MOVIE REVIEW
American Swing                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               



Faded Glory: Plato's Retreat founders and owners Larry Levenson and Mary, dubbed the King and Queen of Swing in New York City in the 1970s,
in a photo from the new documentary "American Swing", which opened today at the Quad Cinema in New York City.  The film opens next week in
West Hollywood, California.  (Photo: Magnolia Pictures)


King Larry: In 1970s New York City It Meant Everything If You Had All That Swing, And He Definitely Had It
By Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com     SHARE
Friday, March 27, 2009

"American Swing" is full of ribald tales of open couples' anonymous public sex, orgies and anything-goes butt-naked behavior at the famed (or infamous) Plato's Retreat in 1970s New York City, but lined with more than a touch of sadness.  The documentary, directed and produced by Mathew Kaufman and Jon Hart, based on an article by Jon Hart, chronicles the rise and fall of Larry Levenson and Plato's Retreat.  The sexual energy was more powerful than ever in the Big Apple in 1977 and that year Plato's Retreat was born, a pleasure palace of sex, sin, decadence and everything goes.  Wife-swapping, husband-swapping, women giving oral pleasures while other men were attending to business in other ways -- all this and much, much more were the order of the day.  And in the middle of it all was Mr. Levenson, who put the first heterosexual public sex club in America on the map.  Celebrities, police, lawyers, professors, students, judges, athletes, politicians, journalists and members of the public flocked to the club in the Ansonia Building at 74th Street on the Upper West Side of New York City, and "American Swing" recounts the fascinating, enterprising days of Plato's with a nostalgia that is infectious, funny and occasionally jarring.

As seen through interviews with almost three dozen eyewitnesses, participants or people who wanted to close the Retreat down, ranging from filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles and New York Magazine/CNBC television reporter Dan Dorfman to former New York Mayor Ed Koch and porn star Ron Jeremy, "American Swing" crystallizes the height of sexual nirvana, ecstasy and conjugal congregations, chronicling assorted types of people who would drop in at Plato's Retreat for $25 per couple -- some wearing just socks or stockings, some wearing absolutely nothing at all -- to watch or participate in the public sex orgies.  Make no mistake, though the documentary shows and details explicit sexual activity and titillation through accounts and raw videos of all that occurred at Plato's Retreat, "American Swing" tosses in huge heaps of vice, unhygienic activity and several cautionary tales.  One priceless moment is revealed by a journalist who ends his anecdote by saying, "I hope I'm not being too vulgar".  In addition, the documentary skillfully plays as a referendum on prudishness and discomfort as much as it does the more unexpurgated sexual glories of the decade.

The curiosity factors of Plato's Retreat, loosely hinted at in films like Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" (1997) and briefly featured in Spike Lee's "Summer Of Sam" (1999) are laid out (excuse the pun) in a style uninhibited in both revelation and deep secrets.  Most disturbing are the varied accounts of Mr. Levenson's own sons about their father and several others who talk about him.  The film above all is about Mr. Levenson and his empire of sex, sleaze, infidelity and self-delusion.  He really believed he was the King Of Swing Sex and as long as he believed -- even when his faithful girlfriend Mary may have doubted -- the endless patrons of Plato's Retreat believed too.  "I want as much as I could possibly want in a lifetime", Mr. Levenson says of wanting (and having) multiple women sex partners in one of several television interviews throughout the film. 

Much of "American Swing", which opened today at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan (next Friday in West Hollywood), doesn't feature the kind of buff-bodied Hollywood men and women the world is accustomed to seeing on the big screen, as all types are here, letting it all hang out.  "American Swing" also features classic seventies' disco music and takes us on a 15-year odyssey in New York City, from 1977 through 1991.  Though unsaid in the documentary, in New York City Plato's Retreat was arguably as popular as the dance club Copacabana in its heyday during the same decade.  Plato's was one of the most vivid and unabashed expressions of liberation in a transitory decade following the turmoil of the sixties -- especially in 1977, a year in which it seemed that New York City was burning up, falling into complete disintegration.

With "American Swing" you are free to leave your inhibitions at the door.  But whatever you do, please, please don't get into that swimming pool.

"American Swing" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America, but it would easily be an NC-17 if it were.  The film contains graphic nudity, which is both full frontal male and full frontal female nudity, strong graphic sexual content and sexuality as well as explicit, graphic descriptions and accounts of sexual activity, which may offend and disturb some while titillating and exciting others.  The film's duration is one hour and 20 minutes.

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