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The Last Days of Disco is a 1998 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Whit Stillman, and loosely based on his travels and experiences in various nightclubs in Manhattan, including Studio 54. The film concerns a group of Ivy League and Hampshire College graduates falling in and out of love in the disco scene of New York City, in the "very early 1980s". Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale have the lead roles.
The Last Days of Disco is the third film (after Metropolitan (1990) and Barcelona (1994)) in what Stillman calls his "Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love series". The three films are independent of each other except for the cameo appearances of some common characters. According to Stillman, the idea for Disco was originally conceived after the shooting of Barcelona's disco scenes. In 2000, Stillman published a novelization of the film, titled The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards. It won the 2014 Prix Fitzgerald Award.
The film was released theatrically in the United States on June 12, 1998; its DVD and video releases followed in 1999. The DVD releases eventually went out of print, and the film was widely unavailable for home video purchase until it was picked up by The Criterion Collection and released in a director-approved special edition on August 25, 2009. Along with Metropolitan and Barcelona, a print of The Last Days of Disco resides in the permanent film library of the Museum of Modern Art.
In the "very early 1980s," Alice Kinnon and Charlotte Pingress, two recent college graduates, work in a New York City publishing house as poorly paid readers. After work one night, they are able to enter an exclusive disco nightclub, where Alice is hoping to socialize with Jimmy Steinway, who works in advertising and uses the nightclub to entertain clients. Jimmy is ill-tempered because he has been barred from bringing clients to the nightclub and is eventually kicked out by his friend Des McGrath, who works as a manager at the club but whose job is in jeopardy for allowing Jimmy and his clients inside. After Jimmy leaves, Alice takes Charlotte's advice to go home with her second choice, Tom Platt. At work the following morning, Charlotte and Alice talk with other editors about how to fast-track their careers. They also decide to move in together with a third girl, Holly, as they cannot afford to pay rent on their own. Despite Alice's reluctance, the women eventually settle on a railroad apartment.
Returning to the club, Alice is upset to learn that Charlotte has designs on Jimmy. She is further upset when Tom tells her that when he slept with her, he had a long-term girlfriend he was separated from and his one-night stand with Alice convinced him to return to her. Des then begins to pursue Alice.
At work, Alice decides to pursue the publication of a book on Buddhism, written by the Dalai Lama's brother, that Charlotte had previously recommended rejecting, and Alice gains the editors' respect. It is discovered that the author is not in fact the Dalai Lama's brother, but Alice maintains the book is one of the best she's ever read. Meanwhile, Charlotte, now dating Jimmy, is openly insecure about Jimmy and Alice's apparent friendliness.
At the club, in front of a group of various friends, Charlotte loudly announces that Alice has gonorrhea, after figuring it out when Alice refuses to drink. Charlotte later apologizes to Alice but tells her not to be embarrassed, as it will make men think of her as more accessible. In fact, after learning this, Des does become more interested in being with Alice, and they start dating casually.
Alice has dinner with Tom to confront him about giving her gonorrhea. He initially denies it, arguing she could have contracted it from someone else, but Alice tells him he was her first sexual partner. He then admits he also gave her herpes.
Meanwhile, Josh Neff, a D.A. and friend of Jimmy's who also frequently attends the club, asks Alice to lunch to pitch a book to her. At lunch, he confesses he is interested not in writing a book but in Alice. Alice and Josh go on a real date, and he tells her he is on medication for manic depression. Upon returning home from the date, Alice discovers Charlotte being taken away in an ambulance after a miscarriage and being told by Jimmy that he is moving to Barcelona. At the hospital, Charlotte asks Alice if Jimmy ever expressed interest in being with her; when Alice admits that he did, Charlotte reacts with tears and tells her she will be moving out.
The nightclub is raided by the police for tax fraud, and Des tries to run away despite Josh's promise to protect him, believing that Josh's interest in Alice will cause him to act unfairly. They later discover that even before the club was raided by the police, disco records were no longer selling and attendance was down.
Alice and Charlotte learn that their employer has merged with a larger publishing house and that layoffs are to be expected. Some time later, Charlotte, Josh, and Des are seen leaving the unemployment office. Josh tells the group that he is going to Lutèce for lunch, treated by Alice, who is celebrating her promotion (her book was published after she switched it from nonfiction to self-help). Des and Charlotte talk about how their big personalities are too much for normal personalities like Alice, Josh, and Jimmy. Des also says that pairing off monogamously detracts from their glamorous lifestyle, and Charlotte agrees.
On the subway on their way to Lutèce, Alice and Josh discuss their future prospects. As the end credits begin, they break character to dance to "Love Train", and are eventually joined by the entire subway station of passengers when they arrive at their destination.
- Chloë Sevigny as Alice Kinnon: One of two main characters, a quiet and passive but intelligent young woman working as a book editor in Manhattan. She and Charlotte, frequent companions, work for the same publisher and attended a prestigious college together.
- Kate Beckinsale as Charlotte Pingress: The other main character, a rather narcissistic and shallow person. She constantly offers "advice" to Alice and criticizes her lack of sociability. She is outgoing but dominating of those around her.
- Chris Eigeman as Des McGrath: A manager at the disco Alice and Charlotte frequent, casually dating Alice at one point. He provides comic relief in many sequences and provides much insight in conversations. He is intelligent but somewhat conniving, and has many hookups with Manhattan women, with a routine of pretending to come out as a homosexual when he has lost interest in them.
- Mackenzie Astin as Jimmy Steinway: An ambitious friend of Des who works in advertising. Jimmy has to sneak his way into the disco in costume because the house owner doesn't want "those kind of people" in the club. He dates Charlotte.
- Matt Keeslar as Josh Neff: An assistant district attorney who takes an interest in Alice. Upon his introduction to Alice at the disco, he is rudely interrupted by Charlotte, who pushes him away. Alice eventually begins a relationship with him, and comes to learn that he suffers from manic depressive disorder.
- Robert Sean Leonard as Tom Platt: A charming, wealthy environmental lawyer with whom Alice has a one-night stand. He gained interest in Alice after meeting her at the disco but proved to not be relationship material. In her sexual encounter with him, Alice contracts both gonorrhea and herpes.
- Jennifer Beals as Nina Moritz: One of Des's conquests, who falls for his "coming out" act and later discovers he was lying to rid himself of her.
- Matt Ross as Dan Powers: A Harvard graduate and co-worker of Alice and Charlotte. He often criticizes the two women, who refer to him as "Departmental Dan."
- Tara Subkoff as Holly: A quiet woman whose intelligence and relationship choices are questioned by Charlotte and Alice. She becomes their third roommate when they decide to move in together.
- Burr Steers as Van: A worker at the disco and sort of henchman of Bernie's.
- David Thornton as Bernie Rafferty: The owner of the disco and Des's boss.
- Mark McKinney as Rex: The owner of Rex's bar.
- George Plimpton and Anthony Haden-Guest appear as clubgoers.
- Carolyn Farina appears in a brief cameo as Audrey Rouget from Metropolitan, as do her Metropolitan co-stars Bryan Leder (Fred Neff) and Dylan Hundley (Sally Fowler).
- Taylor Nichols also appears in a cameo as Ted Boynton from Barcelona, along with his then-girlfriend Betty (Debbon Ayer), who inspires an unemployed Jimmy to look for work at an international firm in Barcelona.
Development and casting
The idea for the film reportedly came to director Stillman after filming the disco scenes in his previous film, Barcelona. Stillman, who had frequented the New York discos in the 1970s and 1980s himself, announced the project soon thereafter, and interest from a handful of film distributors and actors sprouted before the film had even been written. According to Stillman in the 2009 audio commentary for the film, various actors (many of them reportedly "big names") were interested in the project from its original conception; Ben Affleck was originally looking into playing the role of Des, but Stillman, who had worked with Chris Eigeman before, handed the role over to him instead. Kate Beckinsale, who was living in England at the time, mailed an audition tape to Stillman; he was immediately mesmerized and cast her in the role of Charlotte. The leading role of Alice Kinnon took the longest to cast—it originally was going to go to an unnamed European actress, but according to Stillman, she resembled co-star Kate Beckinsale "too much" and also had a non-American accent that caused complications. Winona Ryder was subsequently offered the role through her agent. The call was placed by studio executives on a Monday. The film's editor, Chris Tellefsen, who had previously worked as the editor of Kids, recommended Chloë Sevigny after seeing her performance in that film. Two days after the phone call was placed to Ryder's agent, Sevigny, who had been given the script through her agent, auditioned for the role, and won it. By the time Ryder's agent returned the call, Sevigny had already been cast.
Principal photography began on August 12, 1997, and ended on October 27, 1997. Filming took place in various New York City locations, and the structure used for the disco was Loews Landmark Theater Loew's Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey, that was in the process of being renovated. The filmmakers had to share the location with another film production that took place there beforehand. The other production paid for the red carpeting used in the building, and the rest of the interior was designed and paid for by Stillman's crew.
The film's distributor had also pushed the filmmakers to complete the film and get it released before the Columbia Pictures disco club film 54, and it was; 54 was released in US cinemas in late August 1998, just two months after the theatrical debut of The Last Days of Disco.
Like Stillman's other films, The Last Days of Disco deals with social structure, sexual politics, and group dynamics. The relationships that bloom from the club are often expressed through long dialogue sequences, with Stillman's trademark dry humor and "sharp lines" often blurted, especially by Charlotte and Josh.
- "THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (15)". (August 3, 1998). Retrieved on February 2, 2016.
- "Whit Stillman and the Song of the Preppy" By CHIP BROWN, New York Times Magazine 16 March 2012 accessed 30 March 2015
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- Seibert, Perry. "The Last Days of Disco - Overview".. Retrieved on 2009-05-22.
- "The Last Days of Disco (1998) - The Criterion Collection".. Retrieved on 2009-05-22.
- "MoMA: Last Days of Disco".. Retrieved on 1 September 2009.
- Stillman, Whit (2009). The Last Days of Disco (DVD). The Criterion Collection.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- "Box office & business for The Last Days of Disco".. Retrieved on 1 September 2009.
- Richard Brody. The New Yorker, August 8, 2016. "The politics of Disco caught on film", p. 12.
- James Sanford. "Review for The Last Days of Disco".. Retrieved on 2 September 2009.
- The Last Days of Disco at Box Office Mojo
- The Last Days of Disco at Metacritic
- Phil's whitstillman.org TLDOD page (links and information on the film)
- Official site (pictures have been removed, but the text is still available)
- excerpts from Stillman's journal while making Last Days of Disco
- Salon interview with Stillman