Appellate Judge Tom Becker is opening a club for passive-aggressive people called Plato's Retreat and Surrender.
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From everything I've heard and read, the '70s were the best decade in modern times to be a sexually liberated adult. Some of the adults of the '70s had been kids in the '60s, when experimentation was rife. The summer of love was threatened by the winter of discontent, so swinging and swapping, the dirty joke curios of the '60s, tip-toed into the mainstream, aided and abetted by the attention from TV hosts like David Susskind and Phil Donahue. Bi-sexuality was chic, androgyny more than a style.
Naturally, this was also a great time to be in the sex industry. It was the "golden age" of porn, with hardcore products receiving serious consideration as art and often playing in theaters in the 'burbs. Smut publishers like Larry Flynt and Al Goldstein were viewed by many as First Amendment crusaders, and their magazines sold well and were discussed openly at cocktail parties and neighborhood barbecues. Private "therapists" peddled "sex aids" to help nervous libertines ease into the new freedom.
It was certainly the best time to be Larry Levenson, who not only embraced the whole "swinger" lifestyle, but helped define it by opening Plato's Retreat, the notorious New York City sex club of the late '70s and early '80s.
American Swing is a bittersweet look back at the bad old days when a lot of people were reaching out and touching each other in questionable places—only to have their hands slapped back a few years later when HIV reared its very real and ugly head, and the less-adventurous citizens who'd been tut-tutting and finger wagging found new justifications for their positions.
Looking to all the world like a sweaty, mid-life Jerry Lewis, Levenson briefly became unofficial—and self-appointed—spokesman for middle-class swingers. As proprietor of Plato's—with its tales of orgies, acrobatics, and a free buffet and pool, making it the Playboy Mansion for commuters—Levenson hawked not just a good time, but a whole new way of life, as though group sex was the cure for all that ailed you. And, orgies were for everyone—it wasn't the beautiful people letting it all hang out at Plato's, just simple folks, like your soccer coach and the cafeteria lady.
In American Swing, we get to meet the ex-swingers, and it's a little disconcerting to see these plain-looking and speaking folks talk about their randy pasts as though they're chatting about cake recipes and golf scores. These people are identified by their first names only. We also hear from some well-known types who were more intimately involved in the swinging and sex business scene, including Al Goldstein, Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Vera, Jamie Gillis, and Ron Jeremy, as well as writers Buck Henry and John Leo, filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, and comedian "Professor" Irwin Corey, all of whom offer funny recollections of the one-time most scandalous place on Earth.
Scored with a familiar '70s beat ("Hot Child in the City!", "The Hustle!"), American Swing is filled with intriguing anecdotes and recollections. In addition to the sometimes oddly wistful recollections and observations, we get side trips to the soap opera that was Larry Levenson's life, including a girlfriend who evidently lost her mind and his trip to jail for tax evasion.
Among the abundant archive material is footage from old public access cable programs, including Goldstein's Midnight Blue and a talk show called In and Out With Dick. Given that such programs were no-budget, home video creations, it's a wonder this footage even exists. We also get club shots, and what looks to be a porn film shot on location at Plato's, as well as lots of stills, and newspaper headlines and articles.
The film looks fine, with the archive footage being what it is. We actually get audio options here (surround or stereo), and extras consist of interview footage not used in the feature.
American Swing is not a definitive document, but it's a fun peek at a different kind of lost generation. Definitely for adults, highly recommended.
You might feel a little dirty, but the film is definitely not guilty.
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