From New York’s ballroom scene to Warsaw’s illegal parties and London’s Dancehall world, these must-watch movies tell stories of lives lived after the sun has gone down. Have we missed out your favourite film about nightlife? Let us know in the comments!
Eden (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve)
Loosely based on the experiences of director Mia Hansen-Løve’s brother, Eden charts the career of DJ Paul from his teens in the early nineties through to the late naughties as he emerges into the French electronica club scene that gave rise to Daft Punk. In its deft portrayal of the euphoria and melancholy of a life lived mostly in nightclubs, the film explores with a non-judgmental eye the toll this lifestyle takes on Paul’s mental health, wellbeing and relationships over two decades. With a fantastic soundtrack filled with EDM and house classics, Eden is a dance music epic unrivalled in its portrayal of the exhilaration of the clubbing experience and the hangover that follows.
Babylon (dir. Franco Rosso)
A cult classic set in Lewisham and Brixton, Babylon follows Blue (Aswad’s Brinsley Forde), a young musician battling against racism and poverty as he pursues a career as a Dancehall DJ. Navigating police brutality and the National Front, Blue’s experience paints a vivid picture of life for Black youth in Thatcher-era South London. Just as powerful and relevant today as it was upon its premiere in 1980, Babylon is an unflinching examination of the Black British experience framed within Soundsystem culture.
All These Sleepless Nights (dir. Michal Marczak)
A sublime portrait of youth culture primarily pieced together from snapshots of the moments between dusk and dawn. Written and directed by Michał Marczak, All These Sleepless Nights straddles the line between documentary and narrative fiction with its remarkable young subjects portraying versions of themselves. Art school friends Krzysztof and Michał’s nights are a hedonistic haze of cigarettes and cocaine, waxing philosophical in Warsaw’s clubs and parties as they flit between lovers and friendships. This experimental documentary, filmed during a relatively liberal political period shortly before Andrzej Duda’s right-wing Law and Justice party came to power, perfectly captures what it feels like to be young and unconcerned with tomorrow.
The Last Days of Disco (dir. Whit Stillman)
Jane Austen meets Studio 54 in Whit Stillman’s sharp and witty depiction of social politics and female friendship playing out on the most exclusive dancefloor of early 1980s New York. Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale play Alice and Charlotte, two recent graduates working in low-paid publishing jobs who fall into the city’s waning disco scene, which becomes the basis for climbing — and falling down — social ladders. Bitingly funny and handsomely shot, The Last Days of Disco is a cocktail-soaked glimpse at the end of New York’s disco era that is still charming viewers more than twenty years after its release.
Kevin & Perry Go Large (dir. Ed Bye)
Based on a Harry Enfield Sketch called Kevin The Teenager, this gross-out British comedy follows two hormonal, petulant teens (played by Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke) on a pilgrimage to Ibiza. The pair attempt to lose their virginities and launch their careers as superstar DJs at the dance music mecca with cringe-inducing results. With a widely revered soundtrack of 90s club anthems compiled by legendary DJ Judge Jules, Kevin & Perry Go Large is a total crowd-pleaser with belly-laughs aplenty and dialogue that you can’t help but quote along with.
Paris Is Burning (dir. Jennie Livingston)
As much a love letter to New York’s ‘Golden Age’ as it is its vibrant cast of subjects, Paris Is Burning documents the city’s drag ball counterculture in the late 80s and the participating African-American, Latino, gay and transgender communities. Alongside footage from these decadent balls, the meat of the documentary is interviews with key players from the drag ball world, painting a vivid picture of the culture in context to homophobia, racism, the AIDS epidemic and poverty during the period. Paris Is Burning is a landmark documentary that explores a marginalised community brought together at the fringes of society.
Beyond: There’s Always A Black Issue, Dear (dir. Claire Lawrie)
A great companion to Paris Is Burning, short documentary Beyond: There’s Always A Black Issue, Dear tells the story of the black queer people who laid the foundations for the UK’s globally-renowned nightlife culture.
Babymother (dir. Julian Henriques)
Often considered the first Black British musical, Babymother sees young single mother Anita’s dreams of becoming a Dancehall star come true after she wows in a performance at a local show. Undeterred by her money issues or the realities of single motherhood, Anita, with the support of her ‘rude girl’ friends, forges the recording career she’s always wanted after living in the shadow of her successful singer ex for too long. With an infectious reggae score, Babymother brings to life the British Caribbean Dancehall culture of North London’s Harlesden whilst highlighting the issues faced by the community in the 1990s.
Modulations: Cinema for the Ear (dir. Iara Lee)
The definitive film about electronic music, Iara Lee’s 1998 documentary Modulations takes a look at the history of the genre from pioneering composer Karlheinz Stockhausen through to Detroit techno innovator Derrick May and beyond. Featuring a combination of interviews, in-studio footage and live performances, the film explores the culture around electronic music including drug use, underground parties, raves and commercial clubs. Connecting the dots between sub-genres from avant-garde to techno, breakbeat to house, Modulations is a must-watch for any electronic music fan.
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