FILM: Billy Corben’s new documentary Limelight


The story of the rise and fall of notorious club owner Peter Gatien is a bit like a Shakespearian tragedy if all of the Capulets dropped E and the Montagues were in drag.  Now the lurid and backstabbing tale is the subject of director Billy Corben’s new documentary, Limelight.  As the 1970’s came to a close Gatien took over the New York City nightlife scene and had a lucky streak that lasted nearly 20 years with clubs such as The Tunnel, The Palladium, and the notorious Limelight until a series of legal issues led to his deportation.

The film itself is inferior to the tale partially due to the lack of good archival footage, but the details of treachery and wrong-doing are riveting especially when told first person from the numerous characters involved over the years.  New Yorkers are sure to remember the media firestorm over Gatien’s court case, Mayor Giuliani’s obsession with bringing him down, and Michael Alig’s murder of club kid Angel Melendez.  But hearing the back story is absolutely riveting.

The biggest weakness of the film is its lack of impartiality and, while it does mention that many of the lawyers and DEA agents refused to speak, having Gatien’s daughter Jen as a producer does tend to make the viewer question the evidence.  Regardless of the drawbacks, the film is an interesting look back at the club craze at the end of the millennium.  It might make you further question your trust of the government.

Limelight opens in select theaters on September 23, 2011.

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