The Secret Disco Revolution: Film Review

Donna Summer black and white UME P
Francesco Scavullo / Universal Music Enterprises
Ignore the academic posturing and just relive the "good times" during this diverting history of the disco era.

Jamie Kastner's quasi-satirical documentary examines the sociological impact of the disco movement.

Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" was "the musical expression of the feminist critique of three-minute sex." There were no double entendres in such songs by the Village People as "Y.M.C.A." and "In the Navy." Thelma Houston couldn't dance to "The Hustle." And the disco movement, which apparently has roots dating back to France and Germany under the Nazi occupation, was "a time that conscience seemed to forget."

These are among the alternately illuminating and preposterous observations meted out in The Secret Disco Revolution, Jamie Kastner's quasi-satirical documentary in which the disco years are alleged to have been nothing less than a powerful liberation movement for women, blacks and gays. Oh, and it was really, really fun.

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That the filmmaker thankfully doesn't take his premise too seriously is made evident from the frequent onscreen appearances of a gay, black, female Mod Squad-style trio, clad in flashy disco-era clothing, who wander silently through the proceedings like a sort of revolutionary Greek chorus.

Otherwise, the film is mainly a straightforward, chronological examination of the short-lived-- but still enduring, in certain ways -- disco fad of the '70s that began to fade with the amazing crossover success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and whose death knell was sounded by such events as the closing of Studio 54 and the release of Ethel Merman's disco album.

Sketchily edited and lacking technical polish, the film doesn't really do its subject matter full justice. But its copious doses of nostalgic archival footage make it an enjoyable diversion nonetheless. Disco fans of a certain age -- aren't they all, by now? -- will certainly appreciate the interviews with such chart-topping stars of the period as Gloria Gaynor, Evelyn "Champagne" King, Thelma Houston and Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine Band, most of whom seeming properly befuddled by the suggestion that disco was about anything more than simply having a good time.

Opens June 28 (Screen Media Films)

Director-screenwriter-producer: Jamie Kastner

Director of photography: Derek Rogers

Editor: Greg West

Costume designer: Linda Muir

Composers: Jamie Shields, David Wall, Adam B. White