DVD Review: The Secret Disco Revolution

STUDIO: Screen Media | DIRECTOR: Jamie Kastner
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 9/3/2013 | PRICE: DVD $24.98
BONUSES: none
SPECS: NR | 84 min. | Documentary | 1.77:1 widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

Toronto-based filmmaker Jamie Kastner’s (Kike Like Me) The Secret Disco Revolution is an idiosyncratic exploration into one of pop culture’s most hated eras. An odd mixture of conventional documentary elements (talking head interviews, archival footage) with ironically-cornball recreations makes for an often confusing—though never boring—movie that seems to constantly contradict its main thesis… on purpose.

The Secret Disco Revolution movie scene

Turn the beat around in The Secret Disco Revolution.

With a narrator straight out of a 1950’s industrial film, the 2012 documentary boldly argues that Disco, far from being the vapid and toothless fad most people remember, was actually a concentrated political movement emancipating gays, blacks, and females from the shackles of an oppressive society. In Kastner’s universe, the “Disco Masterminds” (portrayed by three swingin’ 70’s hipsters periodically interrupting the film with their magic disco ball) launched a strategic attack on the mainstream, providing a refreshingly fun alternative to the Woody Guthrie/Gil Scott Heron politics of protest music.

In a way, the movie is right—especially when you learn that disco became a mainstream sensation despite complete resistance from both record companies and radio stations. Clearly, disco filled a need mainstream media was ignoring, making it somewhat subversive by default. But how much of disco was a conscious attempt at revolution and how much of it was merely a superficial reflection of the political issues of the day is definitely up for a debate the film barely acknowledges. Black Panthers? Billie Jean King? Stonewall? Sorry—according to this movie, disco was the great emancipator. What the film does manage in an odd, but funny way is pit overblown academic statements (token feminist Alice Echols claiming that the “disco sucks” backlash was fueled by homophobia and racism rather than because, well, much of disco did suck) with sound bites from the musicians themselves who usually claim the opposite. The best moment in the film happens between Henri Belolo, producer and lyricist for the Village People, and the Village People themselves. Belolo waxes poetic about the conscious homosexual overtones of YMCA, while the band itself almost beats the filmmaker up for suggesting the song is anything more than party music—much to the chagrin of millions of gay men worldwide. Everyone seems to be in the film, including a friendly Gloria Gaynor, a confused Robert “Kool & the Gang” Bell, and a very bitter K.C. (without his Sunshine Band,) though they rarely get to utter more than one sentence at a time. With most of the story told in the voice over, the film plays more like someone’s college thesis than a genuine document of the era. Even so, the unique mix of serious politics with ridiculous kitsch is what keeps The Secret Disco Revolution as interesting -and cheesy- as its subject, making it a worthy messenger for the Disco Masterminds’ credo of fun and polyester.

 

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.