Berlinale: Mark Christopher

DSC03810 Director Mark Christopher on making the studio cut vs. the original director’s cut of 54.

by Joanna Orland

The director’s cut of 1998 film 54 has long been an urban legend. Plagued by studio reshoots and edits, the studio cut of the film failed to be the box office and critical success it should have been. Now seventeen years later, director Mark Christopher brings his long promised director’s cut to the 65th Berlinale Film Festival.

“I think the film was possibly ahead of its time,” Mark explains why he’s bringing back 54, years after its initial release.  “I have flawed characters, which are very in right now. But in 1998, they were not so in. It had a lot of bisexuality and homosexuality which for a wider audience I guess was problematic, which now is quite accepted…And It’s just a much more accepting time of dark movies. Films, worlds that are dark, characters who are complex anti-heroes – now’s the time.”

The studio cut follows the story of Shane (Ryan Phillippe), a bartender at the infamous Studio 54.  He befriends coat check girl Anita (Salma Hayek) and her bartender husband Greg (Breckin Meyer), while having a bit of a romance with soap star Julie Black (Neve Campbell).  The director’s cut, however, has a shift in focus. “It’s the story of the bartender, the coat check girl and the busboy and their love triangle,” says Mark.  “It’s not just a director’s cut, it’s a different movie, because it’s a different story and the characters are different. So, thirty minutes of reshoots have been pulled out of it, and forty minutes of original unseen material have been put back.”

Mark originally decided to make a movie that centered around Studio 54 when he was still a student.  “I kind of got obsessed with making my version of a disco American Graffiti,” he says.  “I just did a lot of research talking to the rich and famous, but especially the bartenders, the coat check girls and busboys.”  Mark used his research as the foundation for building his filmic world of Studio 54. “There are other moments that I made up in my head, and afterwards people would come up to me and say, ‘that happened to me’ and I knew that I had made it up so I thought, ok, I’m doing justice to this crazy world,” says Mark.

Studio 54 was the most successful club of not just its time, but of all time.  The movie 54 has also had an enduring appeal, achieving cult status, and fervouring hype with its long-awaited director’s cut.  “It really appeals to gays, Europeans, people who were fifteen at the time, and other weirdos, which I say with great respect of being a weirdo myself”, Mark says jokingly.  But after seventeen years, Mark still speaks of the hold that 54 has on him, “you never finish a film, you just abandon it.”

So has Mark finally abandoned 54? “Never say never,” he jokes.  “I say hey, TV series, why not, don’t you think so?… A Sex and the City with Shane, Greg and Anita, right? Wouldn’t that be great?”  Watch this space.

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