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Picks and Pans Review: Studio 54: Behind the Music

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VH1 (Sun., May 24, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

Somebody forgot to drive a stake through the heart of disco. There’s a resurgence of interest in the pop culture of the 1970s, as exemplified by this lively documentary on the storied New York City nightclub that (according to the narration) “exploded with pure and excessive pleasure.” Of course, a few people got hurt in the blast—including Studio 54 owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, two guys from Brooklyn who opened the Manhattan hot spot in 1977, got fat with profits and drunk with power, and wound up spending nearly a year in prison on tax charges. When they got out in early 1981, Studio 54’s glory days were over.

This 90-minute entry in VH1’s Behind the Music series is both entertaining and sobering as it recounts the up-and-down history of Schrager (now a thriving hotel owner), Rubell (whose 1989 death was AIDS-related) and their disco shrine. Exclusive yet oddly egalitarian, Studio employed imperious doormen who screened would-be entrants to ensure that the dance-floor crowd was (as one former doorman puts it) a “tossed salad” of gay and straight, celebrated and unknown. We get lots of shots of famous Studio patrons (from Mick Jagger to Mary Tyler Moore), but the show is balanced enough to include three average Joes who sit behind a velvet rope and recall the many nights they were judged too dull-looking for admission. Cheer up, guys: 54, with Mike Myers as Rubell, comes to theaters in August. And the price of a ticket is all anyone will need to get in.

Bottom Line: Hot time at the disco inferno