REVIEW: Warriors of the Discotheque [2012]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: NR | Runtime: 91 minutes | Release Date: 2012 (USA)
Studio: JFA Film Productions / Microcinema International
Director(s): Joseph F. Alexandre
Writer(s): Joseph F. Alexandre

“The Now Explosion”

Everyone’s aware of Studio 54’s reign as nightclub supreme from 1977-1981: its sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. But what about the 80s? I’m not saying I should know the “It” club of the decade I was born, but it’s interesting that an era of excess, fashion, and eccentricity doesn’t possess a singular, defining establishment. With Warriors of the Discotheque, writer/director Joseph F. Alexandre looks to declare there was such a locale with his documentary about the mind-opening experience had by thousands in the hip, modern, international city of … Dallas, TX. Yes, Dallas, TX. No wonder no one outside the sub-culture recalls the legendary Starck Club. People covet New York City and Los Angeles glamour, desperate to lose themselves in their historical decadence. Dallas won’t place third, tenth, or twentieth on anyone’s list to admire, but Alexandre says it should.

Composed of present-day interviews with numerous ex-patrons and employees as well as a wealth of video and photographic footage from Starck’s heyday between opening in 1984, surviving a 1986 police raid for ecstasy, and its eventual closure a decade or so later, this film provides a first-hand document of the club and the 80s themselves. This was a time before AIDS was a household name, an era of drug abuse by suits with more money than they could spend, and a renaissance of artistic originality speaking to a populace ready to exit the closet of sexual orientation and accept that of those who are different. The climate was fun, dance, and excitement; fearless of social norms and segregation so one could groove near the same man or woman in the pit that they peed next to in the co-ed bathroom.

You think Texas and R. Lee Ermy‘s quote from Full Metal Jacket is bound to come to mind about it being made of “steers and queers”, but here was a club with gay doormen in charge of selecting who could enter its gigantic, bank vault doors; a flamboyantly unofficial dress code of silver paint, silk plumage, and rhinestoned broaches; and a citizenship ruled by hairdressers and the so-called “gay mafia”. Stories of underage high school cheerleaders dancing with Prince, Rob Lowe breaking up with Princess Stephanie, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers performing one of their infamous “sock” shows are told with pure glee and ear-to-ear smiles by those who lived them. Straight men talk about entering with the word “faggot” in their vocabulary before exiting with an evolved mentality of humanity because of what the Starck provided.

The brainchild of French designer Philippe Starck, the club began as a way to expose America to his art and grew to become an international destination. Alexandre enlists the help of USC Architecture Professor Mina Chow to explain the building’s structure and implicit meanings of its design—admittedly the film’s worst interviewee thanks to a desire to force an air of outsider intellect against everyone else’s unparalleled authenticity of being there—while cutting back and forth through his extensive list of participants quick to speak about the heavy doors, sheer curtains, depressed dance floor, central monument, and caged walls. It becomes a rapid-fire, uncensored account (not without its repetition depending on whether someone’s words are relevant to multiple chapters), assaulting us with a chaotic strobe light of memory carefully pieced together into one sprawling shared consciousness.

Warriors can be jarring at first because there really are no lulls with which to catch your breath and truly see what is being shown as more than flashes of visual collage, but you’ll settle in nicely once you get comfortable with the rhythm. Segmented into devoted sections entitled Design, Sex, Drugs, Performance Art, Celebrity, and more, we’re able to understand the club’s legacy as well as learn about those who called it their nightly home. Todd Allen is a highlight as he candidly orates his experiences, delving into the culture as a whole and the impact the club had on himself. Paula Hines speaks about it becoming a haven of equality for her as an Asian woman while Craig DePoi admits the drug problem it fueled despite heralding his time there as what made him the man he is today.

Some of the footage is low quality with photos zoomed beyond resolution and bad VHS lighting proves rough in its high definition transfer, but nothing’s ever onscreen long enough to truly distract. Alexandre and editor Scott Simerly Jr. do well splicing everything together thematically with only a few instances of intentional redundancy proving how similar the experiences were for each subject, injecting facts (Dr. Charles S. Grob talking about MDMA/ecstasy and its origins) and fun (film footage comparing the club to Stanley Kubrick‘s Clockwork Orange‘s Korova Milk Bar and a clip from Robocop showing the titular cyborg walking by the caged dance floor’s walls) too. The Starck Club is a piece of contemporary Americana—a destination well before its time sexually, musically, and artistically. It may be long gone physically, but to so many people it will never die.


photography:
[1] Todd Allen
[2] Paula Hines
[3] Brent Gaither
courtesy of facebook.com/WarriorsOfTheDiscotheque

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