Review By: Sean Stroub
Like many young adults living in New York City, I’ve had my experience with the club scene this town has to offer. I haven’t excessively taken part in the nightlife beyond sports bars and the occasional small club, but I’ve attended enough of the big venues to develop a bit of a hatred for the whole thing. God only knows how I would have felt about it twenty years ago. The events I’ve been to have certainly not been as wild and crazy as the happenings at Peter Gatien’s hotspots like Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium, and Club USA, but they were still pretty wacky. The current NYC clubs can get the beats bumpin’ and the party started for those who are into that sort of thing but they clearly don’t compare to what went on under Gatien’s ownership in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Limelight, named after Peter Gatien’s legendary club that opened up in an old church, follows this Ontario native who entered the United States and altered the nightlife not just in NYC, but throughout the country. Sporting an eye patch in old footage, as a result of a hockey accident, but cool shades in recent interviews, Gatien recounts his effect on Manhattan, the abundance of drugs during the time period of his dominance, his legal battles that resulted from Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s determination to reduce the city’s crime rate, all the way up to his deportation to Canada. There are several interesting points and discussions throughout the documentary, such as the casualness of using ecstasy, the number of celebrities that would attend these clubs alongside ordinary people, and just hearing everything from the point of view of those previously depicted as the bad guys, but all of this is still not enough to make it fully entertaining and interesting.
The entire documentary comes across as a random E! True Hollywood Story you’d find on the channel when there’s absolutely nothing else on television. Documents appear on the screen with highlights, old clips and images get thrown at you, etc. There’s certainly some entertainment value to that, but that type of production is expected on television, not in the movies. When we hear from Gatien and those he associated with during his reign in recent interviews held for the film, the audience is distracted by neon lights in the background and bright, cheap animation. The filmmakers try to force us to wish we could take part in the dance parties of the past. They also serve as a bit of a distraction from what the people are actually saying.
A lot of stories come up that get a little confusing, but no matter what is being discussed, Peter Gatien is supposed to come across as the victim. We should feel bad about everything that’s happened to him. And his daughter Jen Gatien, on board as one of
I’m not trying to come across as a nark, but I feel that an owner of multiple clubs in the ‘80s must have known that illegal activities, especially the sale and consumption of drugs, were taking place in his/her various hotspots. Peter Gatien may come across as the victim, but with the other interviewees describing the times they’ve screwed over and have even killed others, how are we supposed to think he’s just a normal guy wanting to give people a place to party? Granted, his only guilty crime was tax evasion, but Colin Quinn of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update said, “Gatien claimed that if there was any drug dealing in his club, it must have happened on his left side,” which obviously serves as a joke alluding to his missing eye, but also hints at the many excuses made by the club promoter throughout his trial.
Peter Gatien may not have deserved something as harsh as deportation, but it’s just a little hard to feel sorry for a club owner that attracted tens of thousands of customers a night during the peak of his empire. He may have been a nice guy in his personal life, but in this documentary that focuses almost entirely on his career, he doesn’t come across as one who deserves much sympathy. Just before the credits, images of those who have screwed him over are followed by a sentence saying they refused to be interviewed for the documentary. We’re supposed to feel bad until the very end. It’s moderately interesting for a little while, but it could have been presented in a better way. It’d be awesome if someone could take all of the interviewee’s stories to create a crime drama, but for now we just have this documentary.
As for the special features on this DVD, all we get are deleted scenes, the trailer, and some previews. For a documentary DVD, you really can’t ask for a lot more, but maybe they could have incorporated some clips of the current nightlife or gotten interviews with those in the club scene now. Although this is to be taken seriously, the obsession with NYC hotspots has always been quite humorous to me. I think this could have benefited from an interview with another Saturday Night Live Weekend Update star, it’s city correspondent Stefon (played by Bill Hader), who knows everything about the nightlife. He’d say, “And this club has everything…” but, unfortunately, this DVD does not.