The film is an official selection of the Toronto Film Festival, Directed and Produced by Mathew Kaufman and Jon Hart.
I have an affinity for documentary film making, be it the rock docs by Martin Scorsese or my friend Aaron Wells documentary on the Tampa Show. It requires a different mindset and an intellectual honesty to do it right because as a filmmaker you aren’t creating the story, you are telling one, often with the benefit of hindsight and almost always with a hodgepodge of material that you have to arrange into something that accurately documents the who, what, when, where how and why of your subject.
Tackling a subject like Plato’s Retreat is difficult, partly because it requires the context of time and place (New York City in the late 70s) and partly because the people making the film had never been there. One could argue that never having been there would be an advantage because they had no preconceived ideas but I would disagree, I have been there.
American Swing is as much about Larry Levenson, it’s gregarious and narcisistic owner, as it is about the club itself, but as the movie points out you wouldn’t have had one without the other. Like it’s owner Plato’s Retreat grew out of rather humble beginnings to find itself hobnobbing with New York City’s elite and like it’s owner it returned from whence it came, but it did leave a mark.
For those not in the know, Plato’s Retreat was an on premise swingers club located in New York City. Opening in January 1977, it became immensely popular and it’s clientele ran the gamut from blue collar labor to entertainment’s elite. Even Sammy Davis Jr had made at least one visit, Buck Henry was a semi regular and Abby Hoffman went there while in hiding from the FBI. Sex happened out in the open and the rich and famous were fucking and on equal footing with the blue collar labor and in the late seventies, that, was groundbreaking.
Every popular thing has it’s high water mark. Plato’s was the high water mark of the sexual revolution and like the sexual revolution it began to ebb with the discovery of AIDS.
This documentary is as much a reflection on the sexual attitudes of the time as it is on Plato’s Retreat itself, though again one needs the other to make the story complete. It’s a very well done documentary and I have to give Kaufman and Hart serious kudos for getting it exactly right from both a historical and a sociological perspective.
Of note are interviews with Al Goldstein, who comes across as honestly sincere which is a bit unlike him, Ron Jeremy, Annie Sprinkle, Jamie Gillis, and Veronica Ver.
Magazine publisher Dian Hansen has quite a bit of screen time as well. In stock footage clips I recognized Sharon Mitchell and Marc Stevens Porn.
AVN Hall of Fame Director Fred Lincoln was owner after Levenson’s incarceration in 1981 for tax evasion.