American Swing

2008

Documentary

1
IMDb Rating 6.2 10 695

new york city 1970s nightclub disco swinging

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Plot summary


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January 18, 2023 at 05:21 PM

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720p.WEB 1080p.WEB
743.17 MB
1280*720
English 2.0
NR
23.976 fps
1 hr 20 min
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1.35 GB
1920*1080
English 2.0
NR
23.976 fps
1 hr 20 min
P/S ...

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Buddy-51 8 / 10

raw but intriguing look at sexual liberation

Anyone who ventures into "American Swing" expecting to see a documentary on Benny Goodman is in for one hell of a rude awakening - and that's putting it mildly. For the "swing," in this case, actually refers to the "wife-swapping" phenomenon that swept through middle-class suburbia in the 1970s. And no figure did more to popularize that trend than Larry Levenson - the "King of Swing" as he came to be called - whose "live sex club," Plato's Retreat, located in Manhattan's Upper West Side, served as the epicenter for so much of the action.

Let it be stated right up front that this eye-opening documentary is not for the prudish or the easily offended, for its footage is graphic and its language raw, often akin in its look to crude 1970's porn. It takes us straight into the heart of a scene that became famous for its flagrant nudity, its unbridled group sex, and - if the eyewitness accounts are to be believed - its really bad food (apparently, the smorgasbord that kept bringing the people in was of quite a different kind!). Directed by Matthew Kaufman and Jon Hart, the film features interviews with many of the now-aging club regulars who happily regale us with tales of their personal escapades there. A number of celebrities who frequented the club, as well as certain reporters and broadcasters who covered the beat at the time are also interviewed.

"American Swing" is most interesting as a social document, showing how the "free love" ethos espoused by the hippies in the 1960's expanded into the mainstream a decade later. Suddenly, ordinary businessmen and housewives, truck drivers and longshoremen could partake in the life of the sexually liberated. In his own mind, Levenson sincerely believed that he was serving a salutary purpose with his club, providing couples who didn't want to be stuck in a monogamous relationship with a more honest alternative to "cheating."

It is not the intention of Kaufman and Hart to judge the people who took part in what Plato's Retreat had to offer, but neither is it their intention to shy away from some of the less savory consequences that eventually overtook many of them: principally, the diminution of romance, rampant drug abuse, and the spread of disease. In fact, it was the sudden appearance of AIDS in the early 1980s that brought the decade-long love-train to a screeching halt. That, along with Levenson's own troubles with the IRS (including time spent in prison for tax evasion) and possible dealings with the mob, is what eventually brought an end to the place - and to the era of licentiousness that helped to spawn it.

So, was Levenson a trailblazing sexual revolutionary who made it possible for otherwise ordinary middle-class people to live out their wildest fantasies? Or was he an emotionally stunted individual who cast away the mores of society in a bid to fulfill his own kinky desires and make a kingdom and a name for himself in the process? To their credit, Kaufman and Hart provide no easy answer to those questions, neither for the prigs in the audience nor for the libertines.

All same for the movie itself - for even though Levenson's life ends sadly, "American Swing" does not play out like the typical cautionary tale. For, in the end, we are left to reach our own conclusions as to whether Plato's Retreat was in reality a hedonistic paradise or merely a moral cesspool - or, indeed perhaps, a little of both.

The only thing you can really do is check out "American Swing" and make that determination for yourself.

Reviewed by Woodyanders 8 / 10

Sordidly fascinating documentary

Plato's Retreat was a legendary sex club in New York City that was for several years the go to place for libidinous adults to get down and party hearty after it opened in 1977. This appropriately seamy and somewhat rough around the edges documentary offers a wealth of enjoyable and illuminating interviews with various individuals who either knew founder Larry Levenson or frequented the joint back in the day: Levenson's sons, various Plato's Retreat regulars (who come across as disarmingly candid and unashamed everyday schmo types), comedian Professor Irwin Corey, filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, the ever-outspoken Al Goldstein (who openly admits that Levenson was a shallow bore due to the fact that he was just all about sex), writer Buck Henry, former mayor Ed Koch, and porn stars Fred Lincoln, Ron Jeremy, Annie Sprinkle, and Jamie Gillis. Among the topics discussed are Levenson's amiable happy go lucky persona, the wild anything goes "if it feels good, do it" hedonism of the 1970's, how the rampant nudity and open unabashed sexuality that was pervasive in Plato's Retreat enabled everyone to shed their inhibitions, prostitution in the club, the fact that Plato's Retreat offered a comfortable and nonjudgmental atmosphere where everyone was accepted, the incredibly disgusting buffet table, Levenson's problems with the IRS and subsequent downfall (he wound up working as a cab driver towards the end of his life), and the dreaded AIDS epidemic putting a kibosh on everyone's fun. The key thing that makes this documentary so effective and provocative is its admirable refusal to either glorify or vilify Levenson and the sexual freedom his club represented; instead both are presented warts'n'all without apology and it's up to the viewers to make up their own minds what to think about all of this. Set to a funky-throbbing soundtrack and loaded with plenty of incredible raw newsreel footage of Plato's Retreat in its swinging heyday (the TV ads in particular are simply amazing!), this one is well worth seeing.

Reviewed by MBunge 5 / 10

Superficial, but worth a look

This rather superficial documentary relates the meteoric rise and nearly as quick demise of Plato's Retreat, a New York City swingers club, and its founder Larry Levenson. If you've never heard of the club, swinging or Levenson, this movie isn't a bad primer on all three. It's also got a lot of photos and film shot inside Plato's Retreat that features several square acres of nudity and sex acts. But while you might come away from American Swing with some basic knowledge and prurient delight, you won't have any greater understanding.

Swinging is where people in a relationship openly have sex with others, usually a couple bringing another person into the bed or two couples swapping partners. Plato's Retreat was a place where mass quantities of swingers and voyeurs gathered to engage in everything from orgies on down, only taking time out for disco dancing and bad buffet food. The film is a collection of interviews with clubgoers, famous and not, about their experiences at and impressions of the club and snippets of TV talk shows featuring club founder Larry Levenson.

The story of Plato's Retreat is fairly predictable. It starts out in the late 70s as the last naïve gasp of sexual liberation, starts to get a little seedy after a few years and is then wiped out the threat of AIDS in the mid 80s. The interviews are almost universally about how much people enjoyed their time at the club, though a few references to more unpleasant realities seep in. The footage of Levenson make him look like a low-rent hustler caught up in the idea of himself as an agent of personal and sexual freedom.

American Swing isn't bad as documentaries go, but you're always waiting for the filmmakers to go deeper into their subject…and I don't mean that as a double entendre. The movie never examines of questions any of the things said about Plato's Retreat or its founder and never draws any connections. For example, the film ends with a string of testimonies from people who talk about Plato's Retreat as though it were the best time of their lives, but that comes right after the end of Levenson's life is sadly detailed. He wound up a cab driver so hard up for money he lived in his own basement so he could rent out his home, feeling forgotten and ignored by all the people he thought were his friends. American Swing never really draws the connection, though, between those people talking about their selfish satisfaction and their selfish disregard for the man who made that satisfaction possible.

This documentary is about as sharp and penetrating (again, not a double entendre) as one of those celebrity profiles in the back of Parade magazine. It's not a bad distraction. There's just not much you can learn from it.

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