Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: Birth of a Saint

club of vices

The Saint honored the gay community by providing the “climax” of gay liberation: unfettered drug use, impassioned sex, and musical ecstasy comprised the ingredients of this mighty discotheque, though the club’s stunning architectural features similarly indicated the Saint’s superiority (qtd. in Peters, 80). At the Saint, a planetarium projector transported crowds into outer space whilst dexterous deejays weaved melodic memories into the night (Rist, 17).

The Saint originated as a house of Bruce Mailman’s vices, or the pleasures Mailman paid money to enjoy. One of his vices was dancing at the Flamingo night club (Rist, 17). Another vice was Mailman’s deep appreciation for the “imagination and theatricality” of Studio 54, whose attractiveness caused Mailman to return to the club rather often (qtd. in Rist, 17). Together, the “hard-driving” sexuality of disco dancing and imagination of theatrical nightlife supplied formative experiences for Mailman. He was thus inspired to construct a haven of vices that he could go to for free (Rist, 17). However, Bruce Mailman’s desires were elevated by his intention to add a new dimension to the disco scene.

Simple mimicry bored Mailman; he wanted to produce a unique club of vices (Rist, 17). At first, Mailman could not figure out how to promote the individuality of his disco, yet following the night that Mailman went to sleep pondering ideas, the man awoke with the image of a planetarium in his mind (Rist, 17). The club Mailman envisioned wouldn’t be “limited to a stage;” what would become The Saint would be “completely round,” with a large dome sky (qtd. in Rist, 17). The dome would immerse club-goers in an environment similar to the great outdoors; men would kiss and dance in bliss underneath strobes or stars.  Following his revelation, Mailman called planetarium companies to see if his fantasy could become a practical and affordable reality. In 1980, Mailman redesigned the old Loew’s Commodore Theater for almost $5,000,000 US dollars; the large theater could accommodate both a planetarium projector and a planetarium dome (Rist, 17). Located on Second Avenue and East Sixth Street, the Commodore Theater underwent a truly heavenly transformation for The Saint’s opening.

Stories of the Saint – Chapter 2: The Architecture

the first party

Bruce Mailman and business partner Steve Casko acquired a planetarium dome and planetarium projector from Spitz Space Systems, structures fundamental to the architectural anatomy and jaw-dropping identity of the Saint (McEwan). The use of mobile lenses in the club’s planetarium projector permitted light technicians to project hundreds of unique slide images onto the sky-like dome (McEwan). These images reflected off of the Saint’s dancing crowds and illuminated them with bright patterns of starlight and other exciting designs. The Saint Promotional Video exhibits photographs of crowds in the midst of sweaty gyrations and stirring light choreography. The following image can be found on the Saint’s memorial block; it displays a representation of the Saint’s planetarium projector and light structure. The stitched-on representation of the light structure is a weathered gray color that has been topped by an orderly row of circular bulbs that exude colors of red, green, orange, purple, turquoise, yellow, and pink. The structure juts from the bottom of the quilt panel and is comprised of a material that feels sturdy and thick, a composition that demonstrates its purpose of strength, support, and vibrant bedazzlement. The actual Saint contained a “lighting tower with about 1,500 fixtures, topped by [the] planetarium-style star projector” in the center of its dance floor (Dunlap).

light structure representation found on the quilt

On September 20, 1980, the anticipation of 3500 men in East Village, New York was subdued and satisfied by the Saint’s impressive premiere celebration, entitled “The First Party” (Rist, 17). At midnight, these men (2500 of whom had already become members of the Saint), lined almost an entire square block hoping to unravel the mystery of Bruce Mailman’s new creation. When the doors of the Saint opened, these gorgeous gay men eagerly began to explore the newly opened disco (Rist, 17).

George Gershwin‘s Rhapsody in Blue “swelled” from the sound system and encased the public in a luxurious mood of classical music as the projector splashed light across the planetarium dome in “spectacular patterns of orange and rose” (McEwan, 38). As the night progressed, classical music transformed into more sensual ballads, and sometime after 2:00am, the pace of the club “picked up” (McEwan, 38). The mothership, mounted on a hydraulic lift, rose above the heads of the dancers. The Saint had milked the virgin qualities of its club-goers by prolonging the reveal of those spectacular tricks hidden up Bruce Mailman’s sleeve, but their emergence was near. As Donna Summer’s “Could It Be Magic” began to play, the club lights dimmed and the planet’s stars appeared. In the video below, Michael Fierman recalls a distinct gasp from the crowd at the sight of the stars, before a mad cheer erupted. Fierman’s disclosure indicates the brilliance of the club’s planetarium projector, and illustrates the first sublime experience of the Saint.

Stories of the Saint – Chapter 1: The Opening

Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue on the piano

Original version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue

Donna Summer’s “Could It Be Magic”

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