Studio 54

A look back at the legendary club that wouldn’t have let you be a member.

Studio 54. COURTESY OF SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL/BETTMANN ARCHIVE

First things first: The poster for Matt Trynauer’s documentary Studio 54 is bad, and whoever made it should feel bad. The documentary itself is fine, even if — like Trynauer’s recent Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood — it isn’t quite as revelatory as its own hype would suggest. The rise and fall of Ian Schrager and the late Steve Rubell’s fabled New York disco Studio 54 in the late 1970s has been covered many times before, most notably in a 1998 episode of Behind the Music, while the director’s cut of the 1998 narrative film 54 was a big to-do at the 2015 SF International Film Festival.

The main upgrade of Trynauer’s doc is that Schrager is finally willing to talk about those days on camera, and the story follows him and Rubell during their time in prison for tax evasion, their early parole, and their re-emergence as high-end hoteliers. Redemption arcs for rich white men: Those never get old! But there’s still a lot to be said for revisiting these stories every few decades as the cultural perspective changes; Studio 54 provided a safe space for trans people — the ones who could get in, anyway — while it’s now acknowledged that the “Disco Sucks” backlash was informed by racism and homophobia. Damn shame about Studio 54’s poster, though.

Not rated.
Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas.

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