54 ★★★

Let's talk about Disco Dottie. The coke-sniffing, flirtatious senior citizen earned Ellen Albertini Dow a Golden Raspberry nomination, in keeping with the Razzies' tradition of not going for the hardest targets. A comedy raunchy pensioner in a disco movie starring Ryan Phillippe and Mike Myers, played by the old woman from The Wedding Singer - it's got to be terrible, right? Well, not exactly. I mean, the performance itself works perfectly well, it feels real, it has an integrity to it. Does it work in the context of the film? That depends on what film you're talking about.

54 is, I believe, the only film directed by Mark Christopher. If you told B Ruby Rich that fact in the early '90s, she wouldn't have believed you. Christopher emerged as part of the New Queer Cinema that also included Todd Haynes and Gregg Araki, and for a while he looked like he'd outshine them. While they were making scrappy, difficult indies he was working with Miramax on an all-star drama about the iconic disco nightclub Studio 54. The operative word here, though, is "Miramax". Christopher's vision for the film was very different to Harvey Weinstein's, and as ever Weinstein won out. He inflated Neve Campbell's role from a cameo to a fully-fledged love interest for Phillippe, and completely neutered the movie's bisexual charge. Perhaps my favourite anecdote in Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures has Weinstein ordering his editors to remove as much same-sex activity from 54 as possible, then going to collect a GLAAD award.

Watching this restored cut, I was puzzled by certain scenes that seemed to be shot on a mock-doc video format, despite no cameraman being present. It was only when the film cut between film and video in the same scene that the penny dropped; these were deleted shots. The occasional moments of standard-def give you a handy guide as to what Weinstein cut. Some of it is pretty startling in its accidental expose of Hollywood homophobia. If Weinstein wanted a commercial picture, you'd think he'd welcome nudity from his sexy young cast, but a scene of Shane (Phillippe) naked on his balcony was excised entirely. It's completely non-sexual nudity, but even the idea that the audience might take pleasure in watching a male body seems to be beyond Weinstein's tolerance.

Does this restoration make 54 a better film? No doubt. One of the edits nixes the big confrontation which a prominent subplot was building towards. I can imagine a film-maker removing that confrontation because they didn't want to do something melodramatic or obvious, but Harvey Weinstein is not Hou Hsaio-Hsien, so it's hard to see what purpose cutting it served. It obviously makes it a better film from a representational point of view, though it's still questionable. Steve Rubell, played by Mike Myers, is basically the predatory homosexual of reactionary stereotype, creepy, snivelling and constantly trying to erode the boundaries of hunky straight men.

Perhaps Rubell was actually like that, but I still feel like the film is unfair to him and his empire. There is something wonderfully egalitarian about the film's vision of Studio 54, a place where anyone from Grace Kelly to - yes! - Disco Dottie can come and party the night away, where different races, generations, sexualities and genders can enjoy whatever and whoever they want for the night. Christopher understands the appeal of this, but he also seems unwilling to go into the reasons why the '70s dream of sexual freedom ended. There is a little bit about snobbery, very little about reactionary backlash and nothing at all about AIDS unless I missed something. Without all this, the film gives the impression that all that fun simply had to end in suffering, as though it were a law of physics. I can't imagine Christopher's colleagues in the New Queer Cinema approving that message, even by accident.

Even if 54 had been released in Christopher's approved cut, it would have suffered on release through comparison to Boogie Nights, made at almost exactly the same time. The similarities are eerie at times, right up to the death at a party ringing in the '80s. The 1980s were, of course, the shittiest decade in human history, but they don't deserve the blame for killing disco and free love. A more political 54 might have dug into the reasons for the backlash - but it would have been even less commercial than the version Harvey Weinstein found so unacceptable.

Like its protagonist, 54 is not deep, but it's fun for a short time. It has a good supporting performance from Sela Ward as a record company exec Shane has an affair with, which also leads into the best shot of the film as a post-coital Shane suddenly becomes entranced by his own naked body in a mirror. Christopher has a definite sense of high style which makes me wish he'd directed more, better-developed films. There's also a great turn from Salma Hayek, at the nadir of her internship as Hollywood eye candy - she was a year away from doing Wild Wild West, the role which probably persuaded her she needed to do Frida as soon as possible. Her part here, though, reminds you that she was always more than an incredible beauty. She's sparky and witty and charismatic, and gets the movie's best line to boot. When her boyfriend complains that his career stalled because he's too short and he won't suck dick, she commiserates: "Well, you can't do anything about your height."