A poignant, passionate slice of disco history
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