The Last Days of Disco

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The Last Days of Disco
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Whit Stillman
Produced by
  • Edmon Roch
  • Cecilia Kate Rogue
Written by Whit Stillman
Music by Mark Suozzo
Cinematography John Thomas
Edited by
Distributed by Gramercy Pictures
Release dates
  • May 29, 1998 (1998-05-29)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $8 million[2]
Box office $3 million[3]

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 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 in what Stillman calls his "Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love series", which begins with Metropolitan and continues with Barcelona. According to Stillman, the idea for Disco was originally conceived after the shooting of disco scenes in Barcelona. In 2000, Stillman published a novelization of the film, titled The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards.

The film was released theatrically in the United States on May 29, 1998, and its DVD and video releases followed in 1999.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]


In the early 1980s, Alice Kinnon and Charlotte Pingress, two young Hampshire College graduates. work in a New York publishing house as poorly paid readers. After work they are able to enter an exclusive disco nightclub where Alice is hoping to meet 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 the 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 that their one-night stand convinced him to return to her. Des begins to pursue Alice but she repeatedly turns him down.

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 gains the editors' respect. Later she discovers that the writer of the book is in fact not the Dalai Lama's brother, but maintains that the book is one of the best she ever read.

At the club in front of a group of their 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. Des becomes more interested in pursuing Alice.

Alice has dinner with Tom to confront him about giving her an STD. He initially denies it, arguing she contracted it from someone else, but she tells him he was her first sexual partner. He then tells her he also gave her herpes.

Meanwhile, Josh Neff, a D.A. and friend of Jimmy's who frequently attends the club, asks Alice to lunch to pitch a book to her. At lunch he confesses he is not interested in writing a book but in Alice. Alice and Josh go on a real date, where he tells her that 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 was moving to Barcelona. At the hospital Charlotte asks Alice if Jimmy ever expressed interest in being with her and when Alice admits that he did Charlotte reacts with tears and tells her she will be moving out.

In the meantime, 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.

Some time later, Charlotte, Josh and Des head out from the unemployment office. Josh tells the group that he is going to Lutèce for lunch, paid for by Alice who is celebrating her promotion after her book was published after she switched it from non-fiction 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.

Meanwhile, on a subway on their way to Lutèce Alice and Josh dance to Love Train and are eventually joined by the entire car.


  • Chloë Sevigny as Alice Kinnon: A quiet and passive but intelligent young woman working as a book editor in Manhattan. She and Charlotte, who attended a prestigious college together, work in the same office and are frequent companions.
  • Kate Beckinsale as Charlotte Pingress: Alice's rather icy and conceited companion. She constantly offers "advice" to Alice and criticizes her lack of sociability. She is outgoing but controlling and dominating toward those around her.
  • Chris Eigeman as Des McGrath: A worker at the disco Alice and Charlotte frequent. 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: A quirky friend of Des who works in advertising, which is constantly pointed out by Des. 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 at one point in the film.
  • Matt Keeslar as Josh Neff: A man 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 female 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 Berrie's.
  • David Thornton as Berrie Rafferty: The owner of the popular Manhattan disco, and Des's boss.
  • Mark McKinney as Rex: The owner of Rex's bar.
  • George Plimpton and Anthony Haden-Guest appear as Clubgoers.


Development and casting[edit]

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.[7] 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.[7]


Principal photography began on August 12, 1997, and ended on October 27, 1997.[8] 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.[7]

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 three months after the theatrical debut of The Last Days of Disco.[7]


Like Stillman's other films, The Last Days of Disco deals with social structure 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"[9] often blurted, especially by Charlotte and Josh.

The film also deals with the dynamics of friendships; the relationship between the two main characters, Charlotte and Alice, is an odd one. The two are polar opposites in personality, with Charlotte taking a dominant role as the timid Alice politely questions her constant advice and personal criticism. Charlotte, a social butterfly, often mentions that she wishes the two had been friends in college, pointing out Alice's lesser sociability. Their friendship is uncertain: Alice questions whether the two "even like each other". As Kate Beckinsale mentioned in a promotional behind-the-scenes short on the film, the two characters are companions and end up rooming together "by necessity".[7] Charlotte is ultimately Alice's foil.

The theme of young people "finding themselves" in the world is also major, as each of the characters seems to be looking for something, whether romance, a successful career, social life, or simple understanding of the people and world around them. Charlotte often mentions being in control of "one's destiny". Sevigny called Alice "a good girl" who is "starting to come into her own" against the backdrop of the disco scene.[7]

The era itself is also of course a very large part of the film. The characters' dealings with VD, sexuality, labels such as "yuppieism", etc., are very much of the time period.

Another theme is that of personal failure and redemption. Josh's experience entering a psychiatric institution after a manic episode is an embarrassment the other characters continually bring up. But he is able to overcome this to lead a relatively normal life working for the Manhattan District Attorney. Alice's early experimentation with sexual liberation, ostensibly to seem more attractive to partners in the permissive nightclub culture, ironically results in her being romantically rejected due to her partner's loss of respect for her. But she is able to come to a clearer sense of her identity and eventually favors the advances of Josh, a more honest, self-critical, and reflective suitor than the other, suaver male characters. These two characters' redemption is illustrated by the prominent use of two religious hymns about grace: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, recited by Josh, and Amazing Grace, sung to Alice by Charlotte.


Box office[edit]

The Last Days of Disco was theatrically released on May 29, 1998 in 22 US theaters where it grossed $277,601 on its opening weekend. It went on to make $3 million in North America.[3] With a budget of $8 million, the film was considered a financial failure; it was, however, well received by many critics. It was received better than the critically panned release 54, which dealt with the Manhattan disco Studio 54.

Critical reception[edit]

The Last Days of Disco received generally positive reviews from critics. It has a 71% score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 56 reviews, with an average rating of 6.5/10.[10] Metacritic reports a 76 out of 100 rating, based on 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11]

Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of four and wrote, "If [F.] Scott Fitzgerald were to return to life, he would feel at home in a Whit Stillman movie. Stillman listens to how people talk, and knows what it reveals about them".[12] In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin praised Chris Eigeman's performance: "Mr. Eigeman makes the filmmaker a perfect mouthpiece who can brood amusingly about anything, no matter how petty. Here he plumbs the psychological subtext of Lady and the Tramp".[13] Andrew Sarris, in his review for The New York Observer, wrote, "Mr. Stillman's free ticket with the critics for the seemingly magical minimalism of Metropolitan has long since expired. In his future projects, all the charm and buoyancy in the world may not compensate for a lack of structure and bedrock reality".[14]

Entertainment Weekly gave the film an A- grade; Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, "Stillman's gang may be maturing precariously close to middle age, but it's lovely to know the important pleasures of conversation and intellectual discussion endure".[15] In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan praised the "exceptional acting ensemble" for being "successful at capturing the brittle rituals of this specific group of genteel, well-spoken young people on the cusp of adulthood who say things like 'What I was craving was a sentient individual' and 'It's far more complicated and nuanced than that'."[16]


The Last Days of Disco
Soundtrack album by Various artists
Released May 26, 1998
Genre Disco
Label Sony
  1. I Love the Nightlife - 3:01 (Alicia Bridges)
  2. I'm Coming Out - 5:25 (Diana Ross)
  3. Got to Be Real - 3:45 (Cheryl Lynn)
  4. Good Times - 3:45 (Chic)
  5. He's the Greatest Dancer - 3:34 (Sister Sledge)
  6. I Don't Know If It's Right - 3:48 (Evelyn "Champagne" King)
  7. More, More, More, Pt. 1 - 3:02 (Andrea True Connection)
  8. Doctor's Orders - 3:31 (Carol Douglas)
  9. Everybody Dance - 3:31 (Chic)
  10. The Love I Lost - 6:25 (Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes)
  11. Let's All Chant - 3:05 (Michael Zager Band)
  12. Got to Have Loving - 8:18 (Don Ray)
  13. Shame - 6:34 (Evelyn "Champagne" King)
  14. Knock on Wood - 3:52 (Amii Stewart)
  15. The Oogum Boogum Song - 2:34 (Brenton Wood)
  16. Love Train - 3:00 (O'Jays)
  17. I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round) - 3:13 (La India & Nuyorican Soul)


Stillman did not direct another film until Damsels in Distress in 2012.

According to Chloë Sevigny in a 2009 audio commentary track for the film, her performance in The Last Days of Disco—particularly the upbeat dance sequence finale in the subway—got the attention of director Kimberly Peirce, who cast Sevigny in Boys Don't Cry. Sevigny received an Oscar nomination for her performance in that film, but said that of all the films she's made, The Last Days of Disco is the one "people come up to me about" the most.

Sevigny also stated that she became good friends on the set with co-star Tara Subkoff, to whom she continued to remain close after shooting.[7] The two worked together on a fashion line called Imitation of Christ in 2003, along with Scarlett Johansson.[17]

The film was accessioned by the film library at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where it is sometimes screened to the public. It was last shown at the museum's Pop Rally event in August 2009, with director Stillman and star Chris Eigeman present for a question-and-answer session following the screening.[18] Subkoff was also present during the Q & A.[19] An after-party in celebration of the screening was advertised and held that evening as well.

Home media[edit]

The film was originally released on VHS and DVD in 1999 through Image Entertainment, but as of 2009, that edition is out of print and was very hard to find; copies available for sale online were over $100. This DVD release included the film's original theatrical trailer as the single bonus feature on the disc.

After being unavailable for home media purchase for a significant time, the film received a second release, and was added to the esteemed Criterion Collection DVD series. It was the 485th film to enter the series, and was released on August 25, 2009, in a restored version that was approved by director Stillman.[20][21] Stillman's first film in his 'trilogy', Metropolitan, was also released in the Criterion series three years prior. The Criterion release of The Last Days of Disco included as supplemental materials: an audio commentary with Whit Stillman, Chloë Sevigny, and Chris Eigeman; four deleted scenes, a promotional making-of featurette, an audio recording of Stillman reading a passage from his film novelization, a still gallery with a text narrative by Stillman, and the original theatrical trailer. A liner essay by novelist David Schickler was also included as a paper insert in the package.

The cover of the DVD features an illustration by French artist Pierre Le-Tan,[22] depicting actresses Beckinsale and Sevigny preparing themselves in the powder room before entering the disco; the painting is a replication of a scene in the film. A Blu-ray was released by Criterion on July 24, 2012.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (15)". British Board of Film Classification. August 3, 1998. Retrieved February 2, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Whit Stillman and the Song of the Preppy" By CHIP BROWN, New York Times Magazine 16 March 2012 accessed 30 March 2015
  3. ^ a b "The Last Days of Disco". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  4. ^ Seibert, Perry. "The Last Days of Disco - Overview". Allmovie. Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  5. ^ "The Last Days of Disco (1998) - The Criterion Collection". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  6. ^ "MoMA: Last Days of Disco". Museum of Modern Art official website. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Stillman, Whit (2009). The Last Days of Disco (DVD). The Criterion Collection.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "CriterionDVD" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "CriterionDVD" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  8. ^ "Box office & business for The Last Days of Disco". IMDb. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  9. ^ James Sanford. "Review for The Last Days of Disco". James Sanford on Film. Retrieved 2 September 2009. 
  10. ^ "Last Days of Disco (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved February 2, 2016. 
  11. ^ "The Last Days of Disco reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 2, 2016. 
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 29, 1998). "The Last Days of Disco". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (May 29, 1998). "Night Life of the Young, Urban and Genteel". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  14. ^ Sarris, Andrew (May 31, 1998). "The Vodka Tonic Crowd Could Get Down, Even Sober". The New York Observer. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  15. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (June 5, 1998). "The Last Days of Disco". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  16. ^ Turan, Kenneth (May 29, 1998). "The Last Days of Disco". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  17. ^ "Imitation of Christ - Designer Fashion Label". New York Fashion. Retrieved 31 August 2009. 
  18. ^ "MoMA PopRally - The Last Days of Disco". The Museum of Modern Art. 
  19. ^ "Tara Subkoff Participates in 'Last Days of Disco' Event After Brain Surgery'". New York Post. 2 September 2009. Retrieved 6 September 2009. 
  20. ^ "The Last Days of Disco- The Criterion Collection". The Criterion Collection Cinematheque. 
  21. ^ "The Last Days of Disco (Criterion Collection)". 
  22. ^ The Last Days of Disco (DVD liner notes). Whit Stillman. The Criterion Collection. 2009 [1998]. 
  23. ^ "The Last Days of Disco Blu-ray". Retrieved 2012-11-26. 

External links[edit]