The Fascinating New Documentary About Studio 54

Chronicling the rise and fall of the most talked-about nightclub in history, new documentary Studio 54 pulls the velvet curtain back on the disco haven’s hidden history; combining never before seen footage with shockingly honest interviews. Here’s what you need to know…

What's the premise?

The feature-length documentary tells the story of – you guessed it – Studio 54, from its inception in 1977 to its scandalous downfall just three years later, using colourful archival footage and stories from the people who were lucky enough to be there. Essentially, if you’ve always felt like you were born in the wrong era, this is the closest you’ll get to that famous 70s hedonism.

Naturally, there’s plenty of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but the film also focuses on the life of Studio’s surviving Co-Founder, Brooklyn-born entrepreneur Ian Schrager (his partner Steve Rubell died from AIDS-related complications in 1989), who has so far remained reluctant to speak to the media. In fact, this is the first ever documentary on the subject.

“It’s a story you think you know but you don’t really know,” Studio 54 director, Matt Tyrnauer, told Vogue, adding that the tale was “ripe for the telling”. Schrager explained that this reluctance came from two different places: the fact Studio 54 was forced to close after he was sent to jail with Rubell for tax evasion in 1980, and because of the pain he felt surrounding Rubell’s death. “I trusted Matt,” he said. “And I felt ready to set the record straight.”

Do critics rate it?

Empire magazine called Studio 54 “A fascinating documentary that captures all the glamour and grubbiness of the 20th century’s most famous nightclub,” and said it gives “all the thrill of being there with none of the hangover.” Vogue also said it felt “like a glitzy, enchanting and hedonistic night out in and of itself”. The Guardian called it “lively and entertaining” watch, while Independent film critic Geoffrey Macnab said he felt the documentary’s bleak second half, focusing on Schrager and Rubell’s tax-avoidance and drug scandal, and their move into the boutique hotel business (Schrager is the brains behind the chic group of EDITION hotels) was far more compelling than the part devoted to Studio in its prime.

What did SL think?

Aside from the newly-released archival footage – a rain of coloured lights, disco dancing and celebrity – our favourite parts by far were all the scandalous secrets Schrager, along with former employees and famous guests, spilled about Studio. We hear how rejected partygoers were willing to risk their lives, and offer their bodies, to get into the nightclub – some allegedly pulled guns on doormen, others attempted to climb over equipment to get into the courtyard, quite a few bribed the bouncers with sex.

Then there are the fascinating celebrity anecdotes. One former doorman declares that Grace Jones turned up naked so many times that “after a while it became boring”, while Jones herself revealed there was a top-secret room in the club: “A place of secrets and secretions, the in-crowd and inhalations, sucking and snorting.” We also learn there was a pecking order when it came to the Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards got in for free, but other bands members had to pay.

Studio 54 also introduces us to the real inhabitants of the club – as director Tyrnauer puts it, “a very eccentric, very gay, sometimes transgender crowd,” who “represent the kind of Manhattan that vanished”. This is, in part, due to the HIV/AIDS crisis that tragically claimed Co-Founder Rubell’s life, but also the progression of New York from bedlam city to a polished, cleaned-up place.

“What I hope the film does, is show you that world," he said. “It’s a hard thing to cope with, but nothing lasts forever.”

Where can I watch it?

Studio 54 is in selected UK cinemas now, and also available to watch on-demand at home.


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