The Secret Disco Revolution

Written by:
Elgy Gillespie
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secret disco revolution

The Secret Disco Revolution

Written and directed by Jamie Kastner
Featuring: Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, KC of the Sunshine Band, Michael Musto
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Run Time: 1 hour 24 min

This hilarious documentary about the pioneers of many Saturday Night Live “Wild and Crazy Guy” skits leaves you pining for polyester, poppers, and a dose of Barry White.

It’s often unintentionally hilarious, afraid to be too casual, and perhaps taking itself a mite too seriously. As Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor step up to ooze sensuality in counterpoint Barry’s undress-me-now bass, the filmmakers relive the early seventies in New York with news clips. Big silver balls and spinning platters were invented to dispel that drab and despairing urban wasteland, they argue.

Kastner’s conceit is that disco was a subversive grassroots revolution, a pro-gay, pro-women, pro-black backlash against the rubble of Sixties upheaval and the old white, hetero rock hegemony. Many historic clips of riots and protesters being clubbed set up Kastner’s argument.

But: political? Really? Well, possibly. But a couple of glances at Barry’s suits will reveal the true subversion of disco. As a blow for glitz, glamour and sex against New York’s poverty in the early Seventies, disco was sheer fun. Politics might be in the eye of the beholder, but it was all very funny.

Just how funny was disco? Well, pretty funny as seen from this geeky century—plunging polyester, big-ass elephant flares, ginormous afros, freaky-deaky disco moves involving lots of eye makeup, and sultry, effete gestures under that giant silver disco globe…

And as for the Village People, well…! Let’s just say you’ll find their theories about the gay subtext in “YMCA” and “In The Navy” being absent unconvincing. “Party songs,” snorts the Construction Worker

Kastner’s somewhat over-the-top spokesmen are a whacky threesome of actors in flaming disco drag, who peruse faux publications and strut around New York scenery looking deadpan and hungover. They’re also on the unconvincing side of history, but for the record I want that silver lame hooded minidress with matching boots…

Ranging from Martha Walsh and Harry Wayne KC of the Sunshine Band to sundry record moguls and deejays, Kastner’s interviews are a lot more interesting than culture decoders and academics like Alice Echols, whose “Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture” Kastner leans on heavily. Michael Musto of The Village Voice argues that politicized black “race music” confined to separate charts (like Stevie Wonder’s “In The City”) had to go in the face of disco, er, rage.
Disco was a marketing miracle as much as anything, because many iconic disco hits were first sown by zealous deejays, who played their personal favorites in a few dive clubs like so many eccentric Johnny Appleseeds.

Eventually they subverted the radio stations for a while too, and set the Billboard charts flame with such oddities as an obscure African hit in French, until record companies fought back. All of this was an achievement. But was it an important pro-gay, pro-lib, pro-black achievement?

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