Disco: Spinning the Story

B0007X1NVU.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgTitle: Disco: Spinning the Story
Director: Mark McLaughlin
Date: 2005
Format: DVD region 1 (80 min.)
Publisher: Passport Video
Catalog no.: DVD-1613

Remembering the days when disco was a mainstream, mass-mediated, popular form of American music, Gloria Gaynor and The Village People are probably the most commonly remembered artists.  Saturday Night Fever, “the hustle,” and the television show, “Disco: Step-by-Step” are also part of the contemporary memory of what disco was.  The documentary titled Disco: Spinning the Story highlights these important elements of disco culture, but also reconstructs a much more detailed and comprehensive history of disco in the context of 1970s urban America.

The film is hosted by Gloria Gaynor and features informative interviews with George Clinton, Randy Jones of The Village People, Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rogers, Kurtis Blow, Tom Moulton, Karen Lynn Gorney from Saturday Night Fever, and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead.  The film recognizes the prominence of African American and Latino culture in the creation of disco music highlighting many of the African American performers in the 1970s, like Donna Summer, Chic, Trammps, Rose Royce, Labelle, Hues Corporation, and others.  The documentary situates disco in the revolutionary atmosphere in many urban centers in the United States during the 1970s.  Gaynor describes the revolutionary philosophies and activities of many involved in civil rights, women’s liberation, and gay liberation, the latter of which played a major role in influencing and defining the new musical style that was disco. 

Disco also traces the history of the music into the previous decade to soul music of the late 1960s, namely that of Motown and the “Philly Sound” of Philadelphia International.  A high point in the film is the discussion by Tom Moulton of his unintentional discovery of the 12-inch record, on which there is only one song on each side.  Pressing a single song onto a 12-inch record made the sound much more vibrant and lively, and it increased the volume.  This had a major impact on sound systems in dance clubs.  The film concludes with a look at the final days of disco, including the racist and homophobic sentiments of the motto: “Disco Sucks!”, and ends appropriately with Gloria Gaynor discussing her performance of “I Will Survive” as one of the last disco songs of that era.  

Posted by Denise Dalphond

Maestro

B0009X76ZU.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgTitle: Maestro
Director: Josell Ramos
Date: 2005 (2003)
Format: DVD region 1, NTSC (2 DVD set)
Publisher: Sanctuary
Catalog No.: SAN 35100-9

Considering the history of electronic dance music, cities like New York City, Chicago, and Detroit come to mind. Words like “rave,” “techno,” “house,” “garage,” “dance music,” and “electronica” pop up. It all seems to be loosely related in some blob that we call dance music culture, but how do these words and places come together? How are they all connected?

The film Maestro begins to explore and answer that question. Produced, directed, and written by Josell Ramos, this documentary follows New York City’s underground dance music scene from its early days during the 1970s until 1987 when the renowned dance club, Paradise Garage, closed.  Maestro highlights three prominent, highly influential clubs in New York: Paradise Garage, The Loft, and The Gallery, and legendary DJs at each club: Larry Levan, David Mancuso, and Nicky Siano, respectively.  The film emphasizes the connections that New York’s underground dance scene had to disco, and explores how the DJs of this new dance music created profound, revolutionary sounds. Gay culture and the gay community in New York during the 1970s made up a strong part of this dance music movement.  The Stonewall Riots in 1969 are noted in the film as aiding in the establishment of a number of dance clubs whose clientele was primarily made up of gay men, Paradise Garage being one of them.  African American cultural influences are also emphasized in the film through discussions of the music, DJs, and dancers.

In addition to the hour and seventeen minute documentary, which is full of interviews, and club, DJ, and street footage, there is a bonus disc of extras. This second disc includes footage of Paradise Garage taken during the closing weekend in 1987; an “audiophile look” at sound systems with David Mancuso of The Loft; a look at the making of Maestro; a short documentary on house music in Chicago focusing on Ron Hardy; a piece on Tee Scott, a New York DJ at Paradise Garage; an inspiring segment featuring club dancers; and an interview with Larry Levan’s protégé, Frankie Knuckles.  With the inclusion of these extras, Maestro is an essential for any fan of electronic dance music looking to learn more about its history.

Posted by Denise Dalphond