Television Reviews: The Rise And Fall at Studio 54 and Falling For A Dancer

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The Independent Culture
The Rise And Fall at Studio 54 (C4, Sat) was slightly more sinister than just an amusing memorial to the herculean hedonists of the 1970s. This biography at the Manhattan nightclub told of a ruthless experiment in social eugenics. Every night outside the citadel of tacky epicureanism, a doorman vetted the queue and granted entrance only to those supplicants who passed a test. Polyester didn't make it beyond the rope. Nor did the guy with the ugly wife. The owner of the club compared the policy of selection to tossing the perfect salad. Though a nicely superficial image, I couldn't help recalling that a chap called Hitler once tossed the mother and father of all salads.

Inevitably, mistakes were made. Karen Lynn Gorney of Saturday Night Fever, was once excluded, as were the pop group Chic, which is a bit like refusing Prince Charming entrance to the ball. From a safety aspect, statistics show that failing to gain entry put years on your life. A frazzled former waiter, or "busboy", said that this was "where I made my descent from boy to man". He drawled so slowly he was practically talking backwards as he remembered having sex in Studio 54 with, among others, Brad Davis, Freddie Mercury, Rock Hudson, Andy Warhol and "a famous designer of boxer shorts". Only the "famous designer" is still alive. It put you in mind of the bad joke about the cemetery: people are dying to get in there. They once discovered a corpse in the air conditioning vent at Studio 54: a fun-seeker was going to join the elite if it was the last thing he did.

This was a form of paparazzi television. I've never seen a documentary with quite so many stills. There was never much filming allowed inside Studio 54 but photographers were allowed to wander at will, taking pictures of Grace Jones's breasts and the undercarriage of the Canadian president's wife. The snappers flashed and so did their subjects. There was a particularly choice shot of a habitually naked reveller who once impaled himself on the upturned leg of a chair.

A witness recalled that incident with much the same squeamishness we encountered in an excellent edition of Newsnight (BBC2, Fri) from Washington. Initially it looked as if the reporter who had to deliver a live resume of the Starr report was going to bottle it. He referred to the DNA test on Monica Lewinsky's infamous dress as proving the stain was - pause - "to do with the President". But all the relevant vocabulary came gushing out in the end, and by the time he finished he may as well have been filing a report on an average night at Studio 54.

In Falling For A Dancer (BBC1, Sun) there was something of the Greek tragedy about the removal off-stage of the most important event: the impregnation of a teenage girl from 1930s Cork. To spare everyone's Catholic middle- class blushes, she was soon married off to a widowed farmer and consigned to a life that, though it is meant to look like drudgery, she seemed to find rather congenial.

Despite thematic similarities to this year's Amongst Women, this series flagged its intentions in the credit sequence. Oval insets set against a sweeping backdrop of craggy Irish coastline said one thing only: potboiler, but a superior one.