Directed by: Billy Corben
Starring: Peter Gatien, Moby and Michael Alig
People’s views and opinions on controversial subjects often are linked to their experiences. This is certainly seen in the new Magnolia Pictures documentary ‘Limelight,’ which tells the story of well-known New York City nightclub owner Peter Gatien. The film’s director, veteran documentary helmer Billy Corben decided not to focus solely on Gatien’s side of why he was ultimately charged with tax evasion; he also featured account of events from witnesses and government officials to explain why the former King of New York Clubs was targeted.
‘Limelight’ chronicles the rise and fall of Gatien, one of the city’s most well-known club owners throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Operating such hot spots as Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium and Club USA, he catered to tens of thousands of club-goers, and helped define the image of an era. However, once New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani embarked on a rigorous crackdown on nightlife in the mid-90s, Limelight and the rest of Gatien’s clubs were targeted for allowing drugs on the premises. After later being acquitted of most of the charges in an infamous, high-profile tax evasion trial in the late ’90s and pleading guilty to several charges, Gatien was eventually deported back to his native Canada.
Corben took a bold but ultimately effective risk in deciding to tell all sides of the story of Gatien’s life and trial, and not just from the club owner’s point of view. Given that the trial is still such a sensitive subject for everyone involved, including the governmental officials, prosecutors, witnesses and Gatien’s co-defendants, Corben allowed everyone the chance to tell their accounts of events. What made ‘Limelight’ intriguing was the fact that not everyone interviewed agreed with Gatien’s claims that he is innocent of the crimes he was charged with. Their long-stated beliefs, which became known when he was on trial, led to the thought among his supporters that he was being used an example for other club owners.
Some of the most interesting interviews featured in ‘Limelight’ included former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who supported Giuliani’s decision to enforce stricter punishments on criminals in the city. His opinion was supported by the fact that the murder and assault rates significantly declined after Giuliani took office. Koch’s interview will surely make viewers question if the drug-fueled, care free parties at Gatien’s clubs throughout the ’80s and early ’90s played a part in New York’s criminal activity, before the police started more closely monitoring the city’s nightlife.
Former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir also gave a memorable interview, saying that murders amongst club goers were often linked to drugs. Gatien adamantly stated he never became involved in dealing drugs in Limelight or his other clubs, because getting caught and arrested would harm his successful club career. Safir’s statements in regards to the murders being drug-related, and the film’s chronicle of the drugs that were regularly taken at Gatien’s clubs, will surely make viewers question how the illegal substances remained such a heavy influence for so long.
Corben bravely tried, and succeeded, in telling a balanced perspective of Gatien’s rise and fall as one of the most well-known club-owners in New York City history. The director wanted to give everyone involved in the creation of Limelight and Gatien’s other clubs, as well as those involved in the investigation and trial of his tax evasion case, the chance to give their sides of the story. Even people unfamiliar with Gatien’s life will surely be interested in the rise and fall of the man who was once called the King of New York Clubs.
Written by: Karen Benardello