Studio 54

STUDIO 54, US, 2018.  Directed by Matt Tyrnauer.  98 minutes. Rated M (Sexual references, nudity, coarse language, drug references)

Studio 54 had fame and notoriety at the end of the 1970s, a disco nightclub in central New York City, becoming a venue for the rich and famous and for the wood-be rich and famous. Its popularity lasted only a short time but it became part of the consciousness of New York City and its lifestyle. A feature film, 54, was directed by Michael Christopher in the latter part of the 90s – somewhat truncated for release and a longer director’s cut released a decade later.

Which means that cinemagoers do have some awareness of Studio 54 and of its flamboyant part-owner, Steve Rubell (played by Mike Myers in the film). The film focused on life in the club, the attraction for young men to work there, friends, celebrities, drugs, sex. At the end of the film, there was an indication of what would happen in terms of the IRS examining the files on the books and Steve Rubell going to prison. This documentary, while highlighting the high life, takes the story on after 1980.

Ian Schrager, the co-owner and manager of Studio 54, was not a character in the feature film. Here he is centre screen. After almost 40 years of reticence, he is prepared to look back to the past, his friendship with Steve Rubell and growing up with him, their venture in buying the CBS studio and redecorating it elaborate, a gala opening which attracted crowds and the media, the continued success, the notoriety, media response, the range of famous people and faces who visited (and these are prominent in the footage and photos of the period).

However, Ian Schrager preferred to work behind the scenes, enjoying the life of the club, caught up in the IRS difficulties, issues of liquor licenses, going to court with Steve Rubell, with the famous Roy Cohn, of the Mc Carthy era (and key character in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America) as their defence. Substantial footage of Cohn appears in this film.

Steve Rubell was homosexual, contracted AIDS, died in 1989. Ian Schrager emerged from prison, the two men buying hotels and setting up boutique hotels, Schrager continuing over the succeeding decades and making a considerable name for himself – and, with the advice of the lawyer who prosecuted them, pardoned by President Obama in 2017.

A glittery story of rise and fall.

JIFF                                     Released 6th December

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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