STUDIO 54 Documentary: A love letter to disco, wrapped in a 70’s vibrant sexual color palette of gold and red

WORDS : S. Collins


Don't mix disco and politics. Director Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor, 2008) is back with a new documentary feature, Studio 54 (2018)recently released on Netflix. Studio 54 follows two young, ambitious Brooklyn natives (Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell) as they strive to create “the ultimate nightclub.”


Tyrnaeuer transports us to the sensual, drug induced heatwave that was a blossoming, sub-genre-disco haven. We observe this hazy, cocaine induced vision of a night club flourish into a phenomenon with a finger (or two) on the pulse of the cultural zeitgeist. In a time of social upheaval, Studio 54 became a beacon of hedonism and an epicenter for counter culture. The film focuses intently on the inclusion and acceptance within a fantasy space - all set to a hypnotically beautiful, pulsing, and thumping soundtrack and glittering, gorgeous cinematography and photography of a bygone era.


The documentary is a love letter to disco, wrapped in a 70’s glow and vibrantly sexual color palette of gold and red.


I loved it.


Each electric frame creates the desire for the ability to step back in time and experience one night of electronic induced euphoria at the iconic nightclub. 


The narrative ties in sociopolitical implications of the times. The club became a mecca for new paradigms of freedom, celebrity, and liberation. Rockstars, Drag Queens, New York Elite, LGBTQ community members, and international stars flocked like moths to pulsing flame. The space became a symbolic “adult amusement park” as the 70's wrapped up a decade of progressive social norms. 


The film brilliantly sums up the marketing genius of it all: “Everyone felt like they had to be there.” Schrager and Rubell built it (spending almost half a million dollars) and the people certainly came - in throngs. Everyone, young and old, flocked to the tightly guarded entrance like animals at a watering hole. Rubell himself oversaw the entry process and reserved the right to determine who got in and who did not.


The narrative conflict arises from the studio’s overwhelming popularity. With limited space and high demand - soon came exclusion. One commentator quips, “you can’t have this much popularity without somebody wanting to take it down.” The owners of the club fight the governing bodies of the time to keep their disco paradise afloat and it all makes for fascinating and thought provoking story telling.


Watching this film is like watching the rise and fall of a miniature Rome - in the form of a microcosmic nightclub (all the promise of power, glamour, sex, and disco included).


Worth the watch?

For documentary lovers, fans of history, and anybody with a rebellious streak: this one is a lot of fun.