The Last Days of Disco
The Last Days of Disco is a clever, comic return to the nighttime party scene in early Eighties Manhattan from director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan). At the center of the film's roundelay of revelers are the icy Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) and the demure Alice (Chloë Sevigny), by day toiling as publishing house assistants and by night looking for romance and entertainment at a premier, Studio 54-like club. The Last Days of Disco is an affectionate yet unsentimental look at the end of an era, brimming with Stillman's trademark dry humor.
Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco receives its Blu-ray debut from Criterion, presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
It looks as though the same high-def transfer used for the DVD is the same one here (not surprising.) Even though it was downscaled for DVD it still looked great despite a few short comings that I blamed more on compression. It worked for the DVD but I'm almost sad to say the Blu-ray’s presentation is incredibly underwhelming to say the least.
Compression is less of an issue here but other artifacts are noticeable, and it has a surprisingly flat and muddy look to it. Edge-enhancement rears its ugly head in many instances, causing slight halos around objects and can be hard to ignore on the dance floor. Details vary severely from scene to scene, with some decent amount of definition in the finer details during some sequences and what looks like a waxy glaze over some objects, particularly faces, in other scenes. Film grain is noticeable but it can come off like a blobby mess and look a bit like noise.
Colours do offer an improvement on the other hand, with reds, blues, and purples coming off significantly better, and blacks also look a bit deeper. Despite the variance in the degree of details the picture overall is sharper than the DVD’s, yet it could certainly be far better.
I was impressed with the DVD, which was released three years ago, so I did have some high expectations for this Blu-ray and that could have played into my disappointment. But what it looks like is we’re getting an older high-def transfer that cut it for DVD but not exactly for Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray does offer a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track, which does provide a decent improvement over the DVD’s Dolby Digital track. Like all of Stillman’s films it relies heavily on dialogue, which sticks primarily to the center channel, but thanks to the film’s primary setting, a club, the system gets a decent workout. Club sequences present a majority of the music in the film and it fills out the environment impressively, creating a fairly club like atmosphere. Bass is pretty good and not overwhelming, and the music, which can actually sound cleaner than the rest of the track, is sharp and crisp. And of course, most importantly, dialogue is clean and easy to hear. When all’s said and done we get a very clean and engaging soundtrack.
Criterion ports everything over from their DVD edition, which I found underwhelming initially and still find to be so going through them again: they’re not all that different from the typical material you’d find on any other DVD or Blu-ray release.
The first and probably best feature on here is the audio commentary featuring director Whit Stillman, and actors Chris Eigeman and Chloë Sevigny. Stillman is clearly in charge here with Eigeman and Sevigny disappointingly only acting as a sort of back up to him and only speaking up when addressed by Stillman. I found it a wholly interesting commentary track, though, and was actually rather surprised by it. The track covers a lot about its production and where it fits in Stillman’s trilogy of films, which includes Metropolitan and Barcelona, the former also having been released by Criterion. Though independent at heart Stillman still had to deal with studios, in this case Castle Rock Entertainment, which put some pressure on him, a big one being he had to get his film out before Miramax’s own disco film, the disastrous 54 (in all fairness, the director’s cut is supposed to be good.) By the sounds of it his biggest issue wasn’t like other indie features where he was going over budget but it sounds like the studios were upset with him because he wasn’t spending enough. Stillman covers his writing process, which sounds to be rather loose though this time around he forced a deadline upon himself. He goes into influences and talks a lot about the actual disco scene and Studio 54 (plus how he got a girl he liked to pay attention to him,) his work in publishing, and also points out aspects of the film he doesn’t like. He also confirms that, yes, he hates Lady and the Tramp. While the other two participants do ring up once in a while they mostly wait until Stillman asks them a question about the production and how it compared to others. He also questions them on whether they prefer bigger shoots to smaller ones like this film (to which Eigeman states bigger productions usually have more food.) There are laughs to be found and it’s certainly informative but I sort of wished the other two had more to share other than information on Sevigny’s hair and clothes and Eigeman complementing Sevigny on her work in Zodiac. Still a surprisingly entertaining and informative commentary track. (As a little tidbit, the track was recorded after the opening weekend of 17 Again, only mentioned in the track because Burr Steers, who plays Van in this film, directed that film.)
Next up are four deleted scenes running a little over 8-minutes and accompanied by an optional commentary again by Stillman, Eigeman, and Sevigny. The scenes in question mostly take place in Des’ (Eigeman) apartment and center around a subplot involving Mackenzie Astin’s Jimmy and his feelings towards Sevigny’s Alice. It’s an interesting subplot (which appears in the novelization apparently) though I can’t say it’s missed. Stillman explains the cuts as a simple case of keeping the pacing going and shortening the run time. The footage looks to come from a video source and has black bars all around the image.
From the Novel presents Stillman reading the epilogue from his novelization of the film called The Last Days of Disco, With Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards. The epilogue is told from the point of view of Jimmy, who has moved overseas for the job prospects. It also sort of expands on the deleted scenes and his feelings for Alice. It’s an interesting addition and the only thing on here not typical of most DVD and Blu-ray releases and while I enjoyed it I would have probably preferred a reprinting of it (or the complete novelization, though I believe it’s out of print so I’m sure there were rights issues in either case.) I also don’t think it helps that Stillman can sound like John Malkovich at moments. The feature runs over 17-minutes.
Next is a fluffy PR featurette from its original theatrical release, and like most of these it’s really just an ad for the film. At 6-minutes it’s filled with moments from the trailer (also included on the disc,) some behind-the-scenes footage (flashes of it anyways) and brief interviews with Stillman, Sevigny, and Eigeman, as well as Kate Beckinsale, Mackenzie Astin, Robert Sean Leonard, and Jennifer Beals. I’d skip it but it’s at least short if you do decide to watch it.
The stills gallery presents a decent number of production photos and on-set footage. A little different here are the notes about the photos, written by Stillman, which are unusually long for a feature like this. You scroll through using the arrows on your remote. You first get a rather wordy description (in most cases at least) and then have to move forward to the photo. The photos themselves are nothing special but Stillman’s notes do expand on things mentioned in the commentary track, including the studio not wanting Eigeman in the role of Des, Ben Affleck being the actor of choice, and then there’s more on how the original actor hired to play Josh was let go (there are photos but the actor in question has been brushed out and is never mentioned by name anywhere.)
The disc closes with the film’s original theatrical trailer. Oddly the trailer here appears to be in better shape. I suspect the DVD’s trailer actually came from a VHS release, the one’s that usually appeared before the main feature started, but this one looks to be sourced from a film print and does fill out the widescreen televisions.
Finally a thin insert is included with an essay on the film by David Schickler, which is an okay read though I question the comparison to Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
I enjoyed the commentary surprisingly, and I found everything else was decent enough, but I guess I just didn’t feel there was anything all that special about the supplements here with nothing standing out, Criterion having done more with newer Hollywood films in the past. Fans will be happy I’m sure but it didn’t feel like a full effort.
Again it’s a nice if unspectacular release. The commentary is at least entertaining and it was great getting a look at other plot points that were eventually cut out. Unfortunately the Blu-ray’s video transfer leaves room for improvement and is easily the most disappointing aspect of this release. For those that don’t own it already the Blu-ray is worth picking up because it is, still, the best version I’ve seen of the film as it offers a small upgrade over the original Criterion DVD (and a huge one over the Polygram DVD.) For those that already own the Criterion DVD I can’t say it’s fully worth the upgrade.