Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager risked everything to open a nightclub in a disused broadway theatre in a bad part of town in manhatten, 1977. The club they created became legendary, a mecca for anyone wishing to be free of the judgement of others. Initially frequented by gay people, black people and drag artists, celebrities were soon courted and exclusivity became a huge part of the club’s image. As the press helped to elevate the club to mythic status, the seedier side of the organisation began to emerge. Soon the arrogance of Rubell and Schrager threatened the club and their futures.
Matt Tyrnauer’s film, which is released on June 15th, is at once a celebration of the spirit of the club and what it meant to its regulars and a cautionary tale of ambition and carelessness. Extraordinary footage and photographs of the club set against the exhilarating disco music of the time create the impression of a fantastical haven from the bleak scenes outside. Interview footage with a young Michael Jackson demonstrates the appeal the venue had to the super famous; a chance to feel privileged but also as escapism. Yet the excess and tantalising debauchery of the club’s interior is set in stark contrast with the desperate crowd assembled outside, seemingly allowed entrance on the whim of club owner Steve Rubell.
The revelation regarding the Studio’s wrongdoings are kept from the audience, though the club’s messy downfall hangs over everything. There’s a melancholy inevitability throughout the fond reminiscences of those who knew the men and the club. The club is effectively portrayed as a microcosm of the time that saw massive changes in civil rights. It’s a compelling story of how liberation can turn to excess and detachment. When AIDs hits the scene, it’s a wrecking ball to the spirit of what came before, and is afforded the solemnity that such a tragedy deserves.
Although the sequences within the nightclub are a breathtaking insight into the indulgences of this time, the most interesting aspect of the film is the exploration of Rubell and Schrager as people. Rubell’s larger than life persona and easy charm is evident even in the still photos of the man. Schrager, as the tragically only surviving member of the duo, provides his perspective in a series of very revealing interviews.
Studio 54 is a fabulous insight into an extraordinary moment in history that is far more relevant and prescient than it may seem. It’s a story of how seductive success can be, and how nobody is too big to fail. It’s also a highly entertaining expose of celebrity culture in the 1970s and a really absorbing crime story. You can find out more about Studio 54 by visiting the film’s website here: studio54doc.com
5 / 5