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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Limelight
Limelight
Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // January 24, 2012
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Rich Rosell | posted February 19, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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For awhile - circa late 1980s/early 1990s - it must have been pretty great to have been Peter Gatien. At least for a while, that is. In New York City he was certainly the all-mighty one when it came to the club scene as owner of four of the most influential/buzzed-about nightspots in town: Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium and Club USA. With his iconic eyepatch (worn as the result of losing an eye in hockey accident in his teens and NOT a trendy affectation) Gatien was a Svengali of excess, overseeing and controlling a massive entertainment empire. In the documentary Limelight - from Cocaine Cowboys director Billy Corben - we're given a history lesson on Gatien's meteoric rise and eventual controversial fall, with conversation from nearly all of the key people involved, including a refreshingly frank and open Gatien.

The first half of Limelight is a quick ramp up of Gatien's business/marketing acumen, leapfrogging from Canada to Florida to Atlanta to New York, where he helped forge a new club scene for the vapid masses. That part of the story is pretty darn interesting, with Gatien smartly aligning with a gaggle of hipsters to lay the foundation for what one associate refers to as "an incubator of culture" in New York City. As expected, this rush of bass-heavy decadence soon involves sex, drugs, tax evasion and racketeering, which forms the second half of Corben's doc, which unfortunately becomes a dull, confusing mesh of infighting, backstabbing and an apparent vendetta from Rudy Giuliani. The problem for me was that I couldn't muster up an iota of concern for what might happen to any of them, including the seemingly railroaded Gatien.

I think that's because the whole what-goes-up-must-come-down syndrome (with proper homage to Blood, Sweat & Tears) is tired. I mean, we've seen these kind of stories so many times now that the impact is hardly there anymore. Play with fire, you get burned. Blah blah blah. We get it. I can respect and appreciate how someone like Moby - who is featured prominently here as well - would pinpoint the whole Limelight-era experience as being pivotal in the rise of techno (and all of its various sub-genres). That seems to be a key marker on music's evolutionary tree, but Corben treats that as mere sidebar, focusing instead on the legal battles and the Jenga-esque collapse of Gatien's empire. Yes, I understand that's the central thesis here, it's just that I couldn't become attached at all.

Gatien reminds us that "nobody saw the downside of living on the edge", but what happened to him and his partners shouldn't be all that surprising to anyone else, because the story itself is hardly new. It might have been new to them, but the whole rise-and-fall thing has been told a million times, and sadly this is just another version. All of that excess and power and control must be intoxicating, because it seems that no one ever expects the other shoe to fall. And it always does. Limelight tells Gatien's story, and as much I liked the "rise" part of the narrative it was the "fall" that lost me. I just didn't care. Sorry, Peter.

Video
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is assembled from a wide assortment of sources, and the resulting image quality is understandably mixed. The modern day interviews - while unnecessarily festooned with too much post-production color tweaking - look generally strong throughout, marred periodically by bouts of soft edges. By comparison the archival footage and television news clips appear grainy, faded and/or grubby at times, lending the entire transfer a rather mercurial overall texture.

Audio
The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track delivers the necessary deep bass for the frequent club mix soundtrack, but other than that element the presentation is fairly average, in terms of the standard documentary, that is. Voice quality is clean, with no evidence of hiss or distortion on the current interview segments, though some of the archival material is much less polished.

Extras
Supplements consist of a block of ten deleted scenes (29m:21s), the film's theatrical trailer and a handful of previews for other Magnolia titles.

Final Thoughts
Perhaps if you were part of the hipster club kid groove in New York at the time you might find this documentary a bit more engaging than I did. I can applaud Peter Gatien for his ability to become the undisputed king of the club scene but the doc's second half - focusing on his downfall - was held nothing for me to latch onto.

Skip it unless you partied there - or wish you did - in the glory days of the late 1980s/early 1990s.
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