“Disco Noir” may sound like an inconceivable term to describe the utopia that was Studio 54. Beautiful stars, mounds of cocaine, a sanctum of pulsating love, and, yes, disco—but “noir”?
In his upcoming film Studio 54, documentary filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor) pushes past the mythology, distorted records, the gaps in memory, and—in many ways—the rose-colored glasses, to show us a side of an era that we’ve never seen before. Thanks to a beautifully edited selection of rare footage and intimate interviews with the people who made the institution what it was (including, for the first time on film, Schrager himself), Studio 54 tells the true story of the rise and fall—and everything in between—of the world’s most famous nightclub. In an exclusive interview with L’Officiel, the director reveals that what emerges from his film is not a dream destroyed but rather a process of therapeutic and traumatic self-reflection that was as crucial then as it is today—a reflection of our tendency, as a society, to fetishize things, places, and people to the point of losing sight of reality and truth. The result? The cataclysmic destruction of something that had the potential to be truly valuable.
Why this subject?
I think that Studio 54 is a great territory for a documentarian. People are interested and they know enough about the dangerous side, but they don’t really know what happened. There’s no spin here…this is the real story. All because of one very good reason: Ian Schrager participated.
Why do you think Studio 54’s founder agreed to do this?
I think he was ready to, psychologically. For 40 years he was ashamed. Which is hard to comprehend for almost everyone who thinks of Studio 54 as a great achievement, and of that place defining a glorious period. But for Schrager, it feels like a black mark on his record. Never mind the rest of the world; most people have forgotten the darker side of events.
When people think of Studio 54, it’s often Bianca, the horse, Andy...are there any other key individuals who are under the radar and who had a big influence on bringing it to life?
One thing that surprised me about the story was how much a local New York tale it is. You talk to the people who built the place and they all have outer-borough accents. It’s as...it’s as New York as the, as the H&H bagel. It was a lot of people who weren’t fabulous, but were really scrappy and genius in that New York way. They were the ones who came together to form this unique place. All of that kind of gets hidden behind the Diana Rosses, Andy Warhols, and all.
What do you feel that you discovered within you when putting together this documentary?
The late’70s, to me, was a bit mysterious in a way that the early decade of your existence is. Studio 54 was something that was whispered about in the same way that a priest might whisper about a house of ill repute and I was intimidated. I think what I discovered is why I always had those feelings about it. Now, I’m sure it had to do with sex and sexuality. A sexual revolution was happening.
Why do you feel like now is a good time for this to come out?
It was a time of extraordinary self-expression and it was a time of relative openness, particularly for queer people. It was this extraordinarily hedonistic time, and then it suddenly hits a brick wall. In looking back and kind of contemplating its lifespan, the…tragedy of it resonates louder and louder. I think it’s really important to highlight that the party didn’t just end, it was made vulnerable and it ended in the most upsetting, cataclysmic, and tragic way possible.
Studio 54 arrives in cinemas on October 5.