By Gregory Crofton
At the heart of this entertaining documentary is the rise of celebrity and sexual freedom, call it disco freedom, a safe place where gays, straights and transexuals could party side-by-side every night.
Studio 54, which opened in April of 1977, was known for its celebrity clientele, and the line it kept waiting at the front door to get in. Famous people were always allowed in, and they made tabloid headlines for the club on a weekly basis.
Studio 54 was only open for three years but it had not a small impact on American culture and drew customers from around the world.
Director Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood) found a fantastic score and makes great use of archival footage of New York City. But paramount to the documentary are the interviews with Ian Schrager — one of two original owners of the club.
“I was wondering to myself why, after almost 40 years, you know I would finally feel OK to talk about Studio because I hadn’t talked about it at all,” Schrager says. “Now I’m at a point in my life that it doesn’t sting as much after all this time.”
Schrager co-owned and operated the club with Steve Rubell, his long-time business and romantic partner, but Rubell died in 1989 at the age of 45. The two met at college and remained extremely close. Schrager was an introvert while Rubell was an extreme extrovert. It was actually Schrager’s idea to open a dance club. Rubell had previously owned a small chain of steak restaurants that failed.
What’s most interesting about “STUDIO 54” is that it looks at the psychological impact of the tremendous and sudden success of the club. It also dives deep into the personalities of Rubell and Schrager.
Clearly Tyrnauer aims to separate fact from fiction and nail down rumors to see if they were true. Were bags of cash kept in the basement ceiling at the club? Did its staff switch out the cash register tape half way through the night to hide sales? Was the balcony really covered in rubber to make it easier to clean?
Tyrnauer gets the answers and tells this story definitely. Find out for yourself, you can watch this film on Netflix.