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Movie Review: The Secret Disco Revolution

June 28, 2013

The Secret Disco Revolution PosterThe Secret Disco Revolution – A KinoSmith Release

http://www.secretdiscorevolution.com

Release Date: June 28th, 2013 @ Cineplex Yonge & Dundas

Rated 14A for mature themes, language and substance abuse

Running time: 85 minutes

Jamie Kastner (dir.)

Jamie Kastner (writer)

Jamie Shields (music)

David Wall (music)

Adam B. White (music)

Peter Keleghan as Narrator

Professor Alice Echols as Herself

Michael Musto as Himself

Gloria Gaynor as Herself

Robert “Kool” Bell as Himself

Thelma Houston as Herself

Martha Wash as Herself

Henri Belolo as Himself

Nicky Siano as Himself

Harry Wayne “K.C.” Casey as Himself

Ray Simpson as Himself

Felipe Rose as Himself

The Secret Disco Revolution

©KinoSmith.  All Rights Reserved.

“The Masterminds of Disco” in Jamie Kastner’s documentary The Secret Disco Revolution.

Our reviews below:

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The Secret Disco Revolution Review By John C.

*** (out of 4)

Director Jamie Kastner is clearly having a lot of fun as he explores the rise and fall of a musical era with The Secret Disco Revolution.  Narrated by the droll voice of Peter Keleghan over a good mix of archival footage and interviews, this is an entertaining documentary that mixes satire with historical accuracy.

The film charts the rise of disco from the early 1970s to the pivotal moment for the music that came from the release of the great Saturday Night Fever in 1977, while also showing how the “boogie fever” ended within the same decade.  The argument is that the era of music that made stars out of Gloria Gaynor, The Village People, Kool and the Gang and KC and the Sunshine Band actually masked a revolution that helped bring equal rights to “gays, blacks and women.”  But disco collapsed in on itself when the music fully became a part of the mainstream culture with songs like “Disco Duck” playing literally everywhere, alienating the movement of sexual freedom that the music initially represented.

The interviews with the original stars of disco are entertaining, providing a fun look back at the music that knew no boundaries of sexuality.  But when we hear from Professor Alice Echols, who describes Donna Summer’s 1975 hit “Love to Love You Baby” as a “feminist critique of three minute sex,” it brings a whole new level to how you could interpret the lyrics.  The Village People don’t even seem to be on the same page when it comes to the always present double entendres.  Was there really this much hidden meaning behind the fun dance music that provided a good beat at the clubs and could be enjoyed under the influence?  This documentary slyly leaves that up to the viewer to decide.

With a fun retro vibe that is appropriate to the era, The Secret Disco Revolution is an informative and entertaining look at the rise and fall of disco, that uses satire to discuss the hidden messages of sexual liberation that the music arguably represented.  No matter what you think, this film is fun to watch.

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The Secret Disco Revolution Review by Erin V.

*** (out of 4)

The Secret Disco Revolution asks the question… Was disco really a secret revolution to liberate people who were (among others) female, black, or gay?  Or was it just fun dance music that these groups in particular happened to feel freed by?  The documentary takes a bit of a light tone to its questions with a narrator providing amusingly written commentary, and partial reenactments with the ‘masterminds’ behind this revolution.

The film is fun to watch and interesting for those who like watching docs about different styles of music.  The tone might not appeal to everyone, but I found it worked.  The Secret Disco Revolution includes interviews with musicians and DJs from the disco days and each of them provide an interesting commentary on the film’s initial concept.

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The Secret Disco Revolution Review by Nicole

**1/2 (out of 4)

The Secret Disco Revolution presents a fun look at part of the history of the civil rights movement.  Part documentary and part satire, the film questions whether disco was just a dance fad, or a hidden civil rights movement.  The documentary is made in a fun 1970s style, told through a narrator and featuring a fictional trio of groove agents known as “The Masterminds,” each representing gender and racial equality as well as gay rights.

The documentary interviews disco greats such as Thelma Houston, The Village People and Gloria Gaynor, as well as University of Southern California feminist professor Alice Echols.  While Echols believes there is a hidden feminist message in every disco song and album, she even thinks of Saturday Night Fever as a feminist film, not everyone thinks disco had a hidden message.  An interview with The Village People insist that their songs were not meant to be about gay rights, they were just meant as fun.

But whether disco had a hidden message or not, it didn’t make much difference.  Disco did help bring African American artists to the forefront, furthering an already occurring trend towards equality and integration.  Disco did not cause the civil rights movement, which had already started in the 1960s.  But disco did perhaps further civil rights, simply by bringing everyone under the same roof to dance and have fun.

Filled with disco songs and a lighthearted retro feel, The Secret Disco Revolution will make you want to dance and celebrate.

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The Secret Disco Revolution Review by Maureen

**1/2 (out of 4)

Toronto director Jamie Kastner would like viewers to consider that maybe, just maybe the rise of disco music was actually a deliberate plan to move forward the freedoms of women, gays and blacks.  And here I always thought disco was just the music I danced to in my youth with my friends.

The Secret Disco Revolution is a tongue in cheek look at the rise and fall of that gift from the 1970s, disco music.  The documentary is narrated by a serious sounding man, giving it a “this is serious history” tone.  The story is told through lots of fun dance floor footage, along with interviews with the disco greats like Thelma Houston, Gloria Gaynor, and The Village People, all guided by a trio of tacky looking undercover disco agents called the Masterminds, emphasizing the secrecy of the whole movement.  Also weighing in on the story is University of Southern California professor Alice Echols, who sees feminist perspectives in all aspects of disco.

Actually, The Secret Disco Revolution is quite entertaining and informative in spite of the tongue in cheek satiric tone.  It’s interesting to get the perspective of music industry insiders who saw the disco movement get promoted from literally the ground up with dance floor DJs holding far more power than the record companies.  Disco became the music that anybody could dance to.  As with anything that becomes wildly popular with the masses, a backlash is a certainty.  Sure enough, the “disco sucks” movement managed to kill disco, with the infamous song “Disco Duck” putting the final nail in the glitter ball coffin.

Anyone who has any kind of fond memory of the disco era will find The Secret Disco Revolution entertaining.  The dance floor footage alone makes this worth the price of admission.  Put on your best ’70s outfit and check it out.

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The Secret Disco Revolution Review by Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

The Secret Disco Revolution is defined as a documentary hybrid that manages to pack a lot of historical information and controversy into less than 90 minutes along with a lot of laughs, all accompanied by a generous sampling of the best music of the genre. In order to seamlessly mesh extensive archival clips with reenactments and current interviews, the film has the consistent grainy look of a VHS tape, rather than the HD we have come to expect.

The first discothèques were in fact clandestine Paris dance clubs during the German occupation. Disco music as we know it had its origins in the “race music” that even through the 1960s was still segregated from the regular Billboard charts, evolving by way of the Philadelphia Sound to the slicker and less edgy orchestrated dance style of the 1970s. It first caught on in New York dance clubs but for several years was largely ignored by the radio stations whose airplay determined Billboard rankings.

A few hits and Saturday Night Fever changed all that and soon everybody from Ethel Merman to the Muppets was coming out with disco albums. Inevitably most of them were formulaic rubbish leading to a backlash that at the end of the decade culminated in a stadium crowd chanting “Disco sucks” as tons of albums were “blowed up real good.” Despite being largely eclipsed in the succeeding decades, the music never really went away, more or less surviving to this day as club dance music.

The film begins with an ominous voiceover satirically promoting the conspiracy theory of a disco revolution reenacted by a mysterious mod squad of silent “masterminds” lurking in the background. A more serious and comprehensive analysis of the sociological implications of disco is largely provided by the feminist academic Alice Echols. Her main argument that its effects on feminism and acceptance of gays were largely positive is supported by numerous examples. Artists such as Donna Summer and Barry White provided a refreshing celebration of female sexuality.

Though largely gay at first, the clubs became popular for all sorts of people to mix, but excesses in drug use and other vices led to their downfall as exemplified by Club 54 where only the Beautiful People could get past the velvet rope. Whether the campy Village People can be seen as a celebration or mockery of gay culture is still in question. The opinions of the aging present day members of the group differ somewhat from their French producer Henri Belolo. Other interviews with artists, record producers and especially the innovative DJ Nicky Siano who at 17 helped set up the first important club The Gallery in Soho and ended up at Club 54, provide a good timeline for the arc of disco’s rise and decline within a decade.

With The Secret Disco Revolution, Canadian filmmaker Jamie Kastner has carried on a family tradition of tongue in cheek but always informative and extremely watchable documentaries with a wide appeal.

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Consensus: Directed by Jamie Kastner, The Secret Disco Revolution is an informative and fun documentary about the rise and fall of the musical era, using a satirical approach to look at the movement of sexual freedom that disco arguably represented.  *** (Out of 4)

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