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.
Criterion presents Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has of course been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
I don’t own the original discontinued Polygram DVD and haven’t seen it since I rented it when it first came out but I recall it being of about the same quality picture wise as other Polygram discs, which isn’t great. They had a thing for putting widescreen and full screen versions of a film on the same side of a dual-layer disc effectively meaning you only had one layer to work with for the film (I oddly recall their special features usually had the layer jump in them.)
While Criterion’s transfer has a few issues the image on here is certainly something Polygram would never have been capable of accomplishing. The first thing that struck me was the colours, which look absolutely gorgeous. The club scenes present strong blues and reds, and they look nicely rendered. All colours are beautifully saturated and are all bright and vivid. While again I can’ compare I recall the Polygram looking a little dull in this regard.
The amount of detail is very high, lines are clean and sharp, and there isn’t an instance where the image ever becomes soft. The print is pristine and I don’t recall ever seeing a blemish anywhere throughout the film. There are some noticeable compression artifacts in sequences and I’m not sure if it’s an attempt at preserving film grain or issues with rendering some of the bright reds and blues, but they’re there and the image can come off fuzzy and noisy here and there.
Other than that it’s an impressive looking transfer. It’s a real shame Criterion is really selective on their Blu-ray releases right now because this would look absolutely fabulous on that format (and it’s somewhat frustrating since and it sounds like the commentary participants are watching a high-def version of the film since they comment on how the level of detail in “HD” isn’t always flattering during one sequence.) Looks good but I feel Criterion sort of blew it in not releasing a Blu-ray edition as well.
Criterion includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track. I can’t recall what the Polygram edition contained or how good it sounded (and it wouldn’t be fair anyways since I viewed that older edition with the sound coming through my TV speakers) but the Criterion edition is certainly impressive. Stillman’s film, and all of them really, are talkative (very talkative) and the dialogue sticks primarily to the fronts. But music fills out the entire sound field, working all of the speakers, but the club sequences are the most impressive where we get an excellent recreation of a club atmosphere all around, music and sound effects filling the environment, and it’s quite loud with an excellent, though not explosive, amount of bass. It’s quite effective. Again it’s a shame we didn’t get a Blu-ray edition as a DTS-HD track would have been impressive.
Criterion’s edition also beats out the Polygram edition in the way of supplements (that edition only including a trailer) but I can’t say there’s really anything all that special about what’s on here, which is all, other than maybe one feature, pretty typical material for a DVD 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 (though 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. While presented in enhanced widescreen, the image is picture-boxed and also looks to come from a shoddy video source.
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 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.
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 amount 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 finally closes with the theatrical trailer that looks to have been taken from a video cassette, possibly one of those trailers that would play at the beginning of a VHS tape before the actual film began. While it’s widescreen it has not been enhanced for 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 the Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
I enjoyed the commentary surprisingly, and I guess 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.
I have to admit I actually enjoyed the film a lot more this time around having not seen is since the original DVD was released, and maybe I’ll actually have to give Stillman’s other films a go. Fans of the film will definitely be happy with this DVD release, which I’m sure they’ve been waiting a long time for. The supplements were okay, nothing special, but the real draw will be the audio and video transfer, which respectively sound and look incredibly good.