What actually happened inside Studio 54
The bromance behind legendary nightclub Studio 54 makes for a surprisingly affecting doc
We all know something about Studio 54. Probably you’ve seen photos of Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Mick Jagger and Grace Jones lolling about on the sofas at the legendary nightclub on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Or you’ve seen that one with Bianca Jagger on a horse.
You might even know that it was created by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, the latter of whom now owns a slew of luxury hotels across the world. But what
you might not know, and director
Matt Tyrnauer’s engrossing new documentary reveals, is that it was a nightlife legend that was founded on glamour and greed, yes, but also on a very rare kind of friendship.
Both born in Brooklyn, Rubell and Schrager met when they became fraternity brothers at Syracuse University, where Schrager studied law and Rubell finance (from what happened later, it seems they may not have had too firm a grasp of either). Having cut their teeth putting on elaborate bar mitzvahs, they decided to try their luck with a venture in Manhattan in a disused TV studio. Thanks to an impressive level of research and chutzpah, in 1977 they opened what would become — and has in fact remained — the most famous nightclub in the world.
Tyrnauer’s film, with its pulsing disco soundtrack and deeply knowledgeable talking heads — everyone from the club’s feared doorman Marc Benecke to Schrager himself — gives a vivid sense of just how fun a night at 54 must have been (if you could get in, of course) with all the models, eccentrics, celebrities and stimulants floating around; as one interviewee has it, “the amount of drugs was profound”. It also suggests why, in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam, and before the Aids epidemic, its existence was possible, perhaps even necessary.
But more affecting still is the portrait of Schrager and Rubell’s friendship, and what occurred when the ordure hit the fan.
Which it did, in epic quantities, and largely brought on themselves; if you don’t know the story we won’t spoil it here, other than to say that narcotics, fraud and prison all played a part. And yet through it all, the introverted Schrager and the larger-thanlife Rubell, who died in 1989 from Aidsrelated complications, managed to sustain a friendship that was steadfast.
Studio 54 is out on 15 June
Night people: Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol and Halston hold courtat Studio 54, 1978