(director: Billy Corben; cinematographers: Ralf Gonzalez/Alexa Harris/Trisha Solyn/Randy Valdes; editor: Sam Rega; music: Fast; cast: Peter Gatien, Frank Owen, Michael Alig, Michael Caruso, Ed Koch, Steve Lewis; Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Alfred Spellman/Billy Corben/Jen Gatien; Magnolia Pictures; 2011)
“Couldn’t be more sympathetic to the much maligned Gatien.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Billy Corben (“Square Grouper“/”Raw Deal: A Question Of Consent”/”Cocaine Cowboys“)directs with passion the rise and fall tale of the Canadian born, eye-patch wearing after losing an eye playing hockey as a child, king of the Manhattan nightclub scene in the 1980s and 1990s, Peter Gatien. He’s best known for owning the notorious Limelight, a club he began in 1983 that ran through 20002. It was an abandoned Episcopal church on Sixth Avenue bought for over a million dollars and converted to a disco, that became the party place of swinging hipsters and where drugs like Ecstasy were openly sold by drug dealers and the music was cutting edge. The shrewd businessman soon opened three other successful Manhattan clubs–the Palladium (a former rock arena, eventually sold to NYU as a dorm), the Tunnel (a converted subway terminal that became a hip-hop gathering place drawing mostly black patrons to the mostly white Gramercy Park section, causing community complaints because of the increase in crime) and Club USA ( known for S&M and a large Plexiglas slide).
Gatien blames his downfall on the new NYC mayor in 1994, Rudolph Giuliani, who was a crusader against the club scene because they were drug safe havens. Using zealous federal prosecutors, a trumped-upcase was built against Gatien as being complicit in the club drug sales by using three unreliable former employers at the club to testify as witnesses against him. The government, with an unlimited supply of money to prosecute its case, was matched against the renown high-priced defense attorney Benjamin Brafman. The government’s case went down because the witnesses were all compromised, but even though they lost the feds went after Gatien on tax evasion charges and when he was convicted of a minor charge of sales tax violation that was enough to deport him in 2003.
The filmmaker, as always a champion for rogue outlaws, couldn’t be more sympathetic to the much maligned Gatien, seeming to think that by putting him out of business the city killed the creative underground music scene. But the question is who knows if the nightclub scene changed for the better or worse after Giuliani time, as we only know that Gatien was a victim of an abuse of power by the government.Corben offers a persuasive argument that Gatien was targeted by the feds, but is far from convincing that Gatien’s club trip was just what the city needed and he crosses the line of investigative journalism by pushing so hard for Gatien as a creative force who adds to the city’s image as a cutting-edge center for culture. Gatien, telling his story throughout, seemed like a guy in shell-shock who is recovering from a psychological lambasting by trying to justify that he was only a crafty impresario and got a bum rap. To his detriment, Gatien never let the club scene decadence or how his clubs contributed to the crime scene interfere with his business interests.
REVIEWED ON 12/1/2011 GRADE: B-