Posted in movies | music on September 23, 2011


Limelight is a documentary about "the rise and fall of New York's greatest nightclub empire", or more specifically, about club owner Peter Gatien. Limelight was one of Gatien's four major NYC clubs, probably the most famous. Club USA, Palladium and Tunnel were the others and they're all featured in the movie as well. Limelight the club, though still standing on 6th Ave and 20th St in Manhattan (it's a historic church that had a recent failed attempt at being a mall), is long gone, but Limelight the documentary, directed by Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys), opens in limited theaters tonight (9/23). Sunshine Theater has it in NYC.

I caught the premiere on Wednesday night at Sunshine, and briefly stopped by the afterparty at Westway (where a member of Fun Lovin' Criminals was DJing) (members of FLC worked as sweepers in Limelight and they reference Disco 2000 and Peter Gatien in songs, one of which is part of the soundtrack of the film). Familiar faces in the crowd included club personalities like Jennytalia, Astro Earle, Richie Rich, Steven Lewis, Scotto, and Moby. If you're thinking, "I thought that movie premiered at Tribeca Film Festival," you're right, except they revamped it since then and what is showing now is a new cut. I didn't see the first version, so I can't compare, but I can talk a little bit about the current version.

If you're like me, it doesn't matter how good the movie is. The subject matter alone made it a must see (for me). It's part nostalgia, part NYC history, and all around something I'm interested in. Loaded with interviews with key figures, most notably Gatien himself, you get (a mostly one-sided) view of how Gatien went from being a kid in Canada who lost an eye playing hockey, to him ruling nightlife in NYC in the 90s, to the Guiliani years when they took it all away from him, to his eventual deportation to Canada where he now resides.

Other stars of the movie include Moby (who spent a lot of time partying and DJing at Limelight), Michael Alig (who is in Rikers Southport Correctional Facility for murdering Angel Melendez), Ed Koch, club manager Steven Lewis (who was brought up on drug conspiracy charges along with Gatien and now has a cool nightlife blog), Michael Caruso aka Lord Michael (who is an admitted drug dealer and who was the state's main witness against Gatien in the drug trial they lost), Village Voice writer Frank Owen (who wrote Clubland), and famous lawyer Benjamin Brafman (Gatien's attorney). Who's not in the documentary? Well, Michael Musto for one. :-)

The movie notes that Peter Gatien applied for a pardon in 2010, but was denied. He wants to be back here in the USA with his US-born family, but he's not allowed to even visit. On a related note, one of the movie's producers is Jen Gatien aka Peter's daughter (who was also a Limelight regular). She helped introduce the film Wednesday night along with Billy who read a letter from Peter that said he was sorry he couldn't be there. They mentioned that Peter didn't love the documentary, but could live with it. It definitely sounded like he had some say in how it went down, but not final say (and as noted above, he is one of the film's main characters). With all that in mind, the movie, a bit biased, did come off as a a PR piece at times. You're definitely left sympathizing with Gatien and his plight and the movie would have you believe that techno went straight from England to Staten Island to the Limelight (no mention of NASA at all for instance). All horrible accusations against Peter are quickly followed with the reasons they're not true (except the tax evasion which he admits) (he admits to drug binges in hotels too actually). It didn't bother me though - the parts about how Peter was done wrong, because I'm biased too. I was already on Gatien's side going in, though it would have been nice to hear a nasty quote or two in the movie from one of the many ex-Gatien employes who hated Peter's wife! (there were lots of them from what I remember).

It's a story that's hard to not be sucked into. It has all the elements: power, politics, music, drugs, culture and crime. I especially liked the original footage inside the clubs. If you want to be brought back to the dark, booming cavern that was Tunnel, or the high-ceilinged main dance floor in the church that was Limelight, or if you want to visit those places for the first time, you get some of that. The Sunday night hip hop parties at Tunnel were especially notorious (and successful for Gatien) and the footage of famous rap stars performing there 15 years ago is priceless - I just wish there was more of that in there.

As NY1 points out (they gave it 2 apples), much of the movie is about Gatien's court case. As one person on Twitter wrote, it "felt like watching Court TV in a movie theatre." It's not the highest budget movie and I don't expect it to win any awards, but like James St James's book, Party Monster (the documentary, not the Hollywood movie that starred Dylan McDermott as Peter Gatien), and Clubland before it, it's a nice addition to the growing documentation of the Gatien universe.

Go check out Limelight in the theater if you can't wait, or rent the DVD (is "renting a DVD" actually even a thing anymore?). BTW, there's a Q&A with Billy and Jen after the movie in NYC tonight and tomorrow. Trailer below...




Comments (25)

ahhh, the Limelight. NASA was better, but had good times there. I'll definitely check this out.

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 4:10 PM

lol. everyone on this blog is like: "huh, what's a Limelight?"


Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 4:12 PM

Alig is not in Rikers. He was sent up the river years ago.

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 4:22 PM

Murphy killed it at Sunshine last night.

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 4:24 PM

"Alig is not in Rikers. He was sent up the river years ago."

fixed, thanks!

Posted by brooklynvegan | September 23, 2011 4:25 PM

Angel Melendez lol

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 4:30 PM

In my opinion, the quality of the movie does matter. The film was confusing and just not good. I hope someone takes another stab and suggest taking a pass on this one.

Posted by anonymous | September 23, 2011 4:40 PM

Not knowing what The Limelight was isn't a bad thing.. I lived in NYC all of the 90s and never stepped foot in that place.. I think that place invented the term "bridge & tunnel" crowd..

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 4:45 PM

I went to this movie, but couldn't pay close attention because I was in a k-hole of epic proportions.

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 4:51 PM

I remember kids in my high school in queens would promote Limelight like crazy (handing out fliers) without ever actually being able to get in most of the time. Never quite understood it, and I never went.

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 4:54 PM

I used to DJ at the Limelight. It really was one of the most special places for NY Nightlife for a time. Even the Motherfucker parties there were great!

Posted by Anon | September 23, 2011 5:07 PM

great place in the 80's but by early 90's it was a wreck

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 5:12 PM

I was there! I'm cool!

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 5:16 PM

essential viewing if you're on Jersey Shore

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 6:06 PM

Essential viewing if you have a dedicated toaster oven and Pyrex dish.

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 6:26 PM

I think I must have missed the era when clubs were cool. All I ever remember is them being the domain of faggy weirdo losers, teenagers and tri-state area guidos.

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 7:32 PM

The Limelight (the venue) was awesome period. I went a few times and sure -every venue has its rise and fall but this one was like no other. Manhattan is a different place now, so we can only hope the youth keep the party torch burning in BK. As for the documentary I hope someone makes a better docu focusing on the music and djs and records and less court cases.

Posted by not that old | September 23, 2011 10:20 PM

i used to go to the limelight in the '80s. now i live in my parents basement.

Posted by Anonymous | September 23, 2011 10:42 PM

Jen Gatien + Cameron Douglas = entitled NY rich kid junkies

Posted by Anonymous | September 24, 2011 6:44 AM

I never got the appeal of these places. At all. It was amusing enough being around club freaks every time we'd go to Florent to eat after the bars closed, but I sure as fuck wouldn't have wanted to socialize with these mutants.

Posted by Anonymous | September 24, 2011 9:40 AM

7:32 is accurate. This place was special and influential only to the 140 people that regularly went. Otherwise, no one even cared.

Posted by Anonymous | September 24, 2011 10:51 AM

This place was special if you know terms like "half moon"'and "fort dodge yellow label"

Posted by Anonymous | September 24, 2011 11:58 AM

you guys are the best source on what's cool in indie music, but as far as what is cool is the nyc nightlife underground you haven't a clue.

Posted by Anonymous | September 26, 2011 2:52 PM

AHH FUNNY, Pyrex dish lol. I went to limelight disco 2000 many times. Drove from Md to NYC. Everytime, fuckin Great. Miss it. Miss Paige michael twins JEFFO Steve Jenny , so many more. Miss red One NASA twilo tunnel caffeine and now sound factory. :(. Kris olson

Posted by Kris olson | September 29, 2011 6:30 PM

Red zone I mean. Hate IPhone corrections lol

Posted by Kris olson | September 29, 2011 6:31 PM

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