Studio One Forever premieres at Outfest Los Angeles on Tuesday, 18th July 2023.
Everyone has heard of Studio 54, the New York temple of disco excess, where celebrities mingled with those lucky to get past the beauty police on the door. But, outside of the United States, few have probably heard of Studio One, America’s first major gay disco with space for 1,000 punters on its legendary dance floor in West Hollywood. Studio One may have acted as the inspiration for Studio 54, but unlike 54, Studio One was a community venue that remained open from 1974 – 1993 with a legendary live performance venue that played host to Hollywood’s biggest stars. Directed by Marc Saltarelli, Studio One Forever is a love letter to West Hollywood’s gay mecca and a detailed history of the club’s place at the heart of the Los Angeles LGBTQ+ community as the now-vacant building faces demolition.
Scott Forbes club bore witness to the birth of the 70s gay rights movement, the subsequent horror of AIDS and the rebirth and transformation of the LGBTQ+ community before closing its doors. Like many gay venues, its hallowed dancefloor offered a place of safety, freedom and liberation when the outside world was less than hospitable.
But like all gay venues, it wasn’t all glitter and sequins, and here Saltarelli isn’t afraid to reflect on a range of issues from racism to drug abuse and the mental toll on those who worked its busy bars. Studio One’s early relationship with the black LGBTQ+ community is particularly alarming. Here Studio One was far from inclusive and safe for many, as they found themselves victims of multiple layers of discrimination from a community that should have offered safety. This subject felt like it needed a whole documentary – its urgent discussions on the racism that divided and isolated so many, both urgent and timely. While Saltarelli does an admirable job of discussing the 70s and early 80s discrimination at the heart of LA’s gay nightlife, discussions also feel rushed compared with the time spent exploring Studio One’s theatre, The Backlot – a space that played host to Hollywood royalty and Broadway legends.
But, where Saltarelli’s documentary is at its strongest is its heartfelt and emotional conversations on club and community life as the horror of AIDS took hold. Through interviews with ex-staff and regular club-goers who witnessed the AIDS epidemic unfold, Saltarelli explores how the optimism and progress of 70s gay equality quickly morphed into a nightmare – the dance floor at Studio One empty as those who made it what it was suddenly became ghosts. Here the vibrant energy, stories and personalities of each person lost remain in the walls and corridors of the once-bustling nightclub, the ageing dance floor full of memories and emotion. This history makes it unthinkable that a building once home to The Mitchell Camera Corporation before becoming a centre of gay liberation and dance could be at risk of demolition.
While there are times when Studio One Forever lacks space and time to explore the club’s influence, place and purpose fully, it remains a fascinating snapshot of gay life over four decades. Through a series of interviews, recollections, and historical analysis Studio One Forever isn’t just a love letter to a temple of gay freedom and dance; it’s an important journey into our shared community history, both positive and negative.
CONCORD SHORTS SHOWCASE
Through a series of interviews, recollections, and historical analysis Studio One Forever isn’t just a love letter to a temple of gay freedom and dance; it’s an important journey into our shared community history, both positive and negative.