I can enjoy a good pretentious film, but 'The Last Days of Disco' is one that I simply do not get. There was literally only one moment where I connected with one character. Not that it's a terrible film, but why this title was selected by Criterion is beyond me.
'The Last Days of Disco' is an ensemble film about a group of twenty-something pseudo intellectuals wrapped up in the exclusive social life of a Studio 54-esque New York City nightclub in the early '80s. We start off following Alice (Chloë Sevigny) and Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale), we meet a slew of other characters, and we wrap up almost exclusively following Alice. Alice and Charlotte are two recent college grads who have become friends while working together at a prestigious publishing house. Despite having polar opposite personalities, they are connected in all things disco. By day they're reading manuscripts at work, by night they're regularly getting into the most exclusive night club in town. Alice is a sweet, kind young woman who's simply living this lifestyle for the fun of it all. Charlotte, on the other hand, has something to prove. She's arrogant, bitchy,and almost entirely unlikable – but her pushy attitude is mistaken for high-class hoity-toity-ness and she's looked at as the life of the party.
After meeting these two, we are introduced to the rest of the jumbled crew of socialites that also reject the lifestyle that their parents expect them to live. One is a businessman trying to get his clients into the club through the good graces of a friend who manages the place; one is that same manager; one is an old friend who now works for the district attorney; one is a fish out of water trying to meet upper class girls; and a handful of others are self-involved snobby tools. When together, this group's banter is so pretentious that it's grinding on the nerves to watch. For example, one huge chunk of dialog is dedicated to the group breaking down the social undertones of Disney's 'Lady and the Tramp.' Scenes like this are nauseatingly disgusting. Luckily, not all of the film functions on this level.
The story to the first half of the film isn't horrible. As we watch our ensemble float through their social lives, it's easy to recognize the influential aspects of the era that are being portrayed. 'The Last Days of Disco' does not celebrate the disco era, but it offers a not-so-nostalgic glance via harsh, blunt, and even painful social commentaries. It's easy to see what writer/director Whit Stillman is trying to get across – and, like the characters or not, it works. The second half, however, does not.
'The Last Days of Disco' is a very slow film. I checked the timer at one point, thinking that it was near the end, only to discover that I was only 56 minutes in, leaving another hour to go. Unfortunately, the second half felt even longer than the first. The social commentary becomes thin and forced, shadowed by unfun and serious elements most commonly found in soap operas – love triangles, infidelity, drugs, pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, back-stabbing etc.
While it's obvious that I dislike 'The Last Days of Disco,' it's mostly due to the content, not how the movie was made. 'The Last Days of Disco' is a downer. It's dark and uncomfortable. Like Charlotte, it is cold and abrasive. Stillman's directorial style is fantastic and fitting – it's pleasantly raw – but the content of the movie itself isn't great. I compare it to Charlotte in the film – she's a gorgeous knockout, but she's so unlikable that her striking looks aren't enough to make the long stare at her worthwhile.
Perhaps I'd connect with 'The Last Days of Disco' more if I wasn't a wee child when the events were really taking place. Without that connection, it's hard to find anything worth investing yourself in. Literally, the only thing I walked away with was a comprehension of how morally and socially eroding this self-serving period of night life was (given that the disco lifestyle is accurate with what's portrayed on-screen). I can recommend 'The Last Days of Disco' on that basis, but not for entertainment's sake.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Criterion has placed this 1998 title on a Region A BD-50 in a standard-to-the-collection boxy clear keepcase. 'The Last Days of Disco' carries the Criterion disc number 485. Included is a booklet containing the transfer details and an essay by novelist David Schickler. As with their other releases, not a single thing plays before the main menu.
As expected, Criterion has done a wonderful job transferring this 14-year-old film to Blu-ray. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
'The Last Days of Disco' has been scrubbed nicely. 99 percent of the film is free from scratches, dirt and all other imperfections. The clarity is knock-out, almost always appearing crisp and clear. Although the image is filled with fine details, there are noticeable applications of edge enhancement. There are also several traces of digital noise despite the minimal use of DNR.
As you would expect from a film that's set almost entirely in disco clubs, colors are vibrant and alive. At times, there's an abundance of oversaturation from the club lights, but that's surely part of the director's intent. No matter how grim or bleak subject matter gets, the colors are always vivid.
Bands and artifacts are absent, but three occasions cause mild aliasing: the first is a striped shirt that Alice wears, the second is a tie that one of the yuppies wears and third is an iron-rod fence lining a New York City sidewalk.
Only one audio option is presented: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Just like the video quality, the remastered audio is very strong.
The film opens with a flashy title sequence set to boisterous disco music. From the get-go, it's obvious how much detail has been given to the mixing of the music. All music is well-spread throughout the film. Being dance music, there's quite a bit of bass, none of which ever comes across as overbearing or unnatural.
Strange ADR caused some distraction due to dialog not perfectly matching the movements of the mouths, but that doesn't stop the vocal track from being any less noteworthy. The clarity within the vocal track is fantastic. Dialog rings completely clear and is always perfectly audible due to how well it is mixed with the music. When conversations take place in the middle of the clubs and beneath the loud house music, the near-yelling vocal inflection matches how you would expect it to sound if you were having a discussion with friends in that same setting.
As per usual, Criterion has done a brilliant job with the audio transfer.
Despite the dreadfully slow pace and the soap opera second half, I'm glad that I watched 'The Last Days of Disco.' I don't know that I'll ever watch it again, but it offers great insight to the social settings of the early '80s, the death of the disco days. The video and audio have been fantastically remastered, but no new special features have made their way to this disc. This is best for fans of the film.