Saturday, September 06, 2008

American Swing

Jon Hart, Matthew Kaufman | 2008 | 81 min | US

In the summer of 1977 a New York entrepreneur named Larry Levenson decided to take "the lifestyle" out of the shadows with the opening a Plato's Retreat: a swinger's club operating very publicly. American Swing chronicles the rise and fall of that club (and the death of the sexual revolution) through interviews with many of the club's frequenters themselves.

The first portion of the film feels light and amusing as the former Plato's Retreat clientele, now senior citizens, recount the heady days of the club's peak (among the glowing memories are those of the plentiful buffet). As the story of the club rolls on, however, its atmosphere grows far darker as jealousy, heavy drugs, and the spectre of AIDS begin to encroach on the scene. Larry Levenson clearly loved the spotlight and jumped into it every chance he had. Sadly, he was very reluctant to let that spotlight go and when AIDS began to threaten the life of his club Levenson took on a propagandist's role in underplaying its threat. Add to that the details of mob investors and marital revenge, and the story becomes very shady and very compelling.

Culled from a surprising amount of footage and photographs from inside Plato's Retreat, American Swing provides some remarkable visuals. There is some news program and talk show footage included, but most of the material is essentially filthy home movies. Peering into very private lives in an open club is a bizarre experience and provides more than a slight voyeuristic thrill. American Swing is an outstanding time capsule of a long gone era that is hard to imagine today.

Check out screening times for American Swing at TIFF here.

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