The name Peter Gatien has all sorts of associations, from couture (the famous patch he sported to hide a lost left eye) to popular culture (enshrined in songs by the Fun Lovin' Criminals and Jay-Z). But most people undoubtedly remember him, first and foremost, as the impresario behind such legendary New York nightclubs as the Limelight, Tunnel and Palladium. These dance and drug meccas were bank-breaking hot spots in the '80s and '90s, spawning the club-kid generation and helping to launch the careers of musicians like Moby. But the Giuliani administration shuttered them and their owner was eventually deported to Canada on an immigration-law technicality.
Billy Corben's officially sanctioned doc on the Limelight years (the subject's daughter, Jen, produced it) finds Gatien, his eye patch traded in for pitch-black sunglasses, magnetically recalling the whirlwind days and nights that led to his coronation as the "King of New York Clubs." Seen mostly hunched over a cheap-looking bar table (the whole video-sourced production feels appropriately grungy and hungover), Gatien still comes off with imposing charm---ever the salesman, trying to wile his way into our confidence. The energy flags when Corben moves away from his main subject for dry, just-the-facts reminiscences from the cops who policed the nightspots, or for wistful testimonials from former club kids. But this is still a fascinating history, especially when Limelight touches on the club scene's dark side: A lengthy dissection of the Angel Melendez murder, complete with an appearance by weathered-looking killer Michael Alig, chillingly shows how the out-all-night lifestyle can take its toll.
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