinsale had not yet become a sex symbol, so be prepared to witness her wear a pair of unflattering mom jeans. Yikes!
The Last Days of Disco is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. On standard 4:3 television, the image will appear letteboxed. On widescreen televisions, the image should fill the entire screen. Supervised by director Whit Stillman, this high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
I’d actually watched the Criterion DVD of The Last Days of Disco a few months ago and thought it looked alright. It looked alright for a DVD, but this Blu-ray blows the previous offering right out of the water and then smacks it around for good measure. It’s not reference quality by any means, but the the restoration looks wonderful. Grain levels are consistent and never fluctuate. Sharpness levels stay consistent throughout. If anything, slight color banding is apparent here and there, but only in certain scenes of heavy neon strobing. Colors are bold, but that’s where some of the banding can be found. It’s not distracting but it’s there. Other than that, kudos to Criterion for giving some love to the video presentation on this Blu-ray.
The original 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35 mm magnetic audio tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle as attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
What’s to really say about a film that revolves around the last days of disco? It sounds pretty spectacular. The music takes the center stage and comes through all of the major channels including the LFE channel with no problems whatsoever. Dialogue is front and center and all is well. You can hear every word even when the bass is pulsing and pounding. The surround channels do a great job of enveloping the viewer as they watch the pretty people get their dance on at the club, but stays subdued out in the real world. It’s a hefty sound mix, but the Blu-ray handles it all with ease.
I’m sort of surprised that Criterion didn’t go all out on the extras, but what they have included is a bit more focused than the usual supplements seen in other releases. We get some several audio commentaries by director Whit Stillman and some of the stars including Chloe Sevigny and company. Deleted scenes are also accompanied by commentaries, as well. There’s a standard behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the film along with a still gallery. My favorite special feature is that of Whit Stillman reading excerpts from his book of the same name. What’s cool is that the book came out two years after the film, so it’s a bit of a director’s cut, if you want to look at it from a different point of view.
- Audio commentary by Stillman and actors Chris Eigeman and Chloe Sevigny
- Four deleted scenes, with commentary by Stillman, Eigeman, and Sevigny
- Audio recording of Stillman reading a chapter from his book The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards
- Behind-the-scenes featurette
- Still gallery, with captions by Stillman
- Essay by novelist David Schickler
I’m not too familiar with Whit Stillman’s work, which needs to be remedied. Metropolitan, Barcelona, and Damsels in Distress round out his filmography. If they’re anything like Last Days of Disco then that will make me a happy camper. I guess the film did its thing even though there are not that many likable characters to be found. I know the tone of the review makes it seem like I hated the film, but that’s not correct. I hated most of the characters onscreen, because they border on being sociopaths (if they already aren’t), but as a cohesive film it works AND it’s very entertaining. Give it a spin and be prepared to get your groove on.
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