Tags: Hollywood | aids | drugs | lgbt

Documentary 'Studio 54' Offers Lessons About the Price of Arrogance

Director Matt Tyrnauer promoting the film "Studio 54."
Director Matt Tyrnauer promoting the film "Studio 54" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Park City, Utah. (Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

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Friday, 05 October 2018 05:14 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Score: 3.5 stars *** out of 4 ****

In this, his fourth (and best) documentary, sometime Vanity Fair correspondent Matt Tyrnauer dives head first into the history of what could arguably be referred to as the most famous nightclub in U.S. history. Opening in April of 1977 and closing a mere 33 months later, Studio 54 was an instant success and became an immediate symbol of the freewheeling decadence and excess of the 1970s.

In the wake of Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War while in the midst of a down economy, Americans (or at least New Yorkers) were looking for both a pressure valve and an adult playground and Studio 54 provided both in spades.

Taking over what was first an opera house and later a CBS TV studio, founders and college buddies Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager spent close to $700,000 to overhaul the property and appoint it with state-of-the-art everything with the finished product becoming a hybrid of Las Vegas glitz, European grandeur and an interactive Broadway play.

No detail was too small, yet the founders strangely never procured a liquor license and instead operated under daily-purchased catering permits — one of the key factors which led to the club’s eventual downfall.

Already the subject of the horrible 1998 live-action feature "54" starring Ryan Phillippe and Mike Myers as Rubell, the behind the scenes real story was beyond ripe for a proper documentary and it is only because Schrager chose to break his nearly 40-year silence was Tyrnauer able to present the story from the inside.

Open to a point and guarded, Schrager is frank on most issues yet clams up on others, not so much to keep things buried but out of sheer embarrassment. He readily admits that he made easily avoidable young mistakes and with the hindsight of Icarus, acknowledges he and Rubell’s bulletproof mentality became their collective Achilles heel.

More of a "back of the house" guy, Schrager took care of design and operational duties while Rubell pressed the flesh, hobnobbed with the multitudes of celebrities and acted as a carnival barker doorman. While Rubell didn’t actually open doors he chose who did and didn’t pass through them, refusing most of what the men referred to the "bridge and tunnel crowd" — New York and New Jersey suburbanites trekking to Manhattan hoping to gain entree into the ultimate party.

A slight and balding guy with less-than-Adonis looks, Rubell nonetheless fancied himself a modern day Caligula sifting through the great unwashed masses and only allowing the "beautiful people' to mix with the stars.

Dying of AIDS related illnesses in 1989, the forever-closeted Rubell was wise to recognize image was everything and despite his cruel manner, he got the crowd he wanted (including large numbers of the LGBT community) and by denying inclusion to so many made Studio 54 the hottest club in the country.

Despite spending $40,000 to $50,000 a night on staging and "party favors" (read: drugs), the club was making money hand over fist with most of the profits going directly into the founders’ (and silent partner/bookkeeper Jack Dushey) pockets.

To make matters worse, meticulous balance sheets were kept, clearly showing how much went to who and when. In December of 1978, less than 20 months after opening, an early morning IRS raid led to multiple arrests and a temporary shutdown.

Like a cold morning light after an all-night bender, this is the point in the film where reality takes over, pipers must be paid and the downfall begins. The contrast in tone between the first and second halves of the brilliantly taut and efficient 90 minute film couldn’t be greater while offering a measured "be careful what you wish for" warning to all onlookers.

If you choose to make enemies out of your competitors, belittle the common folk and stick your finger of the taxman’s eye, your odds of emerging unscathed will become greatly reduced.

Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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MichaelClark
The 90 minute film offers a measured warning to all onlookers. If you choose to make enemies out of your competitors, belittle the common folk and stick your finger of the taxman’s eye, your odds of emerging unscathed become greatly reduced.
aids, drugs, lgbt
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2018-14-05
Friday, 05 October 2018 05:14 PM
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