A poignant, pas­sion­ate slice of disco his­tory

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - FILM ANNE JOSEPH

(15)

WATCH­ING THIS out­stand­ing film is an ex­hil­a­rat­ing, im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. As the mu­sic pul­sates, the heady at­mos­phere of the iconic night­club pours out from the screen, draw­ing you in to its glit­ter­ing sanc­tum.

Matt Tyr­nauer’s (Valentino: The Last Em­peror) doc­u­men­tary chron­i­cles the 1970s rise and fall of Stu­dio 54 and its cre­ators: two Jewish best friends from Brooklyn, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell. Tyr­nauer evokes the era with rare and unseen footage as well as com­pelling in­ter­views with peo­ple in­volved in its in­cep­tion and oper­a­tion, in­clud­ing wait­ers, door­men, makeup artists and fam­ily mem­bers. Rubell died in 1989 from AIDS related com­pli­ca­tions and Schrager, speak­ing about the club for the first time in 40 years, re­counts his story with can­dour, ad­mit­ting that, “It doesn’t st­ing how it used to.”

In its short 33-month his­tory, Stu­dio 54 was the epi­cen­tre of he­do­nism, a mag­net for celebri­ties, drug-fu­elled par­ty­ing and ca­sual sex. But in­side its vast, the­atri­cal space it was also a place of free­dom and to­tal ac­cep­tance. Ac­cord­ing to mu­si­cian, pro­ducer and Stu­dio 54 reg­u­lar, Nile Rogers, every­body was fine with every­body for the first time: gay, straight, trans, drag queen, black, white, young or old. “Its di­ver­sity cre­ated com­bustible en­ergy,” says Schrager.

Schrager and Rubell met as stu­dents in col­lege. Rubell was an ex­tro­vert who knew how to schmooze: Schrager was the in­tro­vert, “the in­vis­i­ble man.” Schrager’s fa­ther, known as Max the Jew, worked for the mob but this is un­ex­plored — one of the few weak­nesses in the film.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, Rubell had gone into the restau­rant busi­ness and Schrager be­came a lawyer but the two set their sights on open­ing the ul­ti­mate night­club. Am­bi­tious, smart and buoyed by chutz­pah and ar­ro­gance, they put it to­gether in just six weeks. From the mo­ment it opened, Stu­dio 54 was a strato­spheric suc­cess but as it gained in fame, its door pol­icy got tougher and more ex­clu­sive. Rubell turned peo­ple away if they did not look right. Polyester shirts were a no.

Even when the IRS raided them, they did not re­alise the se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion. Even­tu­ally, the two men went to prison for tax eva­sion.

By the time of their re­lease in 1981, the world that Stu­dio had in­hab­ited was lost, de­stroyed by AIDS and the on­set of Rea­gan­ism. It lives on in disco his­tory with pas­sion and poignancy.

Stu­dio 54 will be re­leased on June 15, and on de­mand from on de­mand via Ama­zon, Cur­zon, iTunes from Au­gust 6

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