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54 (1998)
This is the story of Studio 54 . . . quite possibly the most renowned nightclub ever. The pinnacle of haute couture, 54 was a sanctuary for the hedonistic elite. 54: a microcosm of promiscuous sex, free flowing coke, and shameless schmoozing all set to the upbeat rhythm of disco. Masterminded by Steve Rubell, 54's elaborate decadence made him a superstar; nonetheless, it was Rubell's arrogance that silenced the world's greatest party. When Steve Rubell publicly defied the I.R.S. to trace his income, they accepted the challenge . . . and Rubell found a home in prison for nearly two years. Told through the eyes of a young bartender, 54 aptly summarizes the New York City disco scene in under two thoroughly entertaining hours.

Spike Lee's Summer of Sam and Mark Christopher's 54 share countless similarities. First, both films employ an uncommon approach to relating history: recounting the true story of a public figure in 1970's America through the perspective of fictional characters. Second, both films are flooded in an ocean of drugs. Neither condemning nor glamorizing the act, both directors depict rampant cocaine consumption as the cornerstone of the disco scene. Third, both directors illustrate the boundless promiscuity of the pre-AIDS decade while demonstrating the potential ramifications (for example, while Shane contracts a painful venereal disease in 54, Vinny destroys his marriage in Summer of Sam). Moreover, since Lee and Christopher are recreating an "anything goes" decade, perhaps it is not coincidental that homoeroticism appears in both pieces. Nonetheless, the most pervading similarity swims in the undercurrent of both films. A genuine sense of decay saturates each work. 1970's society precariously teeters on moral turpitude: jaded, egocentric, and deceptive. In sum, Christopher's 54 elaborates on the New York City setting and trends as portrayed in Lee's Summer of Sam.

N.B. The historical "recap" in the opening sequence of 54 shows actual footage of David Berkowitz being arraigned for the "Son of Sam" shootings.
Boogie Nights (1997)
San Fernando Valley, 1977. Eddie Adams is your typical teenager . . . he has a cute girlfriend, works as a busboy, fights with his mom, and litters his bedroom walls with posters of hot cars and even hotter chicks. However, a chance encounter with porn director Jack Horner transforms Eddie Adams -- quintessential suburban kid -- into Dirk Diggler -- adult film star extraordinaire. Busboy days behind him, Eddie/Dirk indulges in fast cars, designer clothes, a lavish bachelor pad . . . even monogrammed curtains. Nonetheless, his lust for cocaine speeds his luxurious life to a crashing halt. Unable to function at work, Eddie/Dirk quickly depletes his financial resources. In desperation, he and two other out-of-work porn actors, attempt to pass off a massive bag of baking soda as cocaine. The ensuing bullet-punctuated melee scares Eddie/Dirk back to the waiting arms of his surrogate family (Horner's pool of actors and production company.) An improbable happy ending follows. An acquired taste, this film will not appeal to the impatient (just under 150 very long minutes), the easily-offended (full-frontal male and female nudity), or the faint of heart (an armed robbery results in blood and brains splattered all over a nice white suit).

Although numerous reviews compare Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights to Lee's Summer of Sam, the similarities occur on a fairly superficial level. First, although both directors use the disco scene as their backdrop, Anderson's Californian locale seems like a watered-down version of the true New York City glamour found in Summer of Sam and 54. Second, although both Anderson and Lee soak their films in drug use, Anderson employs a more didactic perspective. Like sultry dance moves or trendy clothes, cocaine represents just another disco accessory in Summer of Sam and 54. Contrarily, cocaine abuse thrusts Eddie/Dirk into a dark world of male prostitution and violent crime in Boogie Nights. Finally, like 54, the most prominent similarity lies in Anderson's portrayal of a morally bankrupt society. With heaping spoonfuls of humor, the first half of Boogie Nights only hints towards a world in distress. However, as the film progresses, a painfully stark portrait is rendered: dismal, dark, and hopeless. Sans the sappy ending, Boogie Nights does have the power to elicit the same empty, sick feeling that Summer of Sam so successfully achieves.