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Review: ‘Jewel’s Catch One’ captures a pioneering L.A. community leader and a place of note

Jewel Thais-Williams, grand marshal of L.A. Pride 2016, is shown in the documentary "Jewel's Catch One."
(C. Fitz / Array)

C. Fitz’s documentary “Jewel’s Catch One,” is a love letter to a historical landmark of Los Angeles nightlife, the now-shuttered Catch One nightclub on Pico Boulevard, which was the “Studio 54 of the West” for decades. But more than a portrait of the club itself, the film is a tribute to Catch One proprietor Jewel Thais-Williams, an African American lesbian who broke barriers, fostering a nightlife destination that welcomed people of all races, gender identities and sexual orientations.

Opening in 1973, Catch One was a hub during the gay and lesbian movement, weathering police raids and arson, serving as an important community center during the AIDS crisis, raising money for the cause and providing a place of support, love and free expression. The club was frequented by celebrities, musicians, DJs and the party people of L.A., including Madonna, Thelma Houston, Sharon Stone and Christina Aguilera, before closing its doors in 2015.

Thais-Williams is more than just a nightclub owner, though. The documentary charts her history starting with the Catch One, building up her corner of the community with a vegan restaurant and a thriving acupuncture and Chinese medicine center, the Village Health Foundation.

Anecdotes and photos bring the golden age of Catch One to life, with a lively disco soundtrack and Thais-Williams’ font of fascinating stories. But the film itself could use a more rigorous structure as it wanders from anecdote to anecdote and era to era. This piece of L.A. history is thankfully preserved on film, but the execution of “Jewel’s Catch One” lacks the kind of focus and energy that would truly represent the place.

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‘Jewel’s Catch One’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Playing: April 28, 2 p.m. Silver Screen, Pacific Design Center; also streaming on Netflix starting May 1

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