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Studio 54


Stars: Documentary

Director: Matt Tyrnauer

Imagine a movie 'starring', among others, a sadly overweight Elizabeth Taylor, Cher, Michael Jackson, Ringo Starr. Liberace, Liza Minnelli and then imagine the sheer hell any filmmaker would go through trying to referee the exploding egos of his star-studded cast, that would surely have been more exciting and impactful than any mere movie.

Fortunately for Matt Tyrnauer, producer and director of this fascinating saga of the rise and fall of the legendary nightclub Studio 54 - the 'Mount Olympus of the Disco World', his movie is a documentary featuring well chosen and well-used footage of its famous faces.

In 1977 longtime friends from Syracuse University Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager transformed a derelict theatre on New York's 54th Street ('If you wanted to get mugged, that was the place to go') into the legendary nightclub Studio 54, a place for the famous and would-be well-known to hang out, creating 'the epicentre of '70s hedonism - a monumental magnet for beautiful stars, casual sex, and mounds of cocaine ... a den of excess that defined its own rules and enshrined the ostracized, queer, and fabulous'.

Rubell, who was gay, died from AIDS.

Which leaves Schrager's interviews to camera to serve as backbone of a sizzling saga of the rise and fall of egos rampant and Oscar-worthy sucking up to the famous and would-be famous.

Publicists constantly pushed Studio 54 ('gay energy was bigger than life') into the headlines using household names to decorate their stories, ensuring constant promotion of the now-famous hangout - 'It was all about ego those days' - and the household names who ensured its fame.

'We had the best crowd in the world' summed up the Studio's fame but, unfortunately, 'Success went to everybody's head' and, having ignored/avoided such mundane requirements as tax and licences and the easy availability of drugs in the trio and solid ego-massaging, Studio 54 was finally brought down, catalysed by an invading law/IRS team who discovered the positive presence of cocaine and 300 quaaludes on the premises.

Unfortunately for them, Schrager and Rubell had been so hypnotised by their own glory that they had never had the sense to get a liquor licence.

That's Show Business?

But In the true tradition of the always-possible-to-manipulate glory of the American legal system, Schrager emerged from jail to find new fame as a niche hotelier.

It says much of the power of publicity that Schrager and Rubell tend to emerge as just as fascinating as those star members who luxuriated in the 'only-for-the-fortunate-and-famous-pleasures' of Studio 54.

Alan Frank

USA 2018. UK Distributor: Dogwoof. Colour.
98 minutes. Not widescren. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 3, Swearing 3.

Review date: 25 Jun 2018