Charting the rise and fall of one of the most iconic haunts in the history of New York’s club scene, Matt Tyrnauer’s new documentary Studio 54 offers a detailed and thoroughly engaging insight into the lives of the club’s creators Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell and tells the story of how a couple of ex-college friends took the city by storm overnight with limited funds and almost no business knowledge.
Opening on April 26 1977 amidst a fury of excitement and youthful exuberance on the part of its founders and their friends, Studio 54 became an overnight sensation after creating a huge buzz in the media resulting in thousands of New Yorkers and out-of-town revelers flocking every night in the hope of making it past Steve Rubell’s strict, near fascistic door policy. Making sure that only the hippest, coolest and most outrageously dressed club-goers were ever allowed in, Rubell created a mystique around the club which meant that getting in and being in the presence of celebrities such as Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor and even a young Michael Jackson, became something to aspire to for the thousands of Disco fans who just couldn’t get enough of the club and its iconic dwellers.
Lasting a mere 33 months in its original guise, the club finally closed its doors after a series of careless mistakes landed its co-owners in the docs with charges relating to drug possession, tax fraud and operating without an alcohol license. Nevertheless, the club went on to live on beyond its physical existence long after its demise, creating a near legendary status for its creators and resulting in books, films and documentaries being made about this once legendary haunt.
Tyrnauer does an excellent job in replicating the euphoria and excesses witnessed by those who frequented the place over 4 decades ago. With unlimited access to footage from inside the club and other interviews and news clips from the era, the director manages to get to the heart of the hype surrounding the two owners, especially Rubell who was regarded by most as the face of Studio 54, while the self-effacing Schrager deliberately avoided the limelight in favour of working behind the scenes away from prying eyes.
Affording its subjects a great deal of sympathy from the offset, Studio 54 is less burdened with trying to prove or disprove any criminal activity perpetrated by Rubell or Schrager, choosing instead to present the facts as they happened. Helped by a series of talking heads from the people who witnessed it all, the film also benefits from having huge access to classical disco tracks from the time and is further elevated by its ability to build the suspense around what really happened, which works a charm even if you were already aware of the tragic outcome.
Overall, Matt Tyrnauer has created an astounding piece of documentary filmmaking which is set to add to the mystique surround Studio 54 and to Rubell’s own legacy as one of the most iconic club entrepreneurs of his time. A riveting and hugely compelling watch.
Studio 54 is in cinemas from Friday 15th of June