I must confess to not having been familiar with Studio 54 at all, never mind the story behind it. Or even that of its founders. For the uninitiated, like me, Studio 54 was a passion project by founders Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager – it was a theatre in New York, until Rubell and Schrager reconstructed it into a nightclub. It quickly became a huge hit due to the amount of celebrates that frequented it – including but not limited to Michael Jackson, Grace Jones, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. It got so big that new from Studio 54 was hitting the front page of every major newspaper in New York. But when the IRS found out about Rubell and Schrager skimming a huge sum of money.
The documentary follows interviews of former employees, with the interviews with Ian Schrager being at the core of it, as we see the rise and fall of the famed club. It’s a primarily interview-based documentary, with no singular narrator carrying us through the documentary. Again, most of this duty all to Schrager – which is an interesting risk to run. It’s always possible to have the interviewee be uncharismatic and flat in their delivery. That is not the case with Schrager. He has a good way with words, easily making you picture what it was like.
You couldn’t have written anything better, just hearing him recite these memories is far more powerful. It also adds a dreamlike quality to the documentary. I got a similar feeling as I did to watching the film Ed Wood – it’s pleasant and dreamy and in a weird way, you wish that you were there to see it all happening, until the point where the curtain is drawn, and the real world finally shows itself. In Ed Wood that was the final title-card, in Studio 54, it’s once the arrests are made.
The footage used, when not during present day interviews, which are mostly shot in-doors and more often than not are close-ups of head and shoulders, is made up of images of the time and video and interview footage of the time too. The lack of colours or over-expositor of them, as well as the grained feel of video footage of the time, does more to add to the dream state and brutal reality that the film conveys. It’s simple but perfectly effective in its execution, namely due to some good editing and use of disco music.
The cherry on top is that it is an interesting subject. The interviewees discussed the topic in such a way that it makes it sound like a huge and important that it probably was to society as a whole – but the truth is that to them, it was this huge and important. You could watch the documentary and come away being sold on how impactful Studio 54 was the world of night clubbing, and how it still impacts it. It could also be seen as an inspirational piece, of how you can – and maybe should- follow your dreams, with the old story of Icarus flying too close to the sun being present too. Overall, I was surprised with how much I enjoyed and appreciated Studio 54. Night clubbing isn’t really my idea of a good time, I’m personally more fond on a few pints in the pub, but to those who are, it’s a fun little story about the one that turned the heads of many.
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