Early last month, it was announced that nightlife legend Susanne Bartsch will be the subject of a biographical documentary, @Bartschland, directed by NYC duo Anthony&Alex. The promising project has been crowdsourcing funds through Kickstarter ever since, and this week finally met its impressive $70k goal, now pushing for a “reach” goal of $90k with under 43 hours left. (Back this project, now).
Featuring cameos from icons like Marc Jacobs, Amanda Lepore and Zaldy, as well as exclusive archival footage, the forthcoming film will highlight Bartsch’s iconic career—one that has strongly elevated LGBTQ culture and championed inclusivity throughout NYC’s club community for more than 30 years.
Set to an original score by Liam Finn, @Bartschland will stretch documentary conventions, imbuing Bartsch’s incredible story with Anthony&Alex’s surreal, avant-garde aesthetic. Venerated producers Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker are behind this feature, as well, making for a wonderfully well-rounded team.
We caught up with the unstoppable “Queen of Nightlife” in lieu of the Kickstarter’s encroaching deadline to talk about NYC’s club scene when she first began, her longtime Chelsea Hotel home and plans for the future.
What’re the noticeable differences between nightlife when you first began and nightlife today?
A lot has changed. Back then it was less about money, it was about community and the shared experience. Now it’s all about bottle service and exclusivity. When I first started, my parties were a place where people came to exchange information. It was Instagram before Instagram. You came to see and be seen, and in that sense it was a space where the imagination flourished. Now I see everyone living the moment through their devices. On the good side, it’s amazing to see the incredible sense of freedom everyone has. It wasn’t always like this, so it makes me happy to see so many young people so comfortable with their identity.
What attracted you to nightlife in the first place?
People pleasing (laughs). love music, dancing and doing looks. When I opened my shop in New York, I wanted there to be a place where people could go out and wear the fabulous clothes I was selling. There were the house music clubs— dark with guys and shirts off—or Nell’s, European-style [with a ] small dance floor. Nothing colorful was going, [so] I wanted to do something colorful and high energy—a place to show off, so I started my own party.
Inclusivity has always been at the core of your work, bringing together diverse groups into one space. Why is this important to you?
My world, Bartschland, has always been about transformation and challenging the establishment. The people I’m drawn to, and who seem to be drawn to me, are the outcasts and rebels living on the margins. These are the people I’ve always celebrated. For the last 30 years, I’ve been creating events which provide a space and a platform in which [people’s] creativity and self-expression can flourish. It’s about being art and seeing art.
Looking back, who are some of your favorite club personalities that developed within your circuit?
There are so many, but off the top of my head, Leigh Bowery, RuPaul, Kabuki, Zaldy & Mathu, Amanda Lepore and Dita Von Teese come to mind. Each one of them is a genius in their own right in how they transformed themselves into a work of art.
What’s it like living in the Chelsea Hotel?
I love the location. The Chelsea has a great history and I love history. The Chelsea is out of the box, and I’m out of the box, or out of the norm, so we have a lot in common. Now the hotel is in a transformational state, as I am, so I feel like we have a lot of common threads, the Chelsea and me.
Why is now the right time to make a documentary about your life? Do you imagine yourself slowing down anytime soon?
I’m in a process of reinventing myself, right now, so when the opportunity came to share my life story and experience with a larger audience, it felt like the right moment to do this. I believe people are instinctively drawn to imagination, beauty, creativity and self-expression, so this film will be a good vehicle to share that in a different way. As for slowing down, I’m just getting started, babe. Stay tuned.