Studio 54

 

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A film looking back on a nightclub in New York that came to symbolise its era.

 
Studio 54

  

In 1977 two old friends from Brooklyn set up the nightclub Studio 54 in a building that was the site of a former theatre. They were taking a huge and expensive gamble. That it paid off is history since the club has come to epitomise the escapist glamour of New York in the late 1970s, that era before Aids when alternative life styles flourished in a venue that welcomed the clientele regardless of their sexuality and drew in many a celebrity. In 1998, Mark Christopher’s film 54 featured a story built around the club, but neither the version initially issued nor a later director’s cut made any real impact. Now, however, we have this much more successful piece by Matt Tyrnauer: it is not that unusual for a documentary film to be followed by a dramatised treatment of the same material, but here we have that process in reverse and it is Tyrnauer’s documentary that will be remembered as the screen’s effective portrayal of Studio 54 and what it represented.

 

That Tyrnauer is an accomplished documentarian was already known to us through such works as Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (2016). What could not be assumed was that he would prove to be the ideal filmmaker to capture the atmosphere of Studio 54 at the height of its success. But in the event he triumphs aided by a superb soundtrack capturing the music of the time and further helped by the sense of energy - a key part of that atmosphere - which still radiates from Ian Schrager. The latter, the main figure here, was the club’s heterosexual co-founder who is seen here looking back on the rise and fall of Studio 54 (his more flamboyant partner, the gay Steve Rubell, died of Aids in 1989 at the age of 45 so Schrager is now the one man qualified to tell the full inside story).

 

The first half of Studio 54 details the background and the events leading to the birth of the club after which the film deals with later legal controversies over licenses, drugs and, most significantly as it would turn out, tax evasion. This second half lacks a natural shape, but it enables Tyrnauer to give us some information about the careers of Schrager and Rubell after the demise of the club. Interest is thus maintained. However, it is really when it celebrates Studio 54 that Tyrnauer’s film is at its most effective. The portrait painted of a paradise lost may be one-sided, but it is what many will want to remember or to relish as epitomising a past period in New York’s story.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Ian Schrager.

 

Dir Matt Tyrnauer, Pro Matt Tyrnauer, John Battsek and Corey Reeser, Ph Tom Hutwitz, Ed Andrea Lewis, Music Lorne Balfe.

 

Altimeter Films/Passion Pictures-Dogwoof.
99 mins. USA/UK. 2018. Rel: 15 June 2018. Cert. 15.