Directed by Billy Corben. 101 min. 14A. Opens Sept. 23.
Peter Gatien may be smarting over the recent failure of his John Street mega-club, Circa (the space reopens next year as a department store), but at least the Canadian club impresario emerges from Limelight smelling sweeter than most of the liars, crooks and bona-fide murderers who are interviewed alongside him.
A new documentary by Cocaine Cowboys director Billy Corben, Limelight tracks Gatien’s rise from his humble origins in Cornwall, Ont., to his attainment of regal status in Manhattan’s clubland in the ’80s and ’90s. Of course, his subsequent fall is the most colourful part of this saga, and Corben’s film delves into the stranger-than-fiction events that destroyed Gatien’s empire. The litany of weirdness includes the infiltration of his clubs by undercover cops implausibly dolled up as club kids, and the gruesome murder of a drug dealer named Angel Melendez by former Limelight promoter Michael Alig. But Gatien’s worst troubles began when he incurred the wrath of then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who Corben argues was the prime mover behind the legal hassles that eventually led to Gatien’s deportation from the U.S.
It’s a juicy story, which is why it’s so frustrating to watch Corben muck it up. Those who know the tale—previously recounted in such books as Frank Owen’s Clubland and James St. James’ Disco Bloodbath, the latter of which spawned the 2003 indie feature Party Monster with Macaulay Culkin as Alig—get few new insights. Those who don’t may be stymied by Limelight’s haphazard narrative structure, gimmicky graphics and failure to answer key questions, like how Gatien got to the top of the heap in the first place. Even so, it’s hard to imagine a rogues’ gallery quite as roguish as the one that surrounds Gatien here.