Thursday, June 27, 2013

THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION: Jamie Kastner's nostalgic doc with booty & a beat

A very fun, pretty funny, uber-nostaligic documentary that offers up an interesting theory -- political, social, revolutionary -- of the 1970s disco craze (and then politely puts it to rest), THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION is shoo-in viewing for gays of a certain age, celebrity addicts or anyone of any sexual persuasion who liked to dance themselves crazy back in the day. It combines everything from talking heads to archival footage, social theory (most noticeably and intelligently from Alice Echols) and -- ah, yes -- those famous disco songs and performers to silly, sweet effect that will probably have you tapping your toes and grinning fairly often throughout.

The brainchild of one Jamie Kastner (shown at left), who wrote and directed, perhaps the oddest and most interesting feature of the doc is his introduction of a trio of "masterminds," as he calls them (shown below and at bottom) -- a black man, a gay man and a woman, supposedly representing the three groups for whom disco accomplished the most "liberation." These three appear regularly throughout the film, though it seems more and more clear as the movie progresses that Kastner sees these masterminds as pseudo: comic material rather than anything remotely real or genuinely important. And for those viewers who might have taken all this seriously, his question to many of the talking heads at the film's close makes it more than clear that the disco revolution may have been fun and different and ground-breaking in certain ways, but it had little to do with revolution or protest.

Instead, it and the film that covers it, are all about beat, drugs, the expending of energy, and selling records (those, junior, are what we had to listen to, back in the day). Reference is made to France under the Nazis, Swing Kids and other historical matters, but what we really want to hear and learn about are all those great songs.

Fortunately, the filmmaker gives them to us, if not full-length, with enough time so we recall why they were such hits. Here come Gloria Gaynor (in the penultimate photo, below), Thelma Houston (at right), Martha Wash and Maxine Nightingale -- to name a few, showing us their style, then and now.

And while reference is made to other big names ("To get from Aretha Franklin to Lil' Kim, you can't understand this without disco!"), we pretty much keep with the disco beat.

The funniest section, in fact, may be that involving The Village People (above) trying to convince us that their songwriters/
composers had no ability to handle double entendres. We always suspected these guys were on the dumb side, but, please!

We also learn that, for maybe the first time in modern music history, songs found themselves listed on the Billboard magazine chart due to their being played not on radio but in the clubs that were forming around the country. After that, of course, radio DJs joined in the celebration. When, as ever, the music industry -- just like the movie industry regarding any popular new idea -- tried to jump on the disco bandwagon, the music grew shoddier and shoddier. And when the nation's, maybe the world's, most famous disco club, Studio 54, came on the scene (with its paean to celebrity, drugs, and shutting "ordinary" people out) one day, nearly overnight it seemed, disco disappeared.

The movie finally evokes all of this -- plus a nod to Ecclesiastes ("There is a time to expand and a time to contract") -- as it combines history, sleaze, music, energy, dance and drugs. It's a lot of fun, a crock of shit, and above all a great nostalgia trip, and it opens this Friday, June 28, in eleven cities across the country.

Here in New York City, it plays at the Quad Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's NoHo 7. Look for it, as well, in San Francisco at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema, in Berkeley atthe Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, in Minneapolis at the Landmark Lagoon Cinema, in Seattle at the Landmark Varsity Theater, in Miami at the O Cinema, in Fort Lauderdale at the Cinema Paradiso. in  Palm Springs at the Camelot Theater, in Portland at the Clinton Street Theater and in Columbus at the Gateway Film Center.

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