'Jewel's Catch One': Film Review | Palm Springs 2017

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An energetic portrait of a lesbian pioneer and her groundbreaking nightclub.

Sharon Stone, Sandra Bernhard and Bonnie Pointer are among the people interviewed in this documentary about a nightclub that catered to the black gay community in Los Angeles for over 40 years.

Catch One, a primarily gay nightclub in Los Angeles, was dubbed by one observer “the unofficial Studio 54 of the West Coast.” For 40 years, the club brought together a distinctive group of people far from the trendier scenes of West Hollywood. Now a documentary about the club and its owner, Jewel’s Catch One, is making the festival circuit. It probably isn’t quite accomplished enough to have much theatrical life, but it is an eye-opening and often entertaining look at a cultural landmark.

In 1973, Jewel Thais-Williams bought a building on Pico and Crenshaw, in a predominantly black neighborhood, and created a club that catered to an underserved clientele. Homophobia within the black community added to the more widespread homophobia of the era (including regular police harassment), and so Catch One became a haven to a doubly marginalized population. As the film points out, the white gay community had its own prejudices, and so this club welcomed many people who had no other home away from home. 

Eventually, many other trend-setters discovered the Catch and became regular visitors, including Sharon Stone and Sandra Bernhard (both interviewed in the film). As one of the patrons observed, the paparazzi were not likely to travel toward the inner city, and so celebs found a relatively safe arena to party, and they clearly enjoyed the novelty of the scene.

Jewel is herself gay, and her long-term partner also is interviewed in the film, along with Congresswoman Maxine Waters and entertainers Bonnie Pointer, Thelma Houston and Evelyn “Champagne” King. The club faced a number of setbacks, including a fire in 1985 that was probably an act of arson. It took two years to rebuild, and of course during that period, the gay community also was devastated by the AIDS crisis, which the film addresses.

Jewel also talks about her own drinking and drug problems during this period, but here the film is too evasive and superficial. In its eagerness to pay tribute to an undeniable pioneer, Jewel’s Catch One glosses over some of the complexities of its heroine. The narration by CCH Pounder is minimal and adds very little insight to the film. Nevertheless, Jewel herself remains a vibrant presence, both in interview clips from the past as well as in her present-day scenes. And the club’s cultural import should not be underestimated. When Catch One finally closed in 2015, many people came out to celebrate a gratifying success story.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival (True Stories)
Production company: A Dancing Pictures presentation
Director-producer: C. Fitz
Executive producers: Jewel Thais-Williams, C. Fitz
Narrator: CCH Pounder
Cinematographers: Garrett Benson, C. Fitz, Sean Flannery, Abe Martinez, Adriana Torres, Adam Becker, John Negrin
Editor: Kyra Dunn
Music supervisor: Allison Wood

Not rated, 85 minutes

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