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The Secret Disco Revolution

2012 | 85 min | Not rated | 1.85:1

The Secret Disco Revolution


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Theatrical release date

 29 June, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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The Secret Disco Revolution Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 27, 2013

I doubt few people think about disco these days. I mean really think about, in terms of historical impact and social upheaval, not just loose beats and glitter. Director Jamie Kastner has certainly wrestled with the subject, delivering a bizarre documentary in “The Secret Disco Revolution,” which employs a mockumentary tilt to attack the myriad of stories connected to the rise and fall of what seemed to be a simple musical fad. Although blessed with a sense of humor, the picture is actually quite valuable as a document of the era, interviewing those who stood (and boogied) on the front line, amassing an eye-opening tale of greed, lust, and burgeoning confidence.

What’s odd about “The Secret Disco Revolution” is Kastner’s use of the Masterminds as his entry point into the story. A trio of pantsuit-wearing disco gods stimulating the movement of the genre from behind their all-powerful mirror ball, the Masterminds are a fictional creation, launching the documentary in a direction that promises more satire to come. In fact, the first third of the film is peppered with suspicious activity stemming from the director’s attempt to create an air of education via the use of interviews with authors well-versed in disco, with one participant dating the origin of the movement back to the swing kids of World War II. It takes a few moments for the curious mood of the movie to sink in, finally coming to the realization that the Masterminds are the only real ornamentation of the effort, with the rest of “The Secret Disco Revolution” emerging from an honest place of appraisal. I least I hope so.

From the early rumblings of the 1970s to the death rattle of disco brought on by the chart-topper “My Sharona” in 1979, the documentary aims to communicate a tidal change in feminist power and sexual frankness with the music of the era. It’s a convincing argument, especially when Katner finds a topic he’s determined to address, with the inclusion of a “Disco Interrogation” to help break down exactly what the Village People were up to with subversive smashes such as “Macho Man” and “Y.M.C.A,” grilling the men on hidden meaning and their viewpoint on the relative innocence of the songs, a point disputed by French songwriter Henri Belolo. We also catch up with Gloria Gaynor, Harry “KC” Wayne Casey, Thelma Houston, and Martha Wash, who share their insights into the formation of the music and its appeal to the paying audience. Time is also spent with DJs and journalists, who bring more of an eyewitness perspective to the time capsule, with special attention paid to ringmaster Nicky Siano, who mastered the mood of Studio 54 with his total control of lighting, temperature, and music.

The business side of “The Secret Disco Revolution” also carries interest, inspecting the explosion of Casablanca Records and their highly profitable devotion to the sound of the seventies. There’s also a dissection of Kool and the Gang’s career, which made a bootleg turn from “Jungle Boogie” to “Ladies’ Night,” encouraging accusations of selling out. It’s an intriguing topic, but Kastner misses a colossal example of trendy career detours with Kiss, a founding Casablanca artist that eventually traded shock for syncopation with 1979’s “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”

The memories are juicy and there’s a great deal of honesty in play, with a palpable air of resignation emerging from a few of the female artists who admit their inability to escape their disco past. The more educational aspects of Kastner’s approach, including an exploration of feminism and liberation (listing Donna Summers’s “Love to Love You Baby” as an orgasm on wax), sexual empowerment within the gay community, the celebration of the touch dance with 1975’s “The Hustle,” and disco’s use as a means of urban communication are enlightening, providing a helpful perspective on a time typically dismissed due to fashion blunders and a general free-for-all of lazy product. Kastner is dealing with a potentially frivolous subject matter, yet his dedication to an overview with the occasional dissection is absorbing, ultimately asking the viewer: was disco a political movement or just an extended party? Only the Masterminds know for sure.

Director: Jamie Kastner

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