‘Limelight’ documentary opens in theaters
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…