Studio 54 (4 stars)

Studio 54

Liza Minelli, Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol, and Halston at Studio 54 / credit: Adam Schull

Illuminating documentary profiling the legendary nightclub, from Matt Tyrnauer

An essential part of New York's cultural history, legendary nightclub Studio 54 has been profiled in various books, documentaries and a 1998 film starring Mike Myers as late founder Steve Rubell. Still, Matt Tyrnauer's excellent documentary proves that the club's story is as interesting and relevant as ever and that, crucially, there's plenty more to say.

He's helped by the fact that Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager now feels able to share his experiences, from optimistic beginning to terrible end, for the first time in four decades. He provides a chronological narrative of the 33-month life-span of the club's original incarnation, interspersed with fantastic archive footage and fuelled by a storming disco soundtrack. And although the extroverted Rubell died in 1989 (from hepatitis and septic shock, complicated by AIDS), his presence looms large throughout.

While Studio 54, which opened in the old CBS studio on 54th Street in 1977, became a magnet for the rich and famous, its success came from the fact that it offered something of a safe haven for New York's LGBT scene. As testified in colourful interviews with former clubbers, no-one was judged for their sexuality, and outlandish behaviour was positively encouraged. Rubell's doormen may have run the red carpet like a military operation, only admitting the entirely fabulous, but once you were inside, absolutely anything went.

Paradoxically, that free-spirited attitude proved to be Studio 54's biggest weakness. Schrager and Rubell were so successful, so beloved by the city, that they thought themselves invincible. Drugs changed hands like candy, liquor licence laws were flouted and they skimmed millions of dollars off their balance sheet. After the pair were imprisoned for major tax evasion in 1980, the club was shuttered.

The golden-moment snapshot of diversity and inclusion you would expect from such a documentary, Studio 54 is also a sobering, cautionary tale. Delving behind the Lycra and strobe lights, it's an illuminating look at how arrogance and entitlement can derail even the most glittering of careers.

Selected release from Fri 15 Jun.

Studio 54

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • USA
  • 15
  • Directed by: Matt Tyrnauer
  • Cast: Steve Rubell, Ian Schrager
  • UK release: 15 June 2018

Excellent documentary on the storied NYC nightclub, with the great benefit of Studio 54’s co-founder Ian Schrager who shares his own experiences for the first time. The film shows the club’s combination of exclusivity and free-spiritedness, and details how arrogance and entitlement can derail the most glittering career.