Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The triple echo at studio 54

Two curious 'gay interest' items .... one in a wartime setting and then that infamous New York disco.

THE TRIPLE ECHO. A real pleasure seeing this under-rated wartime drama again. From that early ‘70s period when English cinema was running down, but this and gems like SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, THE GO-BETWEEN and DON’T LOOK NOW as well as the Ken Russell opuses kept us going to see British films at the local ABC or Odeon. This 1972 Michael Apted film has that wartime look in spades, as in Schlesinger’s YANKS it is one of the few that bothers to get the right period flavour, which is all in the detail. 

We follow solitary wife Glenda Jackson on her remote farm, shooting rabbits and rats, and collecting eggs for the local shop. Her husband is a prisoner of war, held by the Japanese. Another lonely figure enters her horizon, young soldier Brian Deacon. They converse and get on, he is soon doing odd jobs around the farm, like getting that tractor to work …. He wants to desert and she helps him, by the odd idea of his dressing up as her sister. This odd couple make it work. Then bullying officer Oliver Reed comes sniffing around and invites the bored “sister” to the dance at the local military base …. It is madness to accept but he/she does …. This is a fascinating drama, Jackson is brilliant here conveying every facet of her character, Reed is one-note but exactly right, and Brian Deacon may have the more difficult role but carries it off perfectly. This was when British tv did a lot of period drama set in the 30s and 40s, all those H.E. Bates and A.E Coppard stories. THE TRIPLE ECHO is more of the same and a very satisfying view now. It is also an amazing study of sexual identity and ironical loss of freedom as Deacon finds himself sardonically more confined than ever by what he endures as a deserter forced to hide.
It is not only a perfect period piece from that interesting time in the early '70s, but also an intriguing study of identity as we ponder how serious he is about posing as Glenda's sister - she seems more masculine than him, and how trapped he becomes on the farm, as he imagines he can handle Olly's persistent opportunism .... Its a very tricky role to pull off and Deacon, who should have been better known, succeeds admirably. Young actors seem freer now in their choices than they were 40 years ago, with the likes of Whishaw and Cumberbatch et al, but Deacon is still working and - according to his IMDB profile - like Denis Waterman, he too was married to Rula Lenska! He also plays the young husband in that 1983 Schlesinger SEPARATE TABLES (at Glenda Jackson label) and is in Greenaway's A ZED AND TWO NOUGHTS with his brother Eric - maybe one of those "painfully arty" movies we did not catch at the time, 1986 ...

54. Who knew decadence could be so boring? 1998's 54 certainly gives it a bad name as we follow the rise and fall of Jersey boy Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe) who becomes dazzled by the bright lights of New York and the legendary club Studio 54. He though turns out to be a minor league Tony Manero (of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER) but inexplicably catches the eye of club owner Steve Rubell who lets the young kid inside – once he takes his shirt off. Soon our ambitious Shane is a busboy and before long a bar-tender which means he is photographed for “After Dark” magazine and having all the sex and drugs and fame that goes with his glamorous existence.
It seems the only gay person at Studio 54 though is owner Steve Rubell – a terrific turn by Mike Myers. Salma Hayek and Brekin Meyer are married and Shane’s friends and Salma has one good line regarding his lack of success at the club. She and Shane also become attracted, and he also falls for Jersey girl made good Neve Campbell. The tax people are also investigating the club’s affairs and it all climaxes at New Year’s Eve as Shane has to look after Princess Grace who is visiting, but Salma has her big number ruined when the club's oldest member, who is in her 80s, overdoses on the dance floor, which  - in the movies anyway - means the end! It is the usual morality tale dressed with with a disco soundtrack by the time Miramax and the Weinsteins had finished with the material, and certainly an amusing journey now. The legendary Manhattan disco was surely more fun than shown here, though we do get glimpses of Andy, Bianca and the other celebrities (Michael York and Lauren Hutton also appear as well as disco divas Ultra Nate and Thelma Houston). It seems director-writer Mark Christopher had a falling out with Miramax over the final cut of the film. Shane isn't a very nice guy, and he's not too bright, so is hardly a hero to root for. The other characters are equally vacuous and selfish, apart from Rubell himself. I knew the London clubs (and some of their owners) in the '80s and '90s and they were certainly more fun than this! 

It now seems that fearing a bomb, the studio, Disney/Miramax, insisted on quick reshoots and reedits (Shane was meant to be bisexual initially). In the end, 45 minutes were cut from the film, new scenes were shot and 25 minutes of new footage were added, along with additional voice-over to streamline the narrative. The movie bombed anyway, with both audiences and critics. It was yet another in a long line of Hollywood "de-gayings," where gay content is removed from a movie’s source material or edited out of a film before its theatrical release, and it’s still one of the most notorious examples. 
It's odd: the two films about the disco era, 54 and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, are both such "straight" films - as the Studios rewrite history and insist these discos were heterosexual places, to cater for their mass audience - the kind of studios I suppose who would not back the new Liberace film as it "was too gay", so its a hit on HBO and released in cinemas here in Europe ! (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER works perfectly as it is, being the story of those working class kids getting their relief on the dancefloor, and not purporting to be about the disco itself...).

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