54 (1998) by Mark Christopher - Unsung FilmsOf course, there are many better films to compare The Andy Warhol Diaries to, but that one thing that Mark Christopher’s 54 and this modern classic have in common brings them close enough as to be briefly compared before the latter is overruled and The Diaries go on to gain the recognition they deserve for what they have to offer. Both the film and the book spend too much time at the Studio and involve very little skill as well as importance –while at the same time, a whole lotta glam. They’re shallow and mediocre, but aim to provide us with a comprehensive list of the glittering 70’s who’s-who. They’re shiny and empty, fascinating and decadent. You may often guiltily enjoy them –but are always left asking “so f****** what?”

Sometimes it hits you that -after all- Studio 54 was still just a night-club. One that Steve Rubell very cleverly set up and marketed as the place of the bold and the beautiful; as the spot where only whoever was someone would get to hang out –introducing a number of worthless entering conditions and then a series of doors you couldn’t get past. But despite the clever advertising, it was always, nothing more than a night-club. However, stripping it of its shallow fun kills the romance, so I’d rather approach it in a more loving way.

54 (1998) by Mark Christopher - Unsung FilmsMark Christopher’s camera is placed behind the bar in 54, putting us in a young bartender’s shoes and letting us witness everything from a naïve and enthralled side. We start from the bottom –aka New Jersey— and move our way sideways through Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe), finally finding ourselves in Manhattan and into the Studio, pretty, ambitious and heavily star-struck. We never really get to socialise with the “greats”, but we watch them do their thing. Slightly distant, but always present, we observe the ups and downs; notice the good, the bad and the ugly. We are affected, but only to a minor extent. We’re impressed by it, but only because it’s bigger than us.

What’s good about Christopher’s film is that we are given the chance to destroy the myth. It was beautiful but also sleazy and in the end, insignificant. A fun time, but nothing more. Approaching the legendary night-club and its occupants from the side has its good and bad points –as we eagerly crave the Studio’s validation, but then again, repeatedly rebel against it. We grow up in it and are raised by it; we need it but hate it at the same time. We can’t go on unless we’ve earned our right to put it down –and that only comes after we’ve learned from it and used it to mature. It becomes a good life-model to avoid once logic and some sense of morality have kicked in and a great stepping stone towards our own self-reassurance.

54 (1998) by Mark Christopher - Unsung FilmsThe film itself –artistically speaking— is merely a cluttered mash-up of facts and information provided by The Andy Warhol Diaries, but not respected enough as to follow accurately. Although it has nothing to say, this non-existent story is put in a very exciting setting, which is ultimately what gives 54 a reason to exist (if there is one). Like Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco, we’re given a sneak-peak into where the cool kids hang out, before we go about our lives. Nothing is really left behind and a second viewing especially of Christopher’s film is out of the question –but it’s good to take a distant, sideward, and ultimately dismissive look at Andy and Bianca’s glory days before we move on, feeling that little better about never having belonged there in the first place.

Read at Unsung Films: Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film, Whit Stillman.

But the artist’s Diaries are far from an indirect and side look of what’s happening at the shiny top. When we step into Andy’s shoes (rather than a bartender’s) we have officially made our way in and up –we’re not even just mingling with the “greats” now; we’re leading them through the crowds. We’ve made it to the balcony and the basement; we’ve thrown Truman off his pedestal and gotten to wear Halston’s white ankle-long fur. We pick up John Samuels and Barbara Allen on our way there and Marty and Liza’s secret affair is safe with us.

54 (1998) by Mark Christopher - Unsung FilmsAndy’s detailed, almost database-styled, account of Studio 54’s backstage is close to worthless from a literary perspective, as his writing lacks flair and his thoughts fail to flow –taking a lot of the sparkle off the Studio’s surface and unexpectedly loading it with some kind of extravagant catalogue significance. It’s truly fascinating to see bitchy celebrity gossip, triviality and detachment from the real world and its problems turning into an almost historically important narrative.

Guilty, both Mark Christopher’s 54 and The Andy Warhol Diaries –but not both pleasures. Studio 54 offers plenty of dirt and shine, enough to play around with for another few decades. But Christopher’s way of messing it all up takes a lot of the pleasure away from gossiping. At the end of the day, if it’s not accurate, then it’s just dirty without the secrets. Besides, we only get to peak through the Studio’s keyholes in 54, managing to merely “evolve” into demi-B-celebrities, when Andy’s offering us the full experience. He’s giving us the complete lowdown and takes us up the whole way, leaving us knowing it all –even how much money we spent in the cab when getting to the Studio.

External links

54 at IMDb
54 at Miramax
54 at Wikipedia
Andy Warhol at Wikipedia
54 (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb

You can stream the full movie by Mark Christopher on Netflix

Watch a documentary on Studio 54 here