Disco stays alive in movies -- Working hard for the music to ''54'' and ''Last Days''

If disco is stayin’ alive anywhere, it’s on movie screens. Following last fall’s Boogie Nights comes this month’s The Last Days of Disco — not so prophetically titled, with 54 (as in Studio 54) yet to come in August. With only so many disco classics to go around among competing projects (and soundtracks), when it comes to fighting over song rights there must be blood on the dance floor, right?

Actually, no one had to resort to the hustle, literally or figuratively. ”With Whit Stillman’s film [The Last Days…] coming at the same time, there was definitely mutual respect,” says Susan Jacobs, music supervisor for 54. ”A couple of times, if there was something that they really wanted, we sort of did trade-offs, via publishers.” (Hey, I’ll swap you my ”I’m Coming Out” for your ”It’s Raining Men.”)

Harder than avoiding duplication between disco flicks was avoiding obviousness. ”We’re trying as much as possible in this film not to go with disco cliche and a campy view of things,” says director Stillman. ”We actually tried to have an R&B through line…. And we were concerned about overexposure.” For Last Days‘ 27 disco cues, that meant eschewing Saturday Night Fever, Village People, and Donna Summer in favor of Evelyn ”Champagne” King, Cheryl Lynn, and Chic, Chic, Chic. Another no-no: any recent ad-campaign linchpin. Laments Jacobs, ”If you ask 20-year-olds what they think about when they hear ‘Ring My Bell,’ they go ‘Taco Bell!”’ (Even early starter Boogie Nights wasn’t immune to overlap syndrome; Paul Thomas Anderson planned to open with ”Got to Be Real,” but, realizing it’d been used in Carlito’s Way, opted for ”Best of My Love” instead.)

The good news is, Boogie‘s, Days‘, and 54‘s noncompetitive tracks prove the canon runs deeper even than the Bee Gees’ love. ”I think there’s enough disco for all of us,” says Jacobs. Oh? Tell it to the producers of another just-announced film, Disco Blood Bath.

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