I went to Friday’s TIFF screening of American Swing because, let’s be honest, the topic of the sexual revolution in the States holds a certain amount of intrigue. Call me naive (hey, I was only a toddler at the time), but I associate the ’70s swingers’ movement with that scene in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam when Mira Sorvino and John Leguizamo take part in a coke-fueled orgy. Or the key party that takes place in The Ice Storm (one of my favorite feature films).
American Swing follows the launch and ultimate demise of Plato’s Retreat, a New York sex club that was closed down by the city in 1985. The film was a bit redundant (I’ve now seen enough grainy footage of naked frolicking bodies to last a lifetime), but it did give a good sense of what the swinging scene was all about. Plus, there were some memorable sound bites:
A woman with silver eye shadow and ’70s hair saying: “We have jobs. We pay mortgages. Just because we’re swingers, doesn’t mean we’re freaks of nature.”
Melvin Van Peebles, who frequented the club, saying: “Personally, I think with a little bit of encouragement, everybody’s on the wild side.”
Another club regular saying: “The jacuzzi was chemical warfare.”
Although some screen time was devoted to drugs and the impact of AIDS on the scene, the doc was more or less a lighthearted introduction to the birth of swinging in the US, complete with a disco-filled soundtrack. Did I want to douse myself in bleach after hearing about the crab-filled mattresses in the club? Yes. Still, I’m glad I saw what all the hype surrounding the scene was about.