Limelight Shines Light on '90s New York City: Clubs, Drugs, and Giuliani

Categories: Film and TV
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Peter Gatien and Michael Alig at Limelight
Manhattan's clubland outlasted AIDS, it out-partied Andy Warhol, but it couldn't survive Rudy Giuliani. In Limelight, filmmaker Billy Corben wandered from his traditional muse, his hometown of Miami, to tell of the tribulations and literal trial of former NY nightclub king Peter Gatien. He was targeted by the feds and NYPD in the late '90s after ruling the club world for almost two decades.

The story came to Corben and his business partner Alfred Spellman through Peter Gaiten's daughter Jen. She produced 2007's Hounddog, the film with the controversial Dakota Fanning rape scene. Jen Gatien came to the pair and asked that they tell the enthralling tale of her father.

Billy Corben.jpg
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Billy Corben
Personality-wise, Gatien is the "anti-Steve Rubell," according to the director. He never shat where he ate. Painted in the film as a dedicated businessman, the owner of Palladium, Tunnel, Club USA, and the infamous Limelight curated a scene using theatrical elements, smarts, and good instincts. His finger was always on the pulse of culture, fashion, music, and party trends.

Limelight was housed in a historical Episcopal church in the heart of NYC. It was such a fantastic success that when Corben told his grandfather what he was working on a film about the club, he said, "the one in the church? Oh, yeah, your grandmother and I went there."

The film not only tracks the Giuliani and DEA crackdown on the nightclub scene in New York by prosecuting Gatien, it also examines many other thematic threads. "We like the micro macro element of it that we were able to capture," Corben said. Telling the story of a city in a timeframe through that of an interesting character. Limelight explores New York in the '90s, its drugs, racial tension, the abuse of power, and the decline of a culture.

Drugs and power are typical themes in Corben's films. "We did Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja this year, that was our '70s pot movie, we did Cocaine Cowboys, that's our '80s cocaine movie, and now we have our '90s ecstasy movie." He admitted, "We've got the whole drug by decades trilogy here." 

Look for the extended review in next week's issue.

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