Working at the Disco: I Watch “The Last Days of Disco”

Working at the Disco: I Watch “The Last Days of Disco” November 21, 2014

For the first half of this movie I was not totally sold on it–despite its setting in “The Very Early ’80s” and its discussions of group socializing vs. “ferocious pairing off” and the Robert Sean Leonard of it all. “It’s fun enough, but it’s no Damsels in Distress,” I thought.

By the end I was so fascinated and pleased that I wanted to rewatch it immediately. I listened to the commentary track, which I rarely do with Netflix dvds because I am greedy and want my next one as fast as possible. But The Last Days of Disco is an intelligent souffle. It’s light–if it were heavy it would be lugubrious, but it’s so light that it’s poignant instead–and endearing, and insightful.

Strangely, the paeans to disco never get specific–you could replace disco with anything, even punk. And the things I love most about disco, when I love it, don’t really make an appearance in the film. I love the ecstasy and no-consequences, no-gravity feeling of disco, the release. When you dance you’re off the clock. No ambitions, barely any self, just music and you inside it. Whereas these characters are pretty much always working at the disco: literally with Des (Chris Eigeman), who’s I think a gatekeeper or bouncer or something?, and Jimmy the adman who takes his clients there for a night on the town; but also figuratively, since all of the characters are pushing for relationships and social position. I don’t dislike this, I just found it weird in an intriguing way. I guess since the (lovely) religious hints connect religion to order in the soul, a peaceful ordering of our loves rather than a chaotic and hurtful welter, I maybe would have liked more about why the main religiously-attuned guy loves disco so much. I don’t associate disco with order at all.

I like how almost all of these characters are trying, in one way or another. There are ways of doing tragedy or satire where it’s about people willfully being awful, but I think my favorite tragedies and satires are about how many important things we botch when we’re trying very hard not to. I loved all of the characters except the Robert Sean Leonard one, who is just really, really hateable. Out of the main five characters Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale, china-doll pretty and ’80s-flick fierce, like a rich girl in a John Hughes film, thanks for this) tries the least, but that’s mostly because she lacks self-awareness. She thinks she’s a self-aware villainess but she’s actually more of a disingenuous, striving naif.

My favorite moment: Des and Alice (Chloe Sevigny) are having coffee together. He: “Do you think it’s really true that coffee has the same neurological effect as cocaine?” She affirms this, and he lowers his head to his cup. Then looks up at her, with these giant eyes: I’m trusting you on this, anxious, struggling. And snorts his coffee.

I could yammer a bit about the reasons this moment worked for me so well–the whole thing of, “There must be a way to make this high more intense!”, the idiot ingenuity of it, the perfect timing of his miserable snuffling snort. But really it’s the hilarious trust in his eyes.

Some notes:

Sevigny going into the club at the very beginning: braced, charging, ambitious; shoulders squared

they almost hated the title!!! “It’s not really a disco film” (okay, but it’s a terrific title–that souffle-light note of elegy)

The women are in this moment, which in fact we’re still in, where it’s bad to be a prude but bad to be a slut. It’s not even that you can’t win, it’s that anyone can win who decides to play against you. It’s a bit worse to be a virgin than to be a slut but really the only safe option is to strike first, use another woman’s reputation against her so yours won’t be used against you. Better to be a bitch than a prude or a slut; and those are your options.

theme of how do you get yourself chosen? (velvet rope, publishing, career, romance) what drink should I order? How can I be unpredictable in a “unique, refreshing” way, not a crazy way?

LOL I love Eigeman’s constant giant eyes. He never, ever squints. Always giant staring. I CAN’T BELIEVE IT, WHY ARE THESE PREDICTABLE CONSEQUENCES OF MY ACTIONS HAPPENING TO ME. He’s so great at looking unjustifiably put-upon. …He’s also great at being self-righteous when you can tell the character knows he isn’t really on the moral high ground. (Unlike Charlotte, who does seem to sometimes convince herself, for split seconds at a time, that she’s in the right.)

“persecution”: of people in advertising, of people who like disco, of yuppies (“KILL YUPPIE SCUM”), of lol Des for being a disaster. I would be so unsympathetic to this “the rich are the real victims here!” thing if it weren’t handled with a beautiful light touch. It’s ironizing, not complaining.

this is well-constructed—the plot coil tightens and then springs quite satisfyingly.

Alice gets slammed for being inauthentic re: Scrooge McDuck, as vs Des’s glorious cab monologue about how you shouldn’t be true “to thine own self” if your own self is awful. Her own self is much less awful than the “sexy” persona she’s trying to wear.

I love that Charlotte isn’t a pure villain. She seems genuinely disingenuous, her apologies; and she takes down Dan (“What if we don’t marry corporate [millionaires]? What if we marry meatballs, like you?”), the handsy guy on the train, etc. “Anything I did that was wrong, I apologize for. But anything I did that was not wrong, I don’t apologize for!”

even all the romantic stuff is very goal-directed, they’re always looking for someone (and usually someone specific) at the disco

I will say that I don’t get what Jimmy Steinway is doing in this movie other than moving the plot around.

Man, I do love the unemployment insurance scenes. Not sure I’ve ever seen that in a movie, people signing up for welfare.

Also really like the whole character arc of the prosecutor, the guy who loves disco and longs for order in his soul. Everything about that character works for me.

Charlotte awesomely singing “Amazing Grace” to top Alice/prosecutor guy, like, it’s all about her self-image as accepting and cool and kooky, and yet it also really does give a spiritual feel to the scene.

in the cab, the Polonius scene, Des’s dark high crest of greasy sweat-stiffened hair, I think half the cokeheads of the ’80s had this hair if the video evidence can be trusted.

So yeah. I loved this film and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

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