Five things you probably didn’t know about Studio 54

Five things you probably didn’t know about Studio 54

 Elton Joh fanns Divine at Studio. Photographer: Ron Gallela

Elton Joh fanns Divine at Studio. Photographer: Ron Gallela

Do you love the nightlife? Care to boogie? Perhaps at the disco? No? Cool – me neither. But if you’re into going to movies and watching documentaries about people who love to go out, then  Studio 54 is for you!

There has been so much photographed, written, and produced about this club that its legend has transcended decades. Now, keep in mind that its heyday was  only about three years, but in those few years it became such a cultural landmark that it will forever be known as one of the highpoints of the 1970s.

 Liza Minelli, Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol, and Halston at Studio 54. Photographer: Adam Schull.

Liza Minelli, Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol, and Halston at Studio 54. Photographer: Adam Schull.

Everyone who was anyone was there. Swirling and twirling on the floor, bumping booties and lines with people in the balcony, and just  being whoever they wanted. Now, I pride myself on being a hub of pop cultural knowledge, and I knew a fair bit about Studio 54 before watching this doc, having been obsessed with the film 54 when I was a child (and then again as an adult with the release of the director’s cut, featuring all the lost scenes of queer content that contextualized a lot of the film; watch the director’s cut – it’s stun). But while watching Studio 54 I found myself saying, “Oh, I didn’t know that,” so I’ve compiled a list of five things I learned from watching this fab film. 

1. The club’s actual location

I knew it was a former CBS studio, but I wasn’t aware that it was in a very spotty part of Manhattan. Not being a native New Yorker, I’d always assumed that it was in a fancy part of the city. NOPE. Not the case: in fact, it was in the worst possible location for an establishment that catered to the rich and famous, and New York in the 1970s was a hell of a lot different than it is now.

2. 54’s environment was inspired by gay bars and African American clubs

Disco music was created by black musicians  and first appeared in the early ’70s in black-owned clubs.  oIt soon became popular at gay bars, where its danceability ensured it was in heavy rotation t. The owners of Studio 54 would frequent these bars and take notice of the many models, who would go to dance with all their hairdressers and designers; the straight guys would go to dance with the models. So the environments were very integrated, which was new at the time. 

 Dancefloor and lights at Studio 54. Photographer: Adam Scull.

Dancefloor and lights at Studio 54. Photographer: Adam Scull.

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3. Everyone knows that the lineup outside the club was constantly massive and that they were very strict about who they let in and who they wouldn’t

I wasn’t aware that they prioritized queer and trans people for entry – they wanted the space to be filled with people who were interesting and different, not just the boring and rich. Trans women of colour were welcomed and celebrated in the club and made to feel safe.

 Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager stand outside Studio 54 doors. Photographer: Photofest

Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager stand outside Studio 54 doors. Photographer: Photofest

4. Steve Rubell, one of the owners, was often seen wearing a puffy winter coat around the club

Not because he was cold, but because sewn into its lining  were thousands of dollars that he would sneak out of the club.  Shitloads of cocaine were sewn into it too. Visual reference: do you remember that episode of The Simpsons where Marge and Homer go to the candy convention (mmmm, gummy Venus) and Marge wears a huge coat to smuggle candy out? That was Steve, but with cash and blow.

5. The relationship of the two owners, Steve and Ian Schrager

Most people only heard of Steve,  because Ian was the man behind the scenes designing the club and producing the Oz-like venue. It’s their relationship that was new information to me though. Steve wasn’t out at the time, but it was known that he was queer, but it’s still unclear to me if Ian and Steven were moe than just business partners. I don’t want to go into full detail, ’cause I don’t want to ruin or imply anything – and I think you should see the film to make the call yourself – but they seemed to be on a level deeper than just friends/business partners. And the film’s interviews with Ian really dive into the love they had for one another. 

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Studio 54 is playing at Hot Docs Cinema October 12 to 14. Check the official website for all showtimes.

The main image of this article is used with permission and was taken by Allan Tannebaum.

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