A sparkly spin on ‘The Secret Disco Revolution’
A movie review of “The Secret Disco Revolution,” a documentary that jokingly presents the rise and fall of disco music and culture in the late ’70s as a form of counterculture protest.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘The Secret Disco Revolution,’ a documentary directed by Jamie Kastner. 90 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Varsity.
If you are old enough to smile every time you hear a few notes from “Boogie Fever” (and it is, for the record, impossible not to smile at that song, let alone keep your feet still), “The Secret Disco Revolution” sounds like a perfect way to while away an hour and a half. It’s a documentary, directed by Jamie Kastner, that jokingly presents the rise and fall of disco music and culture in the late ’70s as a form of counterculture protest — a kind of power flag seized and waved by gay, black and female disco artists. With three revolutionaries as our guide — a gay man, a black man and a woman, all dressed in their sparkly disco best — the veil is lifted on this secret movement, one that everyone else thought was just about dancing and doing coke.
Except ... that nobody involved in this enterprise, other than a seemingly humorless academic who doesn’t quite seem in on the joke, thinks there was anything more to disco than that relentless beat. (Precisely, we’re told that disco was “a softened, string-heavy cousin of funk, with a 4-4 beat.”) “We were a party band,” helpfully offers a Village Person, puzzled by the elevation of disco to politics. Kastner’s black-comic yet ultimately heavy-handed concept quickly gets in the way of the movie, which should be a little more fun than it is.
It is, however, impossible to not thoroughly enjoy a movie in which we learn that Thelma Houston was never any good at the Hustle, that “Le Freak” was cowritten by a former Black Panther, that Harry Wayne Casey (i.e. KC of KC and the Sunshine Band) is still holding a grudge against the Disco Sucks movement (maybe it needs its own documentary) and that Gloria “I Will Survive” Gaynor still looks fabulous. “It was about things that make you happy,” someone ultimately explains; a perfectly fine elegy for disco, dead yet still bouncing along.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org